9 Essential Traveler Tips For Keeping Your Luggage Safe

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How do you stop your bags from being stolen or be tampered with? We share our top tips for keeping your belongings safe while you travel.


A group of backpackers near a beach Photo © Getty Images/Hero Images

There are two stages to keeping your luggage safe: planning the right luggage before you go and using it safely when you're on the road exploring the world. 

Before you go:

1. Pack and carry your own bags

Know the contents of your bags 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 travelers trying to help out their new-found travel companion only to end up carrying something illegal. By all means, make new friends on the road, but let them carry their own stuff.

2. Understand quarantine laws

Be aware of quarantine laws and make 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 Australia for example, you could receive 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. Ouch.

3. Get the right gear for your trip

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.

Take a sturdy bag that's not easy to tamper with and keep it securely locked.

If you are traveling 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 don't have to be cut.

Information about these locks is available from the Transportation Security Administration's website.

4. Always take zip ties for your luggage

Although these don't replace a secure lock, sometimes zip ties are incredibly useful for making sure your bags aren't tampered with. You can easily cut them off, but they prevent easy access for opportunists.

Black or white ones are the most common, but you could mix it up a bit with some colors for extra identification.

If your bag arrives on an airport carousel with the cable ties missing or the color 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.

5. Get the right travel insurance for your trip

Lost luggage is very inconvenient, and can be expensive to replace, along with the contents. To ease the pain, make sure you get the right level of insurance cover, especially if you're carrying expensive cameras, laptops or smartphones. Read the policy description all the way through, and check these valuable items will be fully covered.

6. Be prepared to lose stuff

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 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.

How to keep your luggage safe while traveling:

7. Never, ever 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. 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, as 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).

8. Keep your valuables with you

What happens when you can't keep your valuables with you; the roof of the chicken-bus is the only place big enough for your whopping 90-litre backpack?

Take out anything and everything valuable and stuff it into your daypack. Then use zip ties or locks to secure your main bag as best as you can before you throw it up on top of the bus with all the rest, and hope for the best. Sit with your overfull daypack exploding onto your lap for the next 15 hours and don't complain. And then maybe think about how you're going to travel really light on that next trip...

9. Secure your daypack

Don't leave the zips undone or pockets flapping open – it's too easy for pickpockets to steal your gear... or 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 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.

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  • JAMES said

    I'm amazed how often I see business travelers set their laptop bags to their SIDE while at a ticket counter or car rental counter. In a chaotic environment I could easily make off with it.<br><br>My bag, (usually just one,) ALWAYS goes in front of me in lines, and my foot is on it, (or the strap is around my foot,) at all times<br><br>james


  • Jackie Rose said

    Good tips! I always carry a day pack so I can carry my valuables like a camera and such close to me. It is safer to use a money belt or carry your day pack on your front than it is to use a wallet in your back pocket, or lug your whole backpack around. <br><br>I found that when sleeping in hostels I would sleep with my money and passport on my person, and sometimes keep my bag next to me in bed. <br><br>Packing light makes everything easier! <br><br>Also, if you are traveling for a long time and pick up a lot of little things along the way then maybe you want to send some stuff home instead of carrying it around and worrying about losing it. I've done this a few times now. Just seek out a local shipping company/post office for really cheap rates. If you want insurance or the like then search for DSL or something but they get very expensive and are very picky about exactly what you pack. <br><br>One bittersweet story before I go: During a backpacking trip through Europe I ended up on the beach in Spain with my then boyfriend. The beach was mostly empty except for my boyfriend and I, and another couple. As the sun set the other couple started having sex in the sand...guess the romance of it all just overcame them :-) My boyfriend and I pretended not to notice but about 10 minutes later the couple came over to us and asked, "Did you see anyone take our bags? We were just sitting on the beach doing nothing and someone grabbed our bags! We didn't even see them!" <br><br>My boyfriend and I laughed because they obviously weren't "doing nothing" they were doing each other! In all their lovemaking they lost sight of their bags, which were mere feet away...now they had no money, no passports, no camera, nothing. <br><br>We helped them out and enjoyed a good laugh about it for a while!


  • safetyhub said

    @james - thanks for this tip. It's such a simple thing to keep your bag in front rather than at the side... It sounds so obvious, but people so rarely do it!<br><br>@Jackie Rose - he he he! I love the nudie beach story!


  • Orlando said

    Thanks for tips, this is good tips before I travel to Thailand this year.<br><br>Regards<br>Orlando


  • Ricochet said

    Ditto Orlando. I'm off to Koh Samui this Autumn and the tips have come in very handy. And after reading the story of Schapelle Corby I'm pretty paranoid now about my luggage being tampered with. A lot of the advice is common sense but you would be amazed at how many people don't have any! Sometimes you need it spelt out to you to drive the message home. Many thanks!<br><br>Ricochet


  • RG said

    Another trick to stop the tampering in transit situation, and yes this has happened to me, hence I took advice...<br><br>Get your bag/case cellophaned or cling wrapped. Immediate put off for any airport tamperers or drug planters.


  • Wlorac said

    Prevent Theft of Documents:<br>2 photocopies of all travel documents, drivers license, credit cards, passport etc. plus contact details for your nearerst bank, embassy, consulate or high commission. One in your money pouch and one with someone at home. Original documents can be left in the hotel or purser’s safe.<br><br>Prevent Theft of Suitcase:<br>Tie two luggage tags to a differetn place on each bag, replace any cotton ties with cable ties or reinforce the tag ties with duct tape. Tape your typed address and travel itinerary to the inside of each luggage tag on each bag. Use cable ties to hold the bag closed or brightly coloured luggage straps with quick release buckles to prevent pilfering. Other people duct tape their luggage closed, however customs may wish to open and search your luggage so this is impractical.


  • Francisca said

    Hello, I am in Istanbul and have to take a bus to Thessaloniki.<br>I am being paranoid and scared that someone will smuggle drugs in my bag.<br>I can't follow the tip " don't leave your bag unattainded" because the bag will probably be traveling under the bus. I will be looking at the bag untilits in the bus safe.<br>But still scared the driver stops somewhere and I don't know...<br>Crap, is this me being paranoid??<br><br>Some more tips???


  • gary said

    for a gut wretching read, check out what happened to shapelle corby in bali...one of the worst cases of injustice on the planet..those bastards KNOW she is innocent but there she is rotting in jail......she has gone mad apparently


  • Bill said

    Its not just Schapelle anymore. Recently, a ring of baggage handlers was busted putting cocaine into passenger luggage at JFK. An innocent passenger, Roger Levans, was arrested after being caught with cocaine in his luggage. Lucky for him, he was released after other passengers were caught out in the same predicament. He is now suing Delta for his ordeal. The articles are here: http://www.securoseal.com/main.php?pg=news&news_id=7727 ...makes you think about what can happen when you check luggage...



    Many times we travel with our baggage and during work,sight seeing ,of city for few days ,we feel like keeping few baggages at a place. We would like to pick them up after our work.Which is the place we can keep our extra baggage for few days safely and collect them back after our work.Such places would be of great help many times.


  • Mara Rob said

    Can I travel carrying glass in my purse from Spain to Mexico?


  • Michelle Brandon said

    According to an article in the Sunday May 5 2013 issue of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, an 80 yr. old retired neurosurgeon had his luggage checked at an airport in the Turks & Caicos Islands and they arrested him for having a lone unspent bullet. The Dr. and his wife have never owned a gun and were adamant it was not theirs. The Dr. was jailed for 3 days. A week prior, the same scenario played out with a female realtor from Dallas. Coincidence?


  • Don said

    Make sure you have all compartments of your luggage with a lock on it to prevent anyone from putting something in your luggage or taking anything from it. When your bags are scanned and they are not sure about something on the scan and want to check your bags you can unlock them for inspection. When you pick up your bags inspect them for tampering.


  • Sharon Bradshaw said

    ey there guys and girls - one item here has not been discussed and very very important as I travel regularly to Asia and have been extra careful. It is not only the flight which is extremely important but please everyone do yourself a HUGE favour once booked into your hotel I normally do not unpack my entire case if I am only staying a couple days but I lock my case. That being said BEFORE I leave the hotel I remove every item from my suitcas eand thoroughly search it and only then repack entire suitcase - there have been many reports of people arriving at airports and being arrested there was a case a while back where an Aussie guy and girlfriend arrived at the airport in BKK and for some reason the guy felt something was not right and the case was ever so slightly heavier. They left the airport before entering booked back into another hotel and guess what there were druges in their bags....these poor people washed all their clothing and threw the suitcases away in case any remnants were remaining in the cases - they bought new cases and left two days later very shaken - when looking back what they had done which I have done so many time was book out of hotel and ask hotel to safekeep cases till there evening flight and went on a last day excursion........ i rest my case repack recheck and to whatever is safe for yourself. Many corrupt people in BKK will plant something on a farang and tip off airport authorities - these evil people do not care about you they only case about the reward they received and in the meantime could destroy an innocent travellers life. TRAVEL WISE TRAVEL SAFE


    • rick be said

      Why would anyone want
      to plant something in your luggage?
      I don't believe any of these stories and
      I've actually smuggled stuff.


  • Taylor Bishop said

    I just wanted to thank you for these traveling tips. I actually didn't know that there were different requirements for luggage locks. I'm kind of interested to learn more about these and the different features they can have. https://tagcrazy.com/


  • ADG said

    Ultimate solution: Travel without any luggage


  • Nomad said

    Great tips!


  • Liz said

    Whenever possible, my husband and I travel only with hand luggage which we never leave unattended. Often it is cheaper if you don’t have bags to check and it goes a lot faster leaving the airport on arrival because you don’t have to wait for your bags. And let’s be honest, what do you need that you cannot carry in your hand luggage?


  • Anne said

    Most new bags come with combination locks. Generally all your bags have the same code. In your hotel room don’t leave the correct combination showing after unlocking your bags. The hotel staff can see your code and use it on one of your locked bags at any time during your stay


  • Sabrina said

    These are very helpful tips, especially that traveling is not like before the pandemic. The last time I traveled I was using a locking bag for my documents and money. I also have a medicine locking bag filled with basic medicines and an extra mask because COVID19 hasn’t completely disappeared yet. You can visit this link https://cardinalbagsupplies.com/ for the locking bags that you might need on your next travel.


  • amna said

    well, i think these are amazing tips for every traveler who travels a lot, after acting upon these tips he wouldn't have to buy luggage after every trip. frequent travel sometimes can harm the luggage.


  • SK said

    to avoid attracting thief, I choose to stay low profile. Bring boring luggage/backpack with colorful ribbons on each handles. I will take the zip ties advice this year. I also choose compact camera instead of those long lens, those are like advertising to the thief, come rob me. I try to stay alert at all time when I'm near crowds. Always keep passport, cash inside my shirt, I might look fat, but at least it won't get stolen because it's inside my shirt. In general, try to stay low profile instead of advertising that you are a tourist from a certain country.


  • Musawar said

    The majority of modern bags include combination locks. Your luggage typically all have the same code. After opening your baggage, don't leave the proper combination visible in your hotel room. Throughout your stay, the hotel staff has access to your code and may use it to open one of your secured bags.


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