Travel can be even harder on your luggage than it is on you. Department of Transportation statistics suggest that luggage problems are rare: Only about 3 in 1,000 travelers reported that their bags had been lost, damaged, delayed, or stolen in 2018. But it can certainly spoil your vacation and be costly when something does go wrong. Follow these strategies to improve the odds that your bag and belongings will survive every journey unscathed.

Pack with care. A leaky bottle of perfume or sunscreen can ruin the lining of your suitcase. To avoid damage to your bag or its contents, pack liquids in a sealable plastic bag. And secure or remove shoulder straps or other attachments that could be snagged by a baggage conveyor belt or carousel.

More on Luggage

Use the right lock. Luggage passes through a lot of hands—not all of them honest—from the time you check it until you pick it up.

“Before you leave home, think about who is coming into contact with your luggage,” says Micah Lewis, founder of My Bag Check, a pickup and storage service in New York City. Lewis says that he always recommends that customers use luggage locks to protect the contents of their bags but that less than half of them do.

If you’re checking your suitcase with an airline, be sure to use a lock labeled “TSA compatible” so that agents can open it with a master key if it’s selected for scrutiny. (The Transportation Security Administration selects about 10 percent of all checked baggage for additional screening, according to a spokesperson.) Screeners will break non-TSA-compatible locks, including those that are built into luggage, to open suitcases for additional screening. That could damage luggage.

Go undercover. Secure Wrap and other companies at various international airports will tightly encase your luggage in a cling-wrap type of plastic starting around $15 for a standard-sized suitcase. The wrapping will reduce the chances of damage and pilfering. But if the TSA removes the wrapping to look inside, not all companies will rewrap the bag. (Secure Wrap says it will.) Another simple and affordable way to guard against scuffs and scratches is to buy a protective cover to encase your bag. Luggage protectors are widely available online and range from clear plastic sleeves to patterned fabric wrappers.

Stand out in a crowd. A lot of luggage looks alike, and bags sometimes go missing because they’re mistakenly picked up by a fellow passenger. If that happens, you’ll probably get the bag back but only after a lot of annoyance. Attaching a brightly colored ribbon, luggage sticker, or even some vivid duct tape to your luggage can send a hands-off signal to other travelers.

Track your bags with an app. The mobile apps of some airlines, including Delta and United, let you track your bag’s journey from check-in to arrival. (The ability to track your checked bags will probably increase as the technology that makes it possible becomes more widely adopted by airlines.) You can also purchase GPS-powered baggage tracking devices designed to allow you to keep tabs on your bag with an app. (CR hasn’t tested them.)

Leave valuables at home. If something happens to your bag, the airline is responsible for compensating you—to a point. In the U.S., airlines are liable up to a total of $3,500 for lost, damaged, or delayed baggage and contents. On international flights, the limits are roughly $1,500 per checked bag.

But there’s a very long list of items that aren’t covered by most airlines, including electronics, cameras, jewelry, and computers.

If you must travel with valuables, don’t check them; carry them with you.

If you do check them, know whether your homeowners insurance will cover their loss or damage, and for how much. (Certain credit cards may also provide limited coverage.)

Some airlines sell excess valuation coverage, which increases the maximum amount of compensation they’ll provide, but exceptions for valuable items still apply.

Always keep a record of what you packed; it’s easy to simply photograph the contents before you place them in your bag. This should help if you have to confirm that an item is missing or need to file a claim for a lost or damaged suitcase.

Editor’s Note: This article also appeared in the February 2020 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.