For starters, don’t trust the safes in your hotel and definitely don’t trust the ‘safely’ locked cabinets provided by hostel. And just because your bag is sitting beneath your legs at the restaurant, that doesn’t mean it’s actually safe from theft!
Through my travel safe series, I try to cover every aspect of travel safety, which means I must mention even the most trivial of tips. But what’s mind blowing is the number of people emailing me to say that they didn’t prepare well enough or didn’t think of something ahead of time, and they ran into trouble. It’s unfortunate and can easily be avoided if you take the right precautions.
Use zip ties or cable-strength ties for further security. Pickpockets are notorious for breaking into those ‘oh-so safe’ TSA master locks. That little red diamond is not a safety reminder, it’s a warning that says “DON’T TRUST THIS LOCK.” Search Google and you will find many ways to tamper with these locks - it’s so easy, it can be done with a ball-point pen. I would even go as far as to use the TSA locks through the airport and then trade them out for something much stronger, something that doesn’t have TSA’s ‘trusty’ master lock backdoor.
That’s another point - DO NOT trust TSA agents, not in the slightest. If you absolutely MUST bring something of value, then it’s best to take it on the plane with you. There are endless stories of TSA agents stealing from the bags that you check in (for the safety of all) and also when you run your items through the carry-on x-ray. Some employees have been caught for being semi-excellent users of the slight-of-hand approach. Keep your eyes on your things constantly and always double-triple check on your items before leaving check-in areas.
If you’re setting down your bag, even if it’s between your legs at a cafe or while you’re sitting at a bench, be sure to lock it up! There are double ended cable locks that work great in avoiding snatchers from grabbing your bag and taking off. Simply lock your bag to a chair, table or pole to stop it from quickly running away from you - you may also want to try something like a bag-covering security web.
Next, DO NOT trust hotel safes or hostel locked compartments (unless you have complete control of the locking mechanism - even then, I would not suggest storing valuables there). Many hotels or hotel employees have been reported (especially in third-world countries) in having an under-the-table agreement, giving thieves access to in-room safes. Some hostels have a ‘private’ locking storage space that only employees can access. I don’t feel as though I need to highlight the obvious holes in this ‘safety’ plan, but if you’re going out for the day, avoid all of the trouble and take your stuff with you. If your bag is too heavy for everyday jaunting, then leave behind and lock up your replaceable items (clothes, toiletries or purchasable souvenirs).
In the end, you will never truly be 100% safe. It’s impossible to avoid trouble forever, especially while traveling, but with the right precautions and knowledge, you may be able to beat the odds and travel unscathed.
(Photo by Johnathan Esper)