Keeping You And Your Backpack Safe – Transportation Security Tips

“A ship in harbor is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for.”
– John Augustus Shedd
Separation Anxiety

By and large, travel is a safe and enjoyable activity and the chances of falling victim to a violent crime are negligible. However, it pays to be aware of the potential for being separated from your belongings and valuables. Travelers are especially vulnerable when they are on the move – when your stuff isn’t secured in a hotel room. Here are some transportation security tips to help keep you and your backpack safe.

Keep what valuables you can on you, whether in your money belt, neck pouch, or inside pocket. Don’t take any passports or money to buy onward tickets out until you are at the ticket window. A couple with whom we traveled in India had their passports pinched due to “getting everything ready” upon arriving at the Varanasi train station.

Train Travel to Tiradentes, Brazil

Train Travel to Tiradentes, Brazil

Many packs have been slashed or stolen, and many cameras, passports, laptops have gone missing. There are excellent and versatile products on the market when it comes to securing your belongings. Most are simply steel mesh (resembling chicken wire) with steel cable draw cord and a lock used to envelope your backpack.

It is impossible to slash a pack with such a device, and is very effective in keeping everything in it. Equally important is nobody putting anything in your pack, either – good peace of mind at airports and borders. Stylish backpacks are also available with the mesh as part of the fabric.

Do Not Leave Bags Or Luggage Unattended

Signs to this effect are ubiquitous in airports, bus depots and train stations for good reason. It is one of the most important transportation security tips to keep you and your stuff together. As soon as you put your pack on the ground, it stands a chance of disappearing.

The best way to carry your backpacks is your big pack on your back and your day-pack on your front. That way you don’t have to put anything on the ground when you need to consult a guidebook, map, etc.

If you are traveling with others, it is easier to keep an eye on each other and each other’s belongings. You can also help each other with backpacks and visit the toilet one at a time, so at least one person can keep an eye on the packs, etc.

Bus and train stations can be a hive of petty criminal activity. There are three things to keep in such cases – an eye on your belongings, your wits about you, and the length of time you spend there to a minimum. Thieves will often target the groggy, weary, bleary-eyed, yawning backpacker stumbling off a bus or train at 4:30am.

Be cautious of someone trying to charge you for loading your pack onto a bus or train for you. Watch luggage being unloaded when the bus stops to ensure yours doesn’t disappear before you reach your destination.

Bus Station in Baños, Ecuador

Bus Station in Baños, Ecuador

Slow Travel And Sticky Fingers

Some of the best slow travel is on buses and trains, but pick-pockets and bag-slashers frequently visit crowded buses or trains. Clip your pack in the overhead rack across the aisle, and slightly in front of you (as opposed to directly over you). This way, you can keep an eye on it. Position it so the zippers do not face the aisle. This makes it impossible to remove anything from your pack without taking it off the rack.

A bike lock or length of chain can come in handy to secure your backpack to an immovable object during long train or bus rides. A retractable ski/snowboard lock is even more lightweight than a bike lock. In general, any impediment to theft would discourage most thieves from stealing your stuff and send them looking for an easier mark.

Night buses and trains are generally safer than their daytime counterparts, but already abhorrent driving skills and habits become even worse at night. Darkness can impede a driver’s vision, and fatigue and alcohol their judgment. In some countries, night is also a favored time for bandits to set up roadblocks. If possible, keep an arm on your pack while sleeping to alert and waken you if someone tries to steal it or anything it contains.

Loading luggage onto a bus in Vientiane, Laos

Alex loads his backpack onto the roof of a bus in Vientiane, Laos

Fare Game

Although most fare collectors will not try to rip tourists off, there are the odd ones who will. If you suspect such a character, try to determine what the other passengers are paying by simply asking them, or observing with what denominations they pay and what change they are getting back.

Similarly, most countries don’t charge for baggage. If you think you are being taken for a ride, claim you were told the charge was included in the ticket. If that doesn’t work, ask for a receipt. Alternately, ask a local if there actually is a surcharge.

In cities all around the world, cabbies are notorious for driving around in circles to boost the metered fare. Try to have an idea of where you are, at least in relation to where you’ve been and where you’re going, by following the route on a map.

Get your payment for a taxi fare ready to avoid fumbling with your wad on the street with your packs on the ground. Don’t pay until you get your packs out of the cab. Leaving your door open can be a good precaution against the taxi driver driving off with your luggage still in the trunk.

Departure Sign at the Airport in Bangkok, Thailand

Departure Sign at the Airport in Bangkok, Thailand

Transportation Security Tips 2.0

Replacing your belongings can be stressful, time-consuming and expensive when you’re traveling. So, go explore, but be vigilant and mindful of the ploys and tactics thieves will use to try separating you from your belongings and valuables. Thieves are always coming up with new and dynamic ways of plying their trade. Consequently, you will likely develop a few transportation security tips and strategies of your own.


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