Lost or stolen travel gear can really bring you down. It’s difficult (to say the least) to capture Buda Castle glowing on the banks of the Danube if your camera disappeared from your bag earlier in the day. And that crispy bánh mì will have to go un-Instagrammed if a thief on a scooter just sped off with your shoulder bag and phone. Worse still, if you’re a digital nomad, you could find yourself without the tools you need to ‘show up at work’ on ‘Monday morning (UTC-05:00… ?).’ You could even end up stranded on a street corner in Uzbekistan patting your pockets for your wallet and passport (and yes, the specificity of this ‘hypothetical’ example does indicate what you think it does).
Let’s start off by dialing down the paranoia factor. It’s impossible to perfectly secure your travel gear, but with a few simple moves you can make a thief’s job a lot more difficult. In terms of bodily harm and physical theft, there’s never been a safer time to travel. Within a year, every one of those rough situations above will become ‘part of the adventure’ – just another of the road stories you tell. Nonetheless – while a bit of hardship builds character, it’s not much fun to go through at the time (especially if you happened to be hauling a lot of uninsured items). So, here are our top tips for keeping your travel gear safe on the road.
Brush up on the situation before you go. Know when and where you’re traveling and have some idea of what to expect before you arrive. There are endless travel resources and nomad forums out there. One of the best ways learn know what you’re in for and build confidence before you go is to ask questions directly of people on the ground. For that there are Facebook groups for any city and interest you can think of from the Aachen Expat Meetup to Worldwide people in Zürich. No fixed plans yet? We like your style. Start with Digital Nomads Around The World.
Plan Not to Plan
Nothing is better than diving headfirst into a freewheeling trip and showing up somewhere that surprises you, like ancient travelers did back in the dark ages of the internet. Over-planning can suck the fun out of life on the road, but if you like to have an unstructured itinerary (or virtually none at all) you can still be strategic about key moments. A little forethought goes a long way.
For example, if you know you’ll be arriving groggy and dazed after a long flight to a new destination, treat yourself to a night or two in nicer accommodations until you get the lay of the land. Then you can leave yourself free to figure the rest out once you’re on the ground. Sometimes airport transportation provided by your hotel can offset a good chunk of the cost of upgrading your accommodations for a night or two. You’ll skip dealing with touts and haggling with cab drivers when you’re not at your best. And besides, pampering yourself after a long flight has been statistically proven to reduce jet lag by 1000%. That’s just science.
Invest in quality
You don’t have to wear a traveling safe to take security seriously. Invest in high quality, discreet, and durable gear that doesn’t immediately mark you as a gullible tourist. The less you stand out, the less vulnerable you’ll appear. Determined thieves can get into even the most secure case, but they’ll tend to bypass the pieces that don’t stand out.
A sleek profile with limited external pockets set high on your back, and few straps and anchor points not only LOOKS AMAZE 😉, it also makes it difficult for a thief to access in a crowd because the pockets are in everyone’s line of sight.
Internal zip pockets are a good place to store valuables that you don’t need instant access to. Anything that slows a thief down or adds complexity is a good deterrent.
Walk Into Traffic
Low Key Branding
Avoid branded camera straps and ostentatious logos that advertise luxury items or expensive photo gear. Leica owners famously cover the red dot and branding on their high-end cameras with electrical tape as a badge of courage. Wear your scuffs proud.
Oh, and… if you spot anyone on the road with electrical tape on their Rolex, send pics to feedback[at]minaal[dot]com IMMEDIATELY.
Lock it up
Luggage locks are a simple way to avoid being an easy mark. For an added level of security in crowds, on public transportation and even in your hostel or hotel room, your Minaal Carry-on 2.0 and Daily were designed with overlapping lockable zippers on the main and device compartments.
Combo locks can be great if you’re the type to misplace your keys. Admit it. Plan for it. You know who you are. 😜
Even a carabiner through the lockable zippers will make your gear less appealing to thieves than the next person. As long as you don’t look like the softest target, you’re likely to get a pass. Security means NOT being the slowest gazelle on the savannah.
Your Hotel is No Fortress
Keep in mind that even a decent hotel room isn’t a fortress. Don’t leave tempting valuables out like an all-you-can-snatch electronics buffet. Take advantage of the in-room safe, and use the front desk to safeguard travel gear or expensive equipment you won’t need while you’re out. If neither is available, some spots have lockers in just about every hostel or train station (Keep rockin’ it, Tokyo 🇯🇵👊 ).
If you like to stay out late, book a spot in a busy neighborhood where you’re less likely to be alone and isolated on the streets while walking at night.
Lay Off The Hooch
In uncertain circumstances you’re always better off with your wits about you. Try not to drink yourself into a state of physical incapacitation and/or delirium. This one seems like a ‘well, duh’ piece of advice, but it’s easier said than done on a tropical night when the bia hơi is flowing. 🍻
Downsize To Carry-on Only
The less you have, the less you have to keep track of. Traveling light, carry-on only style, is the ideal forcing function. Limited space means you’ll need to be thoughtful about what you decide to bring. At a certain point, extras simply won’t fit. Any valuables that don’t come with you on your trip have zero chance of disappearing. So, if you don’t need it, leave it out.
Once you’ve embraced the challenge of traveling light, it becomes fun to see how little you can get away with. We’ve even heard from several ultra–light travelers who are living out of a Daily long-term. If *you* belong on that list, let us know in the comments!
— ZacharyCohn (@ZacharyCohn) December 8, 2016
Keep Your Travel Gear Close
You’ll find this is much easier to do when you’re traveling with less. When you have a bag you can comfortably carry anywhere, you won’t be forced to stow your travel gear under the bus, far from your seat on a train, in the trunk of the cab or otherwise out of reach. A soft-sided carry-on bag is easy to bring and store where rolling cases aren’t allowed, no matter what kind of transportation you’re taking.
Hands (And/Or Feet) On
Put a leg through the strap of your bag when you’re seated on a bus, train or in a cafe, especially if you might fall asleep. On flights, where everyone has the same destination rather than hopping on and off, your gear is typically less at risk. If you’re forced to sleep in an airport or in public, use your bag as a lumpy pillow or put it on backwards, give your bag a hug, and rest your head on it.
Make A List, Check It Twice
Making a packing list is a fun (OK, ‘fun’) way to start getting amped up for your next trip. Getting organized before you go also makes it easy to remember what you have with you. If you’re traveling for an extended period, after packing and unpacking a few times, all of your travel gear will quickly find its place.
Routine is your friend in the security line. You should have everything you need packed into the easy-to-access device compartment of your carry-on. That way you’ll only need to remove the essentials – unless you hit the additional screening jackpot! Return everything to the same pocket it came from so a quick self-check/pocket pat-down makes it clear you haven’t left any of your precious travel gear behind.
If you’re carrying lots of expensive electronics and photo equipment, it’s also smart to take pictures of everything you’re bringing, including serial numbers. Store those photos in the cloud where they can’t get lost. That way if you do find you’re missing something along the way, you’ll have an easier time getting it returned to you or making an insurance claim.
Consider Travel Gear Insurance
It’s never fun to pony up cash that could otherwise make your travel budget stretch even further, but insuring your travel gear can feel like a genius move when something goes wrong, particularly if you’re a photographer or digital nomad whose livelihood depends on your gear.
The good news is, you may already be entitled to a certain amount of equipment insurance through the medical policy you’ve purchased or as a perk on your credit card. While those are good places to start, make sure you properly digest the salad of legalese to fully understand the terms of your coverage or you could end up unpleasantly surprised.
Professional societies and guilds such as the Professional Photographers Association, make affordable equipment insurance available to their members. If you’re carrying serious specialty gear, it could be well worth the cost of your annual dues.
Don’t Be Too Polite To Say ‘No’
If something makes you uncomfortable, trust your gut and say no. While it helps to learn the basics of local language. A calm, confident ’No,’ usually gets the point across.
Divide And Conquer
It helps to divide cash, valuables and photocopies of key travel documents (like your passport) between your bags, accommodations and person so that losing one thing doesn’t mean you’ve lost everything. We’re big fans of the ‘cash in the shoe’ contingency method. If you take the added step of wearing a money belt, use it to transfer cash to your wallet very occasionally and in private. The point of such devices is to keep your stash hidden. There’s nothing more ridiculous or inviting to thieves than to see someone fishing around under their shirt for every purchase.
Your Phone Is Your Friend
A smart phone with international service is essential equipment. It’s easier than ever to swap SIMs or find an affordable international plan. It’s also the best way by far to keep someone updated on your itinerary if you’re traveling solo.
Besides being an awesome way to stay in touch with friends and family back home, your phone is your brain in the cloud. Use it to snap photos of your hotel address so you never get lost, your Uber or taxi’s license in case you leave something on the seat by accident, and anything else you may find useful to record, like say… every meal, cup of coffee or sunrise. Tag #minaal wherever you hang out on social to loop us in!
While you don’t want to walk around with your phone dangling loosely in your hand. Phones also make a great deterrent. Even when you’re alone, you’re automatically less isolated if you appear to be talking with someone who could be nearby.
If you need to ward off an errant monkey or ‘motivate’ a goat that’s blocking your motorbike, there’s a whistle clip on your Minaal bag’s chest strap. For more serious issues, you may need to dial emergency services. It sounds simple, but pay attention to the emergency number of the country you’re visiting they’re not as straightforward as you’d expect. Should you call 911 (United States) or 119 (Japan’s fire and ambulance service)? The police in Japan can be reached at 110 and they have multilingual operators are on hand. Meanwhile, Thailand’s general emergency number is 191. But the Thai Tourist Police are 1155.
Everywhere Is Someone’s Hometown
Remember that everywhere you visit is someone’s hometown. Chances are, the security situation there isn’t much worse than where you’re from, particularly if you’re aware of what to watch out for. You’re not likely to run into problems if you stay alert, keep your gear close and carry yourself with confidence. Taking a few of the precautions listed above can help you keep your travel gear safe. Feel free to scale them up to your level of comfort. The more time you spend on the road, the more they’ll feel like second nature.
If you have any questions or tips of your own, drop ’em in the comments!