The first time I traveled by myself, I was terrified. I’m the type that prioritizes safety, which means I need to know what I’m doing or I’ll freak out easily. Of course, I did a week before traveling – where am I supposed to go; what am I supposed to have with me; what if I can’t find the gate I’m supposed to be at in time; what if my luggage is missing and the flight is delayed; what if I cannot understand the airport people; what if…? Tons of worries.

Missing luggage for me is nightmare, because I never know what would happen next. I have never been in this situation fortunately, but I heard some stories about it. If it happens, it happens. We cannot really do much at the point, but we can prepare to make the process of finding it easier. Even if you don’t think your luggage is going to be missing, do all these – they can be helpful in multiple cases.

  • Have all the money and important documents with you, in your carry-on. I’ll explain more in the next section.
  • Write your name, email, and the address you are going to on a piece of paper and stick it somewhere on the luggage. Simply in case you forget your luggage somewhere, people would know how to contact you. I recommend using email because your number would not work outside your country.
  • Personalize your luggage. Make a special mark. Remember all the detail of your luggage and take photos. They will make the luggage easier to identify for the airport in case your luggage is really missing. I normally wrap the handler with some bright ribbons – they also immediately catch my eyes when I wait to get luggage out.
  • Have a note of all the people you can contact in case there is something unexpected happens, such your school, your host family, your organization, the person who picks you up, etc. Make sure you have their phone numbers and emails.

If your luggage does not come out for a while, don’t freak out yet. Grab someone in airport uniform and ask them if all the luggage is out. Sometimes there might be some delay in taking luggage out. Last time I was hopelessly waiting for 15 minutes seeing the same luggage that was not mine going around, but after about 10 minutes more a new series of luggage came out and I found mine. If you think your luggage is missing, ask the airport workers where you can go to report this.

Now, in terms of what you should bring with your carry-on, it depends on your habit and needs, but there are certain things you definitely need to pay attention to.

Always bring passport, I-20 or DS2019, Acceptance Letter from the school, and your airplane tickets with you. You will need I-20 (for F1 students) or DS2019 (for J1 students) when you do check-in. In other words, you need them at your country’s airport and the first U.S. airport, where you would do all the check-in to legally get into the United States. You also may need the Acceptance Letter when you do check-in in the U.S. I normally use a paperclip to clip them all together and then give the check-in officer.

Passport and airplane tickets are crucial, especially passport – it is your identification. You will need these two nearly every time you go through some procedure. Tickets are only used when you go on the airplane.

Other things to bring are your device and all forms of money. Do remember to bring a phone charger because you would need it most likely. Earphones and even a book if you like.

In addition, I will bring a jacket because the plane can get cold when it’s up high. Even though you might have blanket, it’s not the best one. Furthermore, if you have to take a domestic flight in the U.S., most likely there will be no blanket or food. The first time I traveled, I was freezing in the American domestic flight and the lady next to me lent me her thick hoodie. The international flights are often much better and also offer much nicer service.

Also I will bring toothpaste, toothbrush, and tissue because my flights normally take at least a day. I hate walking around with a horrible smell in my mouth or a dirty face. Evaluate the time it will take you and if you need these things. Some people like to use gums (it’s also recommended when the plane takes off to prevent your ears from popping) but I personally just can’t stand being gross.

Some people advise a set of clothes in case your luggage is missing and you might not get it back very soon.