01.Suitcase safety measures
While it’s good to take precautions, the best measures to keep your luggage safe are to:
- take out comprehensive travel insurance
- pack valuables only in your carry-on luggage.
Are your locks attracting unwanted attention?
Many holiday makers will buy locks, cable ties, shrink wrapping or straps to protect themselves from theft or even would-be smugglers while travelling. Ashley Kausman, CEO of Korjo Travel Products, believes that adding security features to your luggage is common sense. “Anything is better than nothing. If a thief has half an hour with your luggage, they can break into most things. But what you’re trying to do is to make your luggage less accessible.”
However, while locks and other such mechanisms may be a deterrent, as a general rule they can’t really guard your luggage from determinedly sticky fingers. “No amount of security or care will guarantee against people who want to legitimately or illegitimately search bags,” says Jim Carden, Head of Corporate Relations at Brisbane Airport. Although you may get some bang for your buck, expensive locks, brightly-coloured straps, cable ties galore and vast amounts of shrink-wrap scream “treasures inside”.
- Label each bag with your contact details, making sure tags are weather-proof and securely attached.
- Keep a copy of your itinerary in an external pocket of each suitcase – if you and your bags are parted, you can be reunited sooner. This is particularly important on longer trips.
- Remove all old tags and labels to ensure your bags don’t visit your last holiday destination.
- Don’t pack anything worth stealing into your checked baggage and keep all valuables and identification documents on you at all times.
- Take out comprehensive travel insurance that covers you for lost or stolen items and keep a copy of the policy easily accessible. If you’re relying on your credit card’s travel insurance, be aware of exceptions and terms and conditions.
The pros and cons of locks and straps
Locks are an old-school favourite with passengers. Even if you’re sporting the latest model, your luggage may still be exposed - soft suitcases can be slashed, and even hard types can be vulnerable – depending on the brand, it may be possible to split the zipper open. A lock may slow down a thief but will not stop the skilled or the determined.
Cable ties are used by passengers as a low-cost alternative to locks. They’re cheap, quick, come in different colours, are easily replaceable and some even have serial numbers. But cable ties can be cut with pretty much anything – nail clippers do the trick. Some may also be unzipped and reattached with the aid of a nail file, you may not even know they’ve been fiddled with until it’s too late.
Cable ties do have certain advantages, including being a cheap way to identify your luggage on the baggage claim carousel of chance.
After Schapelle Corby was arrested, travellers' security consciousness increased. Shrink-wrapping stations now appear at many airports around the world, including several in Australia. While the wrap does little to deter thieves – it can be split open with a nail file, ruler or anything with a sharp edge – it can make it difficult to slip something into your suitcase without you knowing. Shrink wrap also has the added advantage of making your luggage weatherproof and baggage-handler ready – it secures stray straps and reduces the chance of the dreaded suitcase explosion. “Shrink wrapping helps against tropical downpours, but as to security benefits we don’t take a position,” says Mr Cardin.
Certain types of newfangled straps feature combination locks, making them difficult to undo. Some airports have also introduced heat-sealed strap machines that alert you to interference. Depending on how many and how you use them, straps can be useful. They make your luggage easier to spot and allow you to bind several items together.
It's worth noting that they can also be expensive and can still be bypassed with a penknife.
States of security
Travellers to the US may find their straps, wraps, ties and locks are no match for the Transport Security Administration (TSA). The TSA screens all baggage coming in and out of the USA, and can choose to physically inspect your luggage too. So, unless the TSA has the master key to your lock or strap (look for 'TSA approved' on the packaging), you may find that by the time you’re reunited with your bags, your security measures are broken or missing.
Want to know more about vaccinations before setting off on your next overseas holiday? See our Travel vaccinations story.