Knowing how to keep your valuables safe when traveling should be top of mind for every tourist, traveler and adventurer. The loss of a computer, camera, mobile phone, tablet, identification, jewelry or money can happen in the blink of an eye. And such a loss can ruin any trip, business or pleasure.
While expert advice has always been to keep close control over your valuables and never to pack them into your checked luggage, a recent ban on electronic devices larger than a smartphone inside aircraft flying from select destinations in the Middle East and Africa to the United States and the United Kingdom has placed a cloud of uncertainty and vulnerability over many travelers — Click here to read our story “We Flew Turkish Airlines to Learn How The Electronics Ban is Working.” That electronics ban is likely not the first such restriction travelers may experience in the coming months.
So how should you best keep your valuables safe when traveling, especially electronic devices and your personal data? First, remember always that a serious and committed thief will find a way to steal what he or she wants. Your goals are simply to deter and prevent crimes of opportunity, mostly from casual criminals.
- Whenever possible, keep all of your valuables with you – computer, tablet, smartphone, camera, camera lenses, jewelry, money – and securely stowed in your carry-on luggage. Be sure your carryon is also as secure as possible and difficult to open or steal. We often travel with both the Pacsafe Venturesafe X30 anti-theft backpack and the Pacsafe Travelsafe X15 anti-theft portable safe.
- In hotels, secure any valuables you don’t want to carry with you either in a hotel safe (assuming the safe is secure) or by putting them in your own travel safe (see above) and securing that to an immovable object in the room, like a toilet. When sitting in a café, train, bus station waiting area, or anywhere you have your carryon with you, but not on your body, secure a strap to your leg or a chair or table leg. And of course do not put it on any seat next to a public sidewalk or walkway where passers-by can grab and dash while you are seated. Simply look to avoid an easy snatch-and-dash.
- Password-protect all computers, smartphones and tablets and ensure you are encrypting the storage on your computer’s hard drive as well. Learn more about how to secure your digital you in our story, “Digital Security When Traveling: 10 Must-Do Tips.” Losing a computer, smartphone or tablet is one thing. Losing your data and photos, and perhaps being subjected to identity theft as a result is far worse.
- Before you leave home, move any sensitive information off of your devices and into a cloud or other shared drive that is compact enough (and not potentially prohibited under the electronics ban) to carry on it on even if you do check your luggage. Also, if you have several carry-on bags, be sure to keep your shared drive in one bag, and your computer in another – just in case.
- Protect your electronics with soft-shell or hard-shell cases that will shield them from moisture, drops, bumps and crushing weight. Both Thule and Pelican offer relatively compact cases for laptops and tablets and Pelican also has superior cases for camera gear. This added protection for your computer or tablet or camera becomes even more important if, because of an electronics ban, you are required to gate check them or hand them over to airline personnel for safe keeping before boarding.
- Avoid packing valuables, especially electronics, in checked luggage. This basic advice holds true for most flight destinations, even in the face of the electronics ban affecting so many travelers coming from particular areas. However, realizing that you may be forced to check your electronics, you need to be sure they are well protected (refer to No. 4 above). You also need to be sure you understand your insurance coverage. Realize that any valuables placed in your luggage are increasingly at risk for theft, and while TSA locks can help, even TSA employees are not immune from rifling through luggage and have been discovered to have sticky fingers.
- Sometimes, even when you do your best to keep your valuables safe when traveling, things go wrong. Most good travel insurance plans (such as those from Ripcord or World Nomads) as well as some credit card travel protection plans (such as the Chase Sapphire or American Express Platinum) include coverage that is intended to reimburse you if your luggage is lost, stolen or destroyed anytime during your trip (not just on a flight). But understand your coverage in detail! Coverage is not unlimited and, it is typically not intended to cover valuables fully, such as jewelry or computers. Travel safety expert for World Nomads, Phil Sylvester, notes that travel insurance companies are scrambling to address the new electronics ban regulation and its impact. He reminds us that in the case of theft or a loss of luggage at the airport, be sure to get a Property Irregularity Report (PIR) from the airline before leaving the airport since you will need this to file a claim. World Nomads, for example, will pay U.S. travelers a maximum benefit of $1,000 with a limit of $500 for any one article with a standard plan and $3,000 total with a per item limit of $1,500 with its Explorer plan — still not good enough to replace both a stolen or damaged high-end laptop and a camera.
- For better coverage for valuables, Sylvester recommends inquiring about “personal property” or “personal articles” insurance with your home insurance broker. Essentially, this is a separate policy, available to those insured in the United States who also have a homeowner’s policy. With State Farm for example, the Personal Articles Policy covers valuables against theft or accidental damage anywhere in the world with no deductible.
- Pay extra close attention when traveling in taxis, buses, trains and even rickshaws. See No. 2 above. Do NOT put your carry-on onto a seat beside you (it can get snatched, even through the window of a taxi) or in the trunk of a taxi (thieves have been known to snatch items out of an open trunk when you, the owner, are now seated inside) or onto the roof of an over-crowded bus, say in India (suffer and put your heavy bag on your lap).