How to Keep Your Belongings Safe While You Travel
It’s sad but true: Theft happens. When you're on the road and exposed, your belongings are especially vulnerable. Factor in the wonder of being in a new place for the first time, and it’s no surprise tourists are often targets. Fear not, however. Follow a few easy tips and your stuff can be safe anywhere you go…
I’ve mentioned this before, but the easiest thing you can do to keep your cash safe is to make sure it’s not all in one place. When I withdraw money from an ATM, I hide most of it in my shoe or sock so if I’m ever asked to empty my pockets, I won’t walk away empty-handed. Some socks even have built-in pockets for just this purpose.
Always bring enough cash with you for whatever you plan to do that day. There is no reason to have $100 on you for a picnic in the park. Same goes for credit and ATM cards—don’t carry them if you don’t plan on using them. A friend once had his wallet stolen after a night out, along with it every financial card he had. Chances are he didn’t need most of those cards at the bar, and could have saved a major headache by leaving them behind.
This is a controversial one. A lot of people feel things are safer with them than back in their hotel (see above!). The way I see it, you encounter many more people (and many more opportunities for loss) throughout the day than your bag does back in your room. Another common thought is that locking your bag draws attention to your valuables. Fact: Hotel/hostel staff and fellow travelers know you are carrying valuable things, lock or no lock. And chances are, a person who wants to steal something does NOT want to get caught. Create a barrier between mischievous strangers and your belongings, and it’s far less likely they will rummage through them. Just make sure you use combination locks so there isn’t a key to lose!
Landing Gear TSA Lock Heavy Duty 3-Digit Combination Luggage Padlock ($11)
For added security, carry a retractable cable lock. These come in handy to fasten your entire bag to something stationary in public spaces or shared rooms. (I’ve used them when leaving my bag behind for an overnight hiking trip.) You’ll also occasionally come across closets or drawers with handles that you can wrap the cable around for an extra layer of protection.
If you must carry a purse, make sure it’s a cross-body style rather than a single shoulder strap. It’s not unheard of for thieves to ride by on a motorbike and snatch a bag right off your arm. Better yet, don’t carry a purse at all! Often, whatever you really need for the day can fit just fine in your pockets.
Likewise, make sure your camera has a wrist strap on it. Holding an expensive electronic device in the air while focusing intently in one direction leaves it ripe for the picking. When secured to your wrist, your camera is much more difficult to pluck from your distracted grasp.
Carabiners are one of your best travel friends. Use mini ones to connect daypack zippers to one another, or secure your closed purse zipper to the nearest strap. One small extra layer of complication to open your bag will deter unwanted hands from reaching in when you’re distracted.
Similarly, use your bag’s inner pockets for your most valuable items. While it’s tempting to keep your cash conveniently accessible to you, that leaves it within easy reach of others, as well. If your daypack has zippered pockets inside, that’s a perfect place for your most important possessions.
This should go without saying, but I’m still surprised by how many people I see breaking this cardinal rule. The back pocket is no place for your wallet while traveling! Similarly, keep all purses, bags, and belongings held tightly in front of you in crowded places or on public transportation.
Cocktails and cameras don’t mix. Sure, you want photos of that fun night out, but you also want a camera to continue documenting the rest of your trip. Personally, I leave mine at home when I’m out for drinks. All it takes is one forgetful moment, and your most important travel accessory could be gone. If I really want to capture the night, I’ll bring my phone but leave my more expensive camera at home.
On travel days, make sure that all of your valuables are in your daypack/carry-on bag—even while traveling by boat or bus when your large pack is nearby. Inevitably, you will have to part with your luggage, whether to store it on the roof or the deck or under the bus. Keep everything that’s important to you, with you.
On long or overnight bus and train journeys where you are likely to fall asleep, cuddle with that daypack like a teddy bear! There are few circumstances where it’s easier to sneak a peak in your bag than when you’re dreaming of your next destination. I like to wrap at least one strap around my arm or leg and keep it with me under a blanket for maximum protection on the road. Whatever you do, do NOT put your most important cargo in overhead storage.
If you or your significant other are wearing cargo-type pants or shorts with large pockets, here is a sneaky misdirect I’ve stumbled across: camera in pocket + empty soda or beer can on top of camera. This won’t work with all outfits, but when it does, it’s a good trick!
If you’re looking for a more stable solution for gaping pockets or pouches, buy some sticky strips of Velcro before you go. Simply tape them inside whatever you want to secure and you have an invisible layer of defense.
Perhaps more importantly, be alert and aware of your surroundings. The truth is you are much less likely to fall victim to any mishaps if you look like you know what you're doing. These tips have gotten me through roughly 39 countries and counting… knock on wood. Be confident in your travels… because the biggest catastrophe would be to let fear keep you from exploring!
Do you have any other tips for keeping your belongings safe while you travel? Share below.