When you fly with checked luggage, at the end of your journey the bags and suitcases of hundreds of people all end up on the same carousel. If your luggage is a standard type it can have a dozen or more close twins as travel "companions".
When you get close to the bag it's usually possible to tell your bag, but even if you haven't done it yourself I'm sure you've seen people pick up a bag, then see it isn't theirs and put it back.
As people pick up their bags and leave the luggage collection area the crush around the carousel dies down, but if your bag is one of the first ones out it can be quite a mission to get to the front just as your bag comes past.
Distinctive luggage tags can help, but if they are small they don't help when the bag is in the distance and bags can be treated pretty roughly in transit and if the tags are large they can get caught and detach from your case.
A few years ago a travel companion put me onto a great idea. Get a large (minimum 2" - 5cm), distinctive ribbon, and wrap it tightly around the outside of the case, through the handle, and securely tie it. Now when my bags come onto the carousel I can see them from a distance and get to them as they come past.
I've used this technique flying from New Zealand to Australia, Singapore, India, back to NZ and internally in good old Aotearoa without problem. Wide stripes and bright ribbons work best, but anything that contrasts with your suitcase will do. If you can't find a unique ribbon, just get two or more thinner ones and tie them beside each other.
If you're traveling on holiday or for a tourist vacation you can pretty much use any pattern, but on business trips you might want to be a little more sedate. You should also consider any cultural issues when choosing your ribbons. Many countries use a tricolor (three stripes) as a flag and national symbol. Flying into Pakistan with something looking like the national flag of India might not be the wisest thing you can do.
Finally, don't forget that this is an aid to help you identify your luggage at a distance, it isn't a substitute for clearly marking your bags with your name and contact details. You need that in case your bags are mislaid by the airline and they need to get them to you later.
I've often considered painting a large identifying mark on my bags, but have so far refrained. The ribbon can be cut off and discarded at journey's end but the paint is there forever.
Originally published on Qondio