Keeping Your Baggage Safe While Traveling
Whenever you head out on a vacation, the last thing you’d make room for in your mind is a lost or stolen luggage. The sun, sand, and beaches are enough to blur out any thoughts of crimes lurking around. Still, time and time again, you read horrific stories from tourists getting robbed or losing their luggage.
It is terribly annoying and inconvenient not only to you but also to the airline that may or may not have misplaced your luggage. There are a few reasons these things happen, and each year, tens of thousands of travelers lose their luggage and never find it again. After all, after a certain period, missing luggage is as good as gone. Most carriers, for instance, donate the contents to charities after 90 days.
Tips for Safer Baggage Transportation
Before the Flight
Read up on laws.
The rule of thumb is to always check your bags for prohibited items. If you are in doubt, check out the Transportation Security Admission’s list of prohibited items or enter the item in the “When I fly can I bring my…” feature on tsa.gov. Additionally, you may want to check the Federal Aviation Administration’s list of hazardous items on its Pack Safe page. Also, be aware of quarantine laws and make sure you're not importing illegal substances, which could be as innocent as fruit or wood carvings. In some countries, the penalties are much harsher than a verbal warning. For example, in Australia, you could be charged an on-the-spot fine of up to AU $220, or for a serious offense, you could be prosecuted and face a fine of up to AU $66,000 or 10 years' imprisonment.
Invest in travel insurance.
Do you need travel insurance? If you travel constantly, then absolutely. You never think you need it until you do. It could save your life! Whether it’s getting sick from food in Paris or tripping on a root while hiking Patagonia, things can go wrong. If you don’t get yourself travel insurance, you’ll have to head home after an injury or pay medical costs up front. If you’re insured, you can claim many expenses back. If you’re really worried about the safety of yourself while you travel, you can almost completely relax if you have invested in travel insurance.
Pack and carry your bags yourself.
Know the contents of your bags when you're crossing borders, catching flights, or passing through Customs. Never, at all costs, offer to carry bags for someone else, whether they’re your family or a stranger. This might seem like common sense, but there are many stories of unsuspecting travelers trying to help out their sibling or newfound travel companion only to end up setting the alarms off because the bags carry something illegal. By all means, make new friends on the road or help out your family members, but let them carry their own stuff.
Tip: A packing list will help you keep track of your belongings before and after the trip is done. This can also serve as a time saver when listing the contents of your bag in case it goes missing. Another option here is to take a photo, this may serve as evidence in case you cannot secure receipts.
Think about how much gear you need to take (trust us, less is more) and then consider how many bags you need. It is much easier to get around and keep an eye on one bag than two. Some say that good, light packing is an art form one should learn, but the basic advice is not to pack anything that you couldn't bear to part with, especially sentimental and valuable belongings. But sometimes with lost luggage, it's the bag itself that you miss most. Seasoned travelers can spend a long time searching for the ultimate backpack
Secure the bags.
When it comes down to it, a lock is better than no lock when your goal is to keep luggage safe and untouched. Make sure it’s thick to prevent cutting and has some form of lock pick resistance. If you need to use zip ties or padlocks just for extra security, then do it. While a zip tie may not be as secure as padlocks, it’s still useful to know if your bag was tampered with. For example, if your bag arrives on an airport carousel with the zip ties missing, don't touch the bag. Call a security officer over and tell them you think your bag's been tampered with. You'll be subjecting yourself to a thorough search, but if there's any contraband planted in the bag, you'll have a good alibi. If you are traveling around the United States, make sure your luggage lock is in accordance with their specific baggage lock requirements so these can be opened by security officers using universal master keys so that your locks don't have to be cut.
Use luggage tags.
Tags are a form of identification for your bags or suitcases. Tags have made traveling more efficient. They ensure your baggage gets to the correct destination, meaning you can worry less the next time you’re on the go. It’s important that you only put necessary information on your luggage tag, like your name, email address, and phone number. Some people suggest tying two luggage tags to different places on each bag. Replace any cotton ties with cable ties or reinforce the tag ties with duct tape. You can also choose to tape your typed address and travel itinerary to the inside of each luggage tag on each bag.
Prepare for the worst-case scenario.
A GPS tracker is your best friend, especially for your bag of valuables. Perfect for travelers, there are GPS trackers that don’t take much space inside your bag. With it, you can track your luggage anytime and anywhere in the world, helping you quickly find your luggage in case it goes missing. GPS trackers are pretty inexpensive, and most come with an SOS button that you can use during an emergency situation.
During the Flight
Never keep your eyes off your bags.
It is recommended that you keep your belongings in sight even during the screening process. If you are carrying or wearing an item that might alarm our officers, requiring additional screening, you may ask that your belongings be brought to you to keep your property in sight. People also regularly leave behind items deposited in the checkpoint bins. We strongly suggest that you double-check the bins and collect all your belongings before leaving the checkpoint. If you believe that any of your belongings might have been left behind at a checkpoint, visit the Lost & Found page for a list of TSA lost and found offices to reclaim your item.
Pack valuables in your daypack.
Today, a few travelers bring only a smartphone at the very least, while the rest of us bring laptops, tablets, Kindles or other e-readers, DSLR cameras with pricey lenses, film equipment, and more. It is recommended you not pack valuables or fragile items, such as jewelry, cash, or electronics in your checked baggage. Instead, carry a day bag with you, into which you can fit all these valuables along with your passport, your camera, your medication, and your credit cards. Never put these items into your general backpack. Never leave them in the luggage hold on a bus. Never put any of them into your checked luggage on a plane. If you let them out of your sight, there’s a fair chance that they could be gone forever.
While Enjoying the Vacation
Never leave your bag unattended.
At the beach, in a café, or even the airport lounge, always keep your luggage with you or have a trusted traveling companion mind it for you. Thieves can act with extraordinary alacrity and your bag can vanish or have stuff selectively swiped from it in the blink of an eye. Always keep your valuables (especially passport and money) well hidden on your person rather than in your luggage. If you're sitting in a café or restaurant, slip the strap of your bag around your chair leg or secure it to the table (see those zip-ties might come in handy here, too).
Wear bags with safety at the top of your mind.
In crowded areas, like markets or train stations, it's wise to wear your daypack on the front. It looks gawky or uncool wearing your bag like that, but at least you can keep your eyes on it. People often think that they don’t need to do this because they could tell if someone was touching or reaching into their bag, but this isn't always the case; it's another all-too-familiar claim story.
Handbags should be worn across the body with the strap diagonally over one shoulder. Don't let your bag hang loose from your shoulder as this makes it an easy target for a snatch-and-run thief.
Take only what you need.
There’s no need to bring all your credit cards, your passport, and the equivalent of $500 in cash when you’re just leaving the room for dinner. Take what you need for the short walk, like a debit card and $50 in cash. Keep the rest locked up in your accommodation. Make sure your hotel room is secure and take advantage of hotel safes (as long as they are reliable). If the guesthouse, hotel, or lodging you’re staying at doesn’t have a locker or safe for you, use a portable safe instead.