Backpacking is an amazing time, travelling to new and exciting places, experiencing new things and going on a wild journey across the world. But with that also comes worries and stresses, mostly around keeping your valuables safe. Many of us travel with money, cameras, tablets, important documents and even a laptop if you are a blogger. With all that stuff you need to be on the ball when it comes to security, here are our tips!
Use a locker and double security where you can
It might seem obvious but one of the main considerations when we book a hostel is the lockers. Not all lockers are made the same either, some are pretty flimsy, some lift up when they are under the bed and some are just pinned on cheap thin wood on the back. The best are well made or built into the wall and have good quality latches. Putting your stuff in the lockers at your hostel is the easiest way to protect your belongings but also the most obvious place too. We had no issues using our lockers for all our valuables and documents, but there were a few places where we were a little skeptical of the safety of the lockers so we took extra precautions.
For extra security, we used the cable wire we bought to tie our bags up when needed. We threaded this around the inner hinges of the locker and locked our bag up inside the locker. If you do this make sure to either lock your zips on your bag together or double back the cable through the zips so they can’t be opened. Of course, you can never be 100% sure, if someone was determined enough they could cut your bag or unscrew the hinges. But taking these precautions just makes it harder and most thieves are opportunists.
It seems a little overboard, but in certain situations you really can’t be too careful when it comes to things like laptops, backed up photos and passports.
Keep money and documents safe
Keeping money safe is always tricky. Most advice would be to never carry large amounts of cash on you, ever! What we have set up is a savings account with on bank account which doesn’t have a card. We have a Direct Debit to transfer each month a budget into our current account and have a card each for that account. We chose a Norwich and Peterborough account that charges no fees for overseas transactions and withdrawals. Keeping the bulk of our money away from the cards we carry means if they get stolen, cloned or any other nightmare situation then it is just that smaller amount that is under jeopardy and we keep the numbers to cancel those cards close at hand. We also make sure to always use trust worthy WIFI when dealing with our banks online. We also have a back up account we don’t use generally but incase we loose our other cards.
When withdrawing money do it little and often, pay on card where possible if the place appears secure and also make sure to check cash machines for cloning devices and always try to withdraw within a bank branch or airport if you can. Keep more than one card and keep money in different accounts as well as an emergency back up. Keep cards separate and wallets zipped and locked away deep inside your bag!
Keep things dry!
We use dry sacks to keep our cameras, passports and pen drives in to make sure if we are caught in a storm that all our important things are dry. We also have spare ones for our laptops and covers for our bags too!
Use a combination lock where possible
One of the problems with locks is where to put your key. You lock your locker up and night and what do you do with your key? You could get it stolen, loose it or get it mixed up! If at all possible then get yourself a few combination padlocks and use them for all these situations mentioned in this post and lockers if you can. Its a lot less likely you will forget your code than your key!!
If you do need to use a key then I sleep in shorts with zip pocket so I can keep my locker key in there. Alternatively Shorty often puts his key in his big bag and locks that bag up with a combination lock. We usually keep our big bags on our dorm beds so they are easier to get at and also safer.
Keep your valuables together and secure
This is especially important if you don’t have an anti theft backpack. I always try to make sure I know exactly where my most valuable stuff is, instead of having it spread around and in random locations I always keep them in the same places. Keeping them together means I can use the maximum amount of protection on them. For example having them all in a bag locked up in my locker and wrapped up with a wire. Or on a bus or whilst travelling from place to place, if everything is in my small bag, in the deepest and most protected section I can lock that area up and prioritise keeping that on me at all times! I am a little paranoid when it comes to this and if I know everything is in a certain bag then there is no separating me from it!
Back up your pictures and protect your memories
One of the things that I worry about the most in terms of loosing my stuff is all our photos and videos. Laptops, passports, cameras and even money is awful to get stolen but at the same time they are replaceable. But what would upset me the most would be loosing all those memories and moments captured. So again I have a system which means I back everything up.
Firstly I have all my files backed up on hard drives that I leave at home, so the files I take with my initially are protected. I then back my entire computer up in the cloud, I use Dropbox because you can pay for the whole year and get a large amount of storage for a good price. You can also back up from your phone too and access files via the app. This is useful for transferring photos off your phone directly onto your computer and having them backed up at the same time. As an extra precaution I also have a series of pen drives that I use for my photos. Pen drives are much more stable than hard drives for carrying around and also take up less room. I have about 4 64gb drives that I put just photos and important bits on. These serve as belts and braces but also for the times when you don’t have enough WIFI for your files to be backed up in the cloud. Be sure to, when you get chance, allow your laptop enough time connected to the internet to back your files up. A perfect time is when you are in a private room and you can leave your laptop on overnight.
Lock up even your big bag!
I don’t do this religiously but depending on how you feel about your dorm and your room mates it is sometimes a good idea to lock up your big bag too. I never keep anything of real value in the bag I leave around in the room but nevertheless loosing clothes, shoes, toiletries or just the thought of someone rummaging around isn’t great. So occasionally we will lock our bags up in the room or if the lockers are big enough just put them in there. But when we are placing bags in a coach or on transport then we definitely lock them up and try to clip them to something solid.
Never get distracted and be aware when waiting around
Usually when you are moving from one location to another you are most vulnerable and waiting around for your bus or train you are a sitting duck. Make sure you are aware of your surroundings and the people who are near you. Often you might be distracted in order for your stuff to be taken, whether that is pickpocketing or being conned. It’s hard to cover all possibilities here to be aware of but in general terms be aware of people hovering around you, pestering you, getting close and asking questions or helping you in an over friendly manner. For example we had people hanging around the ticket machines in Milan offering help with them, really they wanted to both pressure us into paying them after the help as well as getting close enough to pick pocket us and separate us from our bags!!! Keep yourselves to yourselves and always be skeptical!
Insure yourself and your gadgets
It seems obvious but just like you get travel insurance for accidents then you can insure your gadgets too. Insurance companies such as “Alpha” which we use and “World Nomads” which many swear by offer additional gadget insurance. Of course, there are fees involved but these things cost a lot to replace. Make sure to check the small print and exactly how much they cover. Then take down all the serial number of your gadgets, keep the receipts and take photos. You can also install programs and apps that track your laptop and phone too. “Prey” is the one we use.
Of course, travel insurance is immensely important whilst travelling just incase of any unforeseen incidents or accidents. Shop around and see what else you can get covered on top of the usual levels of cover, many have add ons for your gadgets. The best travel insurance is the one that suits your needs as a traveller.
Leaving baggage in the store room
This is always the part that I always hate. Do you carry everything with you all day, a heavy pack full of valuables, or do you leave your laptop basically in a room where many people pass in and out. Firstly there is no black and white answer to this, it is about judgement. Each hostel has a different policy for leaving baggage, some use a separate room, some an office, some use a labelling system and others are a free for all.
Initially I always ask if there is a free locker we can use. In many hostels were we have gotten close to the owners or the staff the situation is easier. They are either really chilled about us keeping a locker for the day, especially if the place is quiet, or other times if you let them know how much your stuff needs to be kept safe they will put them into their private office or rooms. When you can’t do this you have to have a look at the situation. In some situations we have locked our bags up (our big bags actually have better zips for locking) and then used our metal security wire to join the bags together and then wrapped that around say a strong pipe or pole in the room or to the shelving. On a couple of occasions I have actually ended up carrying my laptop around with me all day…really not ideal!
Transport: The most likely place to get robbed!
Transport is probably one of the most vulnerable places you will find yourself and your stuff whilst backpacking. There are several different scenarios where you are in danger and distracted.
Firstly public transport and metros you are most likely to get pick pocketed in the crowds. Here you should always zip your pockets and your bag up, lock your zips together if you can and have your bag on your front. Keep your wits about you and know where your stuff is at all times…but don’t frantically check it repeatedly as this gives their location away too!
On longer trips such as coaches and train journeys you will be distracted in other ways and even want to have a sleep. Firstly again keep your big bag full of just things like clothes and your valuables in your small bag. Always have your small bag on your person, keep it locked up at the zips (put things like your ipod or a book in another compartment that’s easier to get to) and if you can use a metal wire and lock it to something solid or even yourself. This way your mind can be at ease and you can enjoy the view and even get some shut eye. You can also wrap your arm/ leg through a shoulder loop.
For your big bag try and keep it as close as you can and in sight. If you have to put them on luggage racks then again clip them together and around something solid and if you can then even lock them up to the rack. You can even get some netting type mesh to put over your entire bag. When you put your bags in the hold again try to lock them together and to something solid to make them harder to just get pulled off by an opportunist.
We wrote a post about transport here: How to survive a night bus!
Lastly, make your stuff hard to steal
Having your stuff completely bulletproof whilst backpacking isn’t really possible, bags can be slashed, locks can be broken and the most determined thief could find a way. But mostly it is about opportunism and taking easy chances, so making your stuff as safe as it can be is about taking steps to reduce their vulnerability.
Lock the zips together, keep your stuff in the centre of the bag, clip your wallet or anything else you can to something internal in your bag, use a wire to attached your bad to the inside of your locker or the luggage rack on a train/ bus, wear your small bag on your front or when you set your stuff down clip it all together. I can guarantee if someone runs passed trying to steal your little bag and they end up with 40kg worth of stuff trailing they won’t get far! Also always keep a part of the bags on you/ wrapped around your arm or leg and on top of chairs etc instead of under them. Always think of ways you can make it hard to steal!
Be safe and have peace of mind, but don’t let it rule your travels!
OK, there is a lot of information and tips here but you can never be too careful…or can you. Getting the balance right between being paranoid and getting all your things stolen is hard. The more you carry with you the more you will worry. If you can get by with just your compact camera instead of your SLR too, if you can leave your laptop or tablet at home then do it!! We, as bloggers, are in the camp where we need to bring quite a lot of expensive gear! But if you can leave stuff at home, lock things up and go enjoy yourself backpacking!
How do you keep your stuff safe?
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