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How to not forget items in airport security

Going through airport security can be hectic – it is easy to misplace things, yourself, and go vertigo until you make it out the other side of the tunnel: You have people in front of you, people behind, you are taking off your shoes, being searched, TSA officials asking questions – “is this bag yours?” [...]

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Going through airport security can be hectic – it is easy to misplace things, yourself, and go vertigo until you make it out the other side of the tunnel:

You have people in front of you, people behind, you are taking off your shoes, being searched, TSA officials asking questions – “is this bag yours?” – people calling out to each other, pushy business men, maybe you are waving goodbye to someone as you are putting your bags, shoes, and laptop into separate bins to be X-Rayed.


Wade from www.VagabondJourney.com
Sosua, Dominican Republic — February 4, 2009
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Just as you disrobe and successfully make a break through the metal detector, you flutter around in stocking feet waiting for your carry on bags, jackets, computers, and shoes to be inspected. Maybe the TSA inspectors come to the conclusion that your carry on is too heavy to not undergo further processing. Maybe one of the inspectors takes your bag and runs off with it. Maybe you fling your shoes on and, in a sudden burst of second nature, follow her.

Maybe you leave something behind in one of those ambiguous gray bins that are stacked up in an installation of other ambiguous gray bins.

This is what happened to me yesterday while going through airport security in Portland, Maine. My circumstance was in no way similar to what I describe above — but it could have been. In actuality, the TSA security inspection that I went through was laid back, there were only four travelers present in the line — and three of them were myself, wife, and baby. But a TSA inspector did run off with my bag, and I did hurry off to follow her. I did — for about 3 seconds — leave my computer behind:

I took three steps after the lady who seized my bag, and my wife halted me in my tracks: “You are forgetting something.” I grabbed my computer and continued the chase.

In these circumstances, my error was very slight. So slight, in fact, that I am sure that 99% of people would not even give it a second thought. But I know that travel tips are born from travel mistakes. I made a slight mistake, but in other circumstances it could have been a very large one.

This was clearly an indication to me that I need a better standard operating procedure for going through airport security — especially now that I have a baby, a wife, and a life that requires attention to things other than my electronic possessions.

“How could I ensure that this would not happen again?” I asked myself as I sat down in the terminal to await my flight.

The answer was simple: run my shoes through the X-ray machine last.

I am not going to forget my shoes. I am not going to walk onto my flight in my socks. This is just not going to happen.

The problem with the airport security screening is that your possessions are shot out of the X-Ray machine at intermittent intervals. You could get three of your possessions in rapid succession, but the third may take five minutes to be spit out.

If I run my shoes through the X-Ray machine last, then, theoretically, by the time they pass through the line, I will have all of my other possessions already in front of me. So I could gather up my computer, my bag, and then put on my shoes. I then run a slighter risk of leaving something behind being lethargically inspected in the X-ray machine.

Standard operating procedure for airport security

1. Put everything metal securely inside of my carry on bag BEFORE stepping into the security line. Make sure that the metal detector will not go off.

2. Untie my boots, again, BEFORE enter the security screening line.

3. Run my items through the line with my boots coming out last.

4. Make sure I have all of my possessions first, and then deal with other distractions later.

5. Put myself back together on the other side. Take an inventory of all of my gear.

Travel tips come out of travel mistakes. Standard operating procedures are good for the military and they are good for the traveler. There are a thousand variables to each day of travel, if you have a set way of doing the simple things then your mind is freer to deal with the situations that lay before you. If the monotonous deeds of traveling are done with military precision, then I am more open to enjoying the Road before me.

How to not forget items when going through airport security

Travel Tips


Filed under: Air Travel, Airports, Travel Tips

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 90 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3689 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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  • Bob L February 4, 2010, 9:19 pm

    If your bag is big enough, put your shoes in it, and walk around in your socks. If you can, put everything in one bag. Your jacket, your shoes, your belt etc. Make sure your wallet or some cash is readily accessible along with anything else you might need to get at.

    May not be suitable in all cases, but how often are any tips suitable in all cases.

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com February 5, 2010, 4:22 pm


      Good advice. The more loose ends you have with anything the more likely you are to screw something up. If the airlines make you take off your shoes to go through security then they should have no qualms with you keeping them off. Good advice.

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  • fruugal February 5, 2010, 1:52 pm

    In a hurry and fearing I would miss the flight, I actually did leave my laptop at security. After passing through security I grabbed the empty case, never once noticing it was light as a feather! I called as soon as I arrived home. After about 5 calls, they found it. Cost me $20 to have it shipped back to me. Boy did I feel dumb (but happy).

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com February 5, 2010, 4:17 pm

      Hello Fruugal,

      I am glad that you shared this story. After publishing this I thought to myself “does this really happen?” I imagined that it did, it nearly happened to me, but I was not sure. Now I know that this tip was not wasted words.

      Do you think that sending your shoes through the X-Ray line last would have helped you to not forget your computer?



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