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How to pack smartly without smart luggage

A ban on smart bags means business travelers are seeking out the right gadgets to take on the road.

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When you’re constantly traveling for work, you need to travel smartly. And over the last few years, smart luggage has been the solution for tech-savvy, always-on-the-go professionals. But in the wake of a smart luggage ban in early 2018, this go-to item is facing major hurdles. Luckily, there are smart alternatives to keep you as cost-efficient and digitally competent as possible.

The ban caused last-minute stress for business travelers in airports across the country.

On January 15, several major airlines — including Delta, American, and Alaska — began banning smart luggage with nonremovable lithium-ion batteries. Why? To limit the risk of fires caused by those same batteries. It’s the same reason they previously banned hoverboards and the Samsung Galaxy Note 7.

“I was really disappointed. The idea of banning an entire category seemed a little extreme. They assumed the same level of risk for all the different luggage brands,” says Charell Star, a lifestyle and technology trends reporter. “It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.” For travelers with nonremovable batteries, too bad. For those with removable ones, they often had trouble actually removing them without screwdrivers, nearly missing their flights. With unhappy customers, two smart luggage retailers shut down in May.

But the smart features of banned luggage can be recreated with small gadgets.

At their most basic level, smart suitcases have featured charging ports, GPS trackers, and weight sensors. More advanced models included remote lock systems, RFID blockers, and even motorized wheels. But — aside from the ability to zoom through an airport — there are a variety of tech alternatives that will keep you traveling smartly, without weighing down your bags.

Checking in without a problem. One feature smart luggage doesn’t have? The ability to check into your hotel. Hilton Honors members can use the Honors app to check in, choose a room, and customize their stay up to 24 hours in advance. Now that’s a smart feature.

“You can buy a few of these things to upgrade your bag if you want the technological elements that make travel easier,” explains Star. “I would not recommend that someone run out and invest in a smart bag if they don’t need one. You don’t have to spend $300 or $400 for that.” When you combine the costs of individual gadgets, they often make up less than half the cost of a smart suitcase. And separate tools can be upgraded as needed without having to fix an entire piece of luggage.

Packing smartly is key to being a successful business traveler. “I used to spend 150 days on the road at one point in my career, so anything that makes life easier is definitely something I would want to lean into,” says Star. All it takes are a few gadgets and a tech-savvy professional to make your business trip run smoothly.

Charging your devices. It’s handy to have a charging port on your actual suitcase. But you might as well have one in your suitcase. And these days, it’s easy. From portable chargers to wireless charging stations, there are a multitude of options when it comes to keeping your phone and laptop ready to go.

Tracking your suitcase. Lost luggage and overcrowded baggage claims are a hassle, especially when you’re running from your flight to that all-important business meeting. Knowing where your bags are might just save you from a frustrating hour (and an angry boss). Use bluetooth tracking devices to keep your luggage within arm’s reach.

Knowing your bag’s weight. Are your bags too heavy? Are you bringing too many candy souvenirs back to the office? Luckily, there are portable weight scales that can help answer your packing questions, from grip scales that you hold in your hand to miniature versions of your bathroom machine.

Locking your suitcase. Just as you can remotely lock your car or your front door from your smartphone, now you can buy a remote lock for your suitcase. And some are TSA-approved so agents can use a master key instead of breaking apart your bag and rendering it useless.

Keeping your financials safe. With the implementation of RFID chips in credit cards, your financial information isn’t always as safe as you might presume. That’s where RFID blocking wallets and bags come in handy, making it impossible for someone to steal your credit card number. Buy one, or make it yourself by wrapping your cards and passport in a thick piece of aluminum foil.

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