What’s more important to you, money or sanity? If you’re sick and tired of imitating a Sherpa when taking business trips and vacations, the answer may be easy. There’s no getting around luggage-especially if you take trips that last extended amounts of time-but suppose you could travel extensively, spend the same amount of cash you typically do, yet arrive sane, refreshed and unburdened? This is no fiction if you consider the idea of pre-shipping your luggage next time you leave town. That stated, we must warn you: once you discover the advantages of shipping your bags solo, you might become so calm, even airline rate increases won’t phase you!
The Suitcase Dilemma. The CNN Travel website (http://www.cnn.com/2011/08/26/travel/why-airlines-lose-luggage-bt) isn’t the only media reporting on the issue of lost luggage. Every year, tens of thousands of suitcases go into the equivalent of a suitcase Witness Protection Program. Some re-appear on their own. Others wind up in an Alabama clearing house-a quasi-orphanage for everything from ripped duffle bags to pricey Louis Vuitton trunks. Mislabeling is often the culprit-mislabeling by both owners and airlines-but if you’re the guy stuck in LaJolla without PJs, it doesn’t matter who’s to blame. What happens to those Alabama-suitcase refugees? They could wind up being destroyed or auctioned off.
Adopt a New Way of Thinking. How many times did your mother say, “Because we’ve always done it this way?” Chances are, you’re as guilty of using this phrase, but you can stop the legacy by looking at your old travel habits and vowing to unlearn the unhealthiest ones. If you’re like most people, schlepping, retrieving, checking and claiming bags at airport, train and even bus terminals is second nature and part of the game. Time to unlearn that behavior by considering an alternate way to get your bags to their destinations via a luggage shipping service. Try it for yourself and chances are, one trip could make you a believer.
A Growth Industry. Companies in the business of shipping traveler’s luggage using affordable, efficient and sanity-saving methods are springing up like spring dandelions. From big brand names you see every day to start-ups looking to grab a piece of the action, you have many choices. You can do all of the preliminary work at home, show up at your departure terminal and breeze through to your gate, a process made easy by shippers looking to maintain their existing reputations or create customer bases. Among the players are high-profile shippers like FedEx (http://www.fedex.com/us/smallbusiness/updates/may2010/ship-luggage.html ) and UPS (http://www.ups.com/content/us/en/resources/sri/luggage_shipping.html.
How it Works. As soon as you purchase your plane or train ticket (works for car trips too, in case you drive a SmartCar or another tiny vehicle), you call a pre-shipper of choice or visit their website and follow prompts to secure a booking for your bags, boxes, golf clubs or whatever you happen to need for your vacation or business trip. The process is so effortless, a child could do it-if she has a credit card, of course. You receive a tracking number and luggage tags appear on your doorstep by mail if there’s time enough between your booking and departure date. You enjoy a cocktail. It’s part of the relaxation process.
What Happens Next? Expect the same experience you have each time you call UPS, FedEx, DSL, USPS or another shipper–but instead of picking up your Christmas gift for Aunt Sue, the shipper retrieves your luggage from your home, office-maybe your mother’s place? Couriers check bag IDs, strip old destination markers, coordinate your flight’s departure/arrival times and attach new luggage tags before your bags head to the airport. You get your fine self to the terminal solo, stroll effortlessly to your gate and while everyone else is paying baggage fees, you proceed to your seat. You don’t see your bags again until you reach your destination. Does this require a leap of faith? No more than it does when you hand your bags to the gate agent.
Sounds Expensive. Whether you’re traveling like the royal family or you’re taking a standard sojourn with the usual amount of stuff, you likely won’t pay more for this service than the airlines charge. Luggage Free (http://www.luggagefree.com/), Luggage Forward (http://www.luggageforward.com/shipping-luggage/) and LugLess (http://www.lugless.com/) are a few of the start-up companies leading the pre-shipping pack. Seeking to complete with the big boys, they charge around $109 to ship an over-sized suitcase and they’re happy to estimate your tab in advance. Compare fees charged by your carrier; factor in cab, porter, hotel staff tips and you may conclude that it’s cheaper to ship than schlep.
What’s the Down Side? Here’s a shock: there are no guarantees in life. Transportation companies will continue to lose baggage, you’ll continue to make the occasional bag-tag mistake and new snafus will come along that make you long for Conestoga wagons, but pre-shippers stand a better chance of getting your bags to Biloxi rather than Boston because it’s their only focus. Besides, if they lose your confidence, they lose your future business and the business of the people you’re likely to recommend should your luggage land in-well, Alabama.
CYA (Cover Your Assets). Let’s say the pre-shipper you choose accidently dumps your bags into the Pacific Ocean to lighten the load of a plane after an equipment malfunction (you’ve seen the movie, yes)? Capped replacement insurance covering everything from out-of-the-ordinary snafus to arrival delays is offered by pre-shippers and often, that first $500 of coverage is on the house. Add extra coverage if you accompany priceless items from place to place, but assuming your bag is filled with replaceable items, that might not be necessary.