Many travellers buy locks, cable ties, shrink-wrapping or straps to protect their luggage from being stolen or "Schapelle-d".
These can be good deterrents but they can't really guard your luggage against determined thieves. After all, bags are portable, and thieves will have all the time in the world to find a way into your luggage once they've carried it back to their house.
The best defence
The best measures to protect your belongings are to:
take out comprehensive travel insurance, and
pack valuables only in your carry-on luggage.
- 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.
Locks are an old-school favourite with security-conscious travellers. 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 it 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, so 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 for smuggling drugs into Bali, security consciousness (or even paranoia) became a primary concern for many Australians travelling overseas.
Shrink-wrapping stations are available 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.
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 you use and how you use them, straps can be handy. 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 easily be opened 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 your security measures are broken or missing by the time you're reunited with your bags.