It’s not just criminals or pickpockets that you need to keep your gear safe from. Accidents and even the weather can damage your gear too. Whether getting hit with sea spray on a longtail boat or your luggage is lost on an international flight.
But there are lots of actions you can take to prevent damage and theft and keep your gear safe while travelling.
First, I always recommend doing some research before heading off to your destination. Your government may have some official travel advice (like The Travel Advice from the UK Government), that offers up-to-date advice on safety ratings and crime statistics. This is also tip No.1 in my pre-trip safety checklist for solo female travellers.
It can give you a rough overview of the most common crimes and when or where they may happen. E.g. on public transport, certain districts etc.
Related Read | How to Stay Safe as a Solo Female Traveller
How to keep your gear safe while travelling
Whether you’re backpacking through Europe, wandering around South America or island hopping in Thailand. Be prepared and keep your gear safe with these top tips.
1. Keep valuables in your hand luggage
Whether you’re travelling on a plane, by coach, boat or by train, store cameras, lenses, laptops and any other valuable gear in your hand luggage. This protects them from potential damage from luggage handlers, but also from possible theft.
In the mad rush at baggage carousels or the unloading of luggage on ferries and coaches a bag could easily go missing… Even on trains, you may need to store your bag away from you, so keep valuables with you.
On aeroplanes, cameras and laptops can technically go in the hold with checked luggage. However, luggage handlers may not give your bag the same care and attention that you will. Just be aware of hand luggage weight limits. Some airlines have a 7kg maximum. And with a laptop, tablet, couple of lenses etc, you might go over this.
2. Choosing the right backpack + inserts
Invest in a decent backpack and/or internal pouches that will keep any expensive tech and gadgets safe inside your backpack. Just remember that shoulder bags aren’t ideal, as they can easily be swiped from your shoulder.
Bags with padding, waterproof lining and durable fabrics help to keep your valuable items safe from damage.
If you’re in the market for a new bag, look for one with anti-theft features. Hidden zips, puncture-proof fabric, RFid-blocking, secret pockets etc. can all help to keep your gear secure from thieves.
There are also lots of fantastic backpack brands that offer matching protective pouch bags and inserts for cameras and other tech too.
3. Be discreet with valuables
Keep your valuables hidden when not in use, like your laptop, purse, camera etc. If possible, hide logos of well-known, expensive gear, e.g. swapping out a branded camera strap for a plain one.
Try not to carry large amounts of cash and definitely be subtle with it when paying for things at cafes and markets. Make sure your purse/wallet is set up so that you can discreetly pull out one or two notes when needed, instead of a whole wad of cash.
4. Keep your bag very close
Attenzione pickpocket! Even when your bag is near you. Keep an eye on it.
Don’t leave your bag out of sight, ever. This includes hanging it on the back of a chair. Keep it right next to you or even on the floor with a strap wrapped around your leg.
If you’re on crowded transport, it may be best to wear a backpack on your front. Noisy, crowded buses or trains are prime spots for opportunistic pickpockets.
If you’re heading to a beach, lake or waterfall to swim while travelling solo it’s best to not bring valuables with you. The same goes for leaving it unattended in a restaurant or cafe, even when heading to the toilet. Don’t leave it as a target for opportunistic criminals.
5. Make use of lockers and safes
Hostel lockers or hotel room safes, lock away any valuable items in these areas if you’re heading out for the day/night.
I’ve found that hostel lockers seem to be getting bigger, so if there’s space, I would put my larger backpack in there too (don’t want anybody stealing my shampoo or clothes!). Hostels are generally very safe and friendly places, but as you’re sharing a room with strangers, the risk is unfortunately never zero.
Combination locks for lockers are generally best. Just in case you lose a key!
If you can’t lock your bags away. Storing valuables in unusual places within your bags is also another great way to keep smaller items safe. Thieves will want to work quickly, so if they don’t find money in obvious pockets they’ll hopefully move on. Little do they know you’ve hidden a roll of cash in a pair of socks or a dive watch in a box of tampons!
6. Keeping your gear protected from the elements
You never know when you might get caught in a rainstorm or be left with the only seat on a boat that happens to be in the *splash* zone.
Sea spray can get onto your gear even on a relatively calm boat journey. This can cause corrosive damage to zips if they’re not wiped down and dried properly. And it’s not friendly with tech either.
Backpack covers and dry bags are essential for carrying tech and electronics. They can keep valuables protected from water damage but also keep your clothes dry too. Ponchos and umbrellas are another option, depending on how much space you have to spare.
7. Blending in…
An unusual tip… but a valuable one! Blending in and dressing/acting like a local can help to make you less of a target when travelling.
Pickpockets and criminals know that tourists may be carrying cameras and extra money etc. But if you mirror what the locals are wearing, you can avoid unwanted attention.
8. Make your bag unique
As your bag is leisurely gliding around a baggage carousel or being launched out from coach or boat storage, you need to be able to quickly identify your bag. The sooner you have eyes on your bag, the less risk there is of someone else walking off with it.
Patches are a great way to make your bag stand out. But you can also use fabric ties or secure luggage tags so you can clearly see your bag in a crowd.
My green Osprey Fairview backpack often stands out amongst suitcases, but on a Greek ferry arriving onto Naxos, my eyes caught my luggage tag first.
9. Luggage trackers
A useful gadget that might be worth investing in. Luggage trackers, like the Apple AirTag, can give you some added peace of mind when hopping on multiple forms of transport.
There are different types of trackers, so make sure you buy one that suits your needs.
GPS luggage trackers are ideal for international travel. Lost luggage and missed connections are still an issue, but with a GPS luggage tracker, you’ll be able to see which country and exactly where your missing luggage is.
Bluetooth trackers are usually cheaper and have a longer life, but they have a much smaller range and are dependent on a Bluetooth signal. These are generally used for misplaced items in one location, e.g. your house.
10. Get the right insurance!
A drone lost in a forest, an apple watch accidentally lost in the sea, or a camera lens dropped onto cobblestones. It’s rare but these things can happen!
Most general travel insurance policies won’t cover expensive gear like drones, cameras, lenses or laptops. If you’re lucky, some policies may cover phones and cash, to a certain amount. But most (ie, the cheaper companies) won’t.
You might need to add on additional coverage or find an insurance company that offers the kind of coverage you need.
Use comparison sites like Go Compare to find travel insurance policies with gadget cover. And remember always read the fine print. Some may offer ‘gadget cover’ that only covers phones and not laptops, drones etc.