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Theft is never fun, and if your money or belongings are stolen while travelling, it can cast a shadow over the entire trip.

While insurance goes a long way to mitigate your loss, and interactions with police make a great story down the road, it’s infinitely better to do what you can to avoid being robbed in the first place. There are plenty of things you can do to improve your travel security.

To listen, hit play below or find episode 321 in iTunes, Stitcher or Soundcloud:

Don’t leave home without a padlock

Combination-lock padlocks are the security-conscious traveller’s best friend. Avoid locks that require a key, as they are easily picked and a real hassle if you lose the key! Choose a TSA-approved combination lock, and make sure the combination is easy for you to remember but not obvious to guess.

When shopping for luggage, make sure your backpack or suitcase can be locked using a padlock, or consider a lockable outerbag.

Take less stuff

The less you have, the less you have to lose. Plus, you’re more likely to notice immediately if something is missing and can take steps to recover it.

We travel with just carry-on sized bags, which we keep within sight as much as possible. This means airport baggage handlers don’t have the chance to slip small items out of side pockets, and anyone trying to slip off with a small bag while we’re distracted with a larger one is out of luck.

Travel backpack
Pack light.

Keep things locked in your main bag

Wherever you’re staying, it’s a good idea to keep as much of your stuff in your bag at all times. If you’re staying with friends or family, this keeps things nice and tidy, and if you’re in a hostel you can lock up your bag for extra security. Try to put valuable gear in the same place each time so you know where to find it and so that you’re instantly aware if something goes missing.

If you’re staying in a hostel that provides lockers, make use of them! Use your padlock rather than the ones provided for extra security.

Use the safe

If you’re staying with relatives or couchsurfers, your stuff should be relatively secure, just don’t leave valuables in plain sight. In a hostel or hotel though, your best bet is to make use of the safe. Store your electronics and extra cash there, and your passport if you’re in a country where you don’t need it with you all the time.

Cologne love locks
Choose a combination lock over one with a key — and just one or two will do.

Keep things hidden

Twelve years after I was given a money belt as a gift, it still travels with us. These days it’s more of a storage device than a security one, as we’ve found new (and more comfortable) ways of keeping our documents secure. However, I used it for years to carry my passport, credit card, and spare cash, and liked the feeling of security it gave me.

If you choose to use one, it’s important to keep it totally hidden — don’t keep going into and out of it. Have a coin purse in your pocket with your daily cash in it, and go to the toilet or into a bank if you need to access more. Go with a waist belt over a neck pouch; these are quite uncomfortable and the strap is a lot more visible. You could also consider a belt with a secret money compartment.

If, like us, you aren’t too keen on a money belt, just keep your valuables out of sight as much as possible. Choose clothes with zip pockets whenever possible, and keep those zips done up! Don’t flash your smartphone around, and keep your wallet as slim as possible to make it less visible.

Keep your phone out of sight -- even if it's old!
Keep your phone out of sight — even if it’s old!

Be smart with your day bag

We’ve been robbed twice over our ten years of travel, and both times the thieves took advantage of my lack of vigilance and took things out of my shoulder bag. It’s fine to keep valuables in a day bag or handbag, just watch it very carefully. Put valuables right down the bottom, keep it locked if possible, and never put anything of value in the front pocket (this was my mistake). The idea is to make it difficult for a pickpocket or bag-slasher to get your most important items.

If it’s a backpack, keep the zips zipped right to the side, not to the top, as a grab and pull could completely open it. You’re usually okay to wear it on your back, but flip it to the front when you’re in dangerous areas. The same goes for shoulder bags — get into the habit of wearing them at the front of your body rather than the back.

Travel security doesn’t have to be difficult — just be aware of your belongings, take some common-sense steps to keep your stuff safe, and your things will be that much more likely to come home with you.

To listen, hit play above or check in iTunes, Stitcher or Soundcloud.

This episode of the Indie Travel Podcast is sponsored by Universal Yums.

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This episode of the Indie Travel Podcast is sponsored by Select Italy.

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Your thoughts on "How to keep your stuff safe: the travel security podcast"

  • Hi guys Great podcast, but I have serious issues with your latest podcast on travel security. I have travelled extensively both for work and personally through se Asia, China, both east and Western Europe and North America, as well as my home country Australia. My top do nots are: 1. Never use the hotel safe. Everyone who works there probably has the master code, even the cleaners. It is amazing what you pick up when working at a place for a while. 2. Locks never work. Especially on zipped bags. They are great to give you time to notice that something is happening, but offer no security at all. The tsa thing is a joke. Who do you think is most likely to be involved in illicit trade? The same people who have access to tsa keys, baggage handlers for instance. How do you stop someone from picking your lock when you have handed custody of your bag over to an airline? 3. The concealable money belts are one of the highest theft targets everywhere, they don't so much conceal as show odd bulges, and are quite obvious. Very easy to steal on a crowded train or bus or wherever there is a crush of people. I think the best thing you put across is to pay attention to your surroundings. Splitting cash is sensible, but I disagree with putting anything but coins or low denomination money in a backpack, and you gave several great examples as to why this is a really bad idea. Always keep valuable on your person. Certainly never have any type of card away from you body. There are heaps of places in the world where this can start full ID theft if they go missing. Same applies for travellers chequers and other similar international money's. Always tidy up your things in your room whether hostel, hotel, homestay or friends or relatives place. Either out of respect or security. Valuables are less likely to go missing if they are in an obvious place in your bag. If you feel you have to hide valuables in your room, then When travelling with others, stay together. My wife had someone else's hand in her handbag on a Paris train at peak hour because she though I was being rude when I tried to force us to the empty space between train carriages. Nothing taken thanks to an observant local. But, We could do nothing. They got on with us (I think we were marked as tourists) and they got off one stop later, less than a minute of travel. At least 2 people, but I think 3 people. One picking the bag, one keeping between my wife and I, and he moved to stop me when I tried to get back to her, and I think a third who broke our hand hold and kept her distracted. Have each other's back. Talk about the odd little things you see, make the other person aware. I am typically not paranoid about theft when travelling, and some people who I have travelled with think I am quite blasé about the risks and my control measures. I can offer however that while I have had several near misses, to the best of my knowledge, I have never been robbed. Thanks

    on May 4, 2016 at 12:23 pm Reply
    • Hi Neil, Thanks for your great comment! That's interesting that you don't recommend the hotel safe; we often don't use it ourselves but feel that if something is stolen from there, at least the hotel has expressed an obligation to its safety. Perhaps a good solution would be to take a photo of its contents before going out and leaving things there? While I agree with you about locks not being very secure, I think they do offer some level of protection, especially on daybags and carry-on bags. Because I always lock my bag, it's never partially open, which might be a temptation for an opportunistic thief. Of course, if someone really wants to get in, they can. Keeping together is a great tip, and looking out for your travel companions is really important. Craig often asks me to keep an eye on our surroundings when he's checking his phone for route planning, or something like that, and I think that works well. I'm glad you got through your Paris experience with nothing stolen. Sounds like it was a well-practiced group.

      on May 4, 2016 at 6:40 pm Reply

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