There are two parts to keeping your luggage safe: planning the right luggage before you go and then how to use it safely when you're on the road.
As usual, the best advice is just to use your common sense, but read on for more tips we've gathered to keep you travelling safely!
Make sure that you are certain of its contents when you're crossing borders, catching flights or passing through Customs. Don't offer to carry anything for anyone else. This might seem like common sense, but there are many stories of unsuspecting travellers just trying to help out their new found travel companion who seemed like "such a good bloke" at the time. By all means make new friends on the road – but let them carry their own bags.
Everyone's heard stories about drugs that were 'planted' in some unsuspecting traveller's luggage. But you also need to be aware of quarantine laws and be sure you're not importing illegal substances – which could be as innocent as fruit or wood carvings, or as sinister as the body parts of endangered animals. In some countries the penalties are much harsher than a verbal telling off – in a country like Australia for example, you could receive an on-the-spot fine of up to $AUD220, or for a serious offence, you could be prosecuted and face a fine of up to $AUD66,000 or 10 years imprisonment. Ouch.
Really think about how much gear you need to take (trust us – less IS more!) and then consider how many bags you need for that. It is much easier to get around and keep an eye on one bag rather than two.
Take a sturdy bag that's not easily tampered with and keep it securely locked.
If you are travelling to the United States, make sure your luggage lock is in accordance with their specific baggage lock requirements – these can be opened by security officers using universal "master" keys so that your locks may not have to be cut.
Information about these locks is available from the Transportation Security Administration's website.
Although these don't replace a secure lock, sometimes they're incredibly useful for making sure your bags aren't tampered with in the short term. You can easily cut them off, but they prevent easy access for opportunists.
Black or white ones are the most common, so mix it up a bit with some colours for extra identification.
If your bag appears on an airport carousel with the cable ties missing or the colour combination changed, 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.
Many people take out travel insurance because they think that losing their luggage would be 'the end of the world'. It's nothing compared to a big-time medical emergency in a foreign country which is what you should really be covering your behind for. However, lost luggage is inconvenient for sure, and possibly expensive to replace everything. To ease the pain, make sure you get the right level of cover especially if you're carrying expensive cameras and laptops or smart phones. Read the policy description all the way through, and check these valuable items will be fully covered.
Good, light packing is an art form but the basic advice is not to pack anything which you couldn't bear to part with, especially sentimental and valuable stuff. But sometimes with lost luggage, it's the bag itself that you miss most... seasoned travelers can spend their lifetime searching for the ultimate backpack.
At the beach, in a café, or even the airport lounge, always keep your luggage with you or have a trusted travelling companion mind it for you. Make sure your hotel room is secure and take advantage of hotel safes (as long as they are reliable!).
If you do leave your luggage in your room, make sure you lock up the zips etc. Although someone could steal the whole bag, the aim is to make it more difficult for any opportunistic thief – and trying to cut a lock off is quite difficult.
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!).
Can I tell you how many travel insurance claim stories I've read that say... "My bag was on the roof of the bus and when I got off, my camera was gone!" ?
Seriously folks. Go back and read Point 7 above. Never, ever leave your bag unattended.
But, but, but... what happens when you've got no choice; the roof of the chicken-bus is the only place big enough for that whopping 90 Litre backpack you've brought?
Take out anything and everything valuable and stuff it into your day-pack. Then use the zip ties or your locks to secure your main bag as best as you can, throw it up on top of the bus with all the rest and hope for the best. And finally, sit with your overfull daypack exploding onto your lap for the next 15 hours and don't complain. Because after all, you paid attention to the big tip about luggage – never leave it unattended. And then maybe think about how you're going to travel really light on that next trip...
Don't leave the zips undone or pockets flapping open – it's too easy for pickpockets to steal your gear... or even more stupidly, for it to fall out on the pavement.
In crowded areas like markets or train stations, it's wise to wear your daypack on the front - you might look a bit uncool hugging your bag, but at least it's not exposed to the world. People often think that they could tell if someone was reaching inside 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 off your shoulder as this makes it an easy target for a snatch-and-run thief.