The Land Of Lost Luggage (Or Where To Buy Other People's Stuff On The Cheap)

01/15/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

I've got some heavy baggage that travels along with my luggage. It's not physical, but emotional--each year around this time my anxiety mounts as I plan trips requiring luggage logistics bigger than an overnight tote. Now's the season for me to pack my favorite things into a suitcase and wish it bon voyage at the airline check-in counter, only to be left wondering if I will ever see it again.

My fear, of course, is that the airlines will decide that my suitcase and I are no longer compatible. Will my next journey be that fateful one where I wait in vain at the end of luggage carousel? According to statistics, it's possible. Since 9/11, restrictions have tightened for carry-on bags, forcing more people to check their possessions. In November of 2007 the New York Times reported that close to five million travelers would be left empty-handed by year-end. The U.S. Bureau of Transportation cited a rate of nine mishandled bags per 1,000 for last December. Though approximately 98% of these strays were reunited with their owners eventually, that still leaves lots of errant luggage aimlessly drifting around the globe.


So I'm worried that someday soon this dreaded occurrence will happen to me. But in the spirit of actually being proactive about my fears instead of consumed by them, I've created a plan. I've decided to compulsively mark my suitcase both inside and out with multiple, waterproofed, sticky identification tags that should stand up to anything short of a natural disaster. If that still doesn't achieve my desired delivery results, I have discovered one last resort: The Land of Lost Luggage.

Back in 1970 an enterprising young visionary named Doyle Owens had a dream of finding new owners for the old stuff inside of hopelessly waylaid luggage. Doyle borrowed $300 and a pickup truck and went off to buy his first load of unclaimed bags from a bus line in Washington, D.C. He thought it would take a few days to empty his haul; instead, he sold out the first night-- and so "The Land of Lost Luggage" was born. Since then the business, officially know as the Unclaimed Baggage Center, has grown into a 40,000 square foot retail playground in Scottsboro, Alabama that welcomes over 7,000 new items daily.

The UBC never knows what's inside the suitcases they buy, and that can make for some surprising finds. Everything from major jewels to a live rattlesnake has been found as they unzip their purchases. About a third of the unpacked items are thrown away, a third gets donated to charity and the remainder is laundered or dry-cleaned then stocked in the store, which is rumored to offer quite an impressive assortment of new and used designer clothes, cameras, electronics, jewelry, sporting goods and more. Once, perhaps, these fine items used to be yours.
All found in UBC lost luggage: Armor, a 40.95 carat emerald, a live rattlesnake, a Barbie with a roll of $500 bills hidden in her head.

With so many products moving through the facility daily and over one million bargain shoppers a year hunting for loot at deeply discounted prices, I suppose my last resort plan of reuniting with my stuff and buying it back could be a bit far-fetched--but who knows what else might be available? So this holiday season, if my luggage really does go missing, you will know where to find me: traveling to Alabama, by car, to see if you, perhaps, might have lost anything nice too.