The nature of freelance travel means we have to travel with valuables, and to make it worse I collect gadgets and things that look cool. I don’t see any problems with that but it means my carry on luggage contains upwards of £4000 at any one time. Everything else such as my clothes and cheaper Scuba Diving equipment goes in my checked baggage. My list of valuable items usually include:
- Retina Macbook Pro – (£2000)
- iPhone – (£200)
- GoPro Hero Camera – (£300)
- Digital SLR + 3 lenses – (£1000)
- Scuba Diving Computer – (£400)
- Several external hard drives – (£150)
- Passport + Cash wallet – (£???)
We’re travelling all over the place, our bags are being checked, scanned, thrown around and left alone in hotel rooms. It’s easier than you think to lose a $600 watch, trust me as I did just that. I was going out for the evening the night before I was checking out and decided to hide my Scuba Diving watch/dive computer in the pillowcase, that’s the last place someone would look (indeed it was). The next morning I woke up in a rush to check-out and I left to catch my boat. On the boat I had a horrible feeling… holy shit my watch… OF COURSE they’d never seen such a watch and thinking of getting help from Thai police is as likely as marrying a mermaid.
1. Preventing damage to valuables
Bumpy rides – Keep your valuables in one carry-on luggage sized bag. Putting anything valuable through checked baggage on a flight will result in tears. Same goes for putting things in the boot of cars or under buses.
Water damage – After my first 6 months of travelling one really important item I bought was a waterproof diving bag with an internal sleeve for my laptop – everything electrical went in this bag. If you haven’t already, you’ll soon find out that you’re going to get rained on, a lot.
2. Preventing loss
Forgetfulness – My story about losing my watch is what forced me to create my own system. On my phone and my computer I have a synced list of all of the valuables I am carrying. This is important for Step 3 – Preventing Theft. Every time I have to checkout or leave a location, I instinctively run through this list and peer into my bag to make sure each of those items are in it. Since I started this list, my second watch has remained in my possession.
Being clumsy – Although you should be keeping everything safe in one place, don’t rummage through your bag dropping everything as you pay for your bus ticket. Be wise and use a bag with separate compartments. If you’ve been using your items on a plane or a bus, use the list I described above.
3. Preventing theft
After you’ve nailed your own behaviour and you’re not going to break your things or leave them in your pillowcase, you can think about the more direct threat of theft. If someone wants to steal something, they’ll steal it, just don’t make it easy.
Keep it together – As I mentioned, make sure during transit that your valuables are stored together in one bag. You can keep a close watch on one specific bag and keep it with you at all times. This means it never goes underneath the bus, or in the boot of a taxi, it rides with you.
Don’t be flash – If you’re visiting a particularly poor country, don’t tempt thieves. Keep your watch and jewellery safe out of site, and your rucksack containing valuables in front of you.
Don’t leave things lying around – Don’t leave cash, passports and cameras out on your bed. If someone does break in, has a spare key or even just came to clean your room, they’ll have to actively search for something to steal, meaning you remove the opportunist from the equation. If it’s REALLY important to you, access whether it is safer on your person or inside your room whilst you are exploring.
Lock it up – If your room has a safe, use it – but remember they’ll always have a spare key for this and they’re hardly ever in a secure location. If there’s no safe, you can consider leaving it with reception. Personally, I travel with a small but strong chain and padlock (always travel with this). My favourite hotels have drawers or wardrobes with handles which I can slip the chain through and lock the doors shut. Sometimes the hotel safe is within this wardrobe too.
Particularly in SE Asia, you’ll find rooms which have locking brackets fixed to the doors, allowing you to use your own padlock – this is always preferred if you have a strong padlock.
Whatever the room type, do something, even if you lock your bag closed and under the bed. Someone is less likely to steal your whole bag.
Can’t lock it? Hide it – Here’s where we can get a bit creative. You’ve found yourself in a budget room and there’s nothing inside but a bed. No safe, a simple lock on the door and no handles for you to use with your small chain and lock! We have to out think a thief.
Empty shampoo – Use an empty shampoo bottle to store money, keys and anything small enough to roll up and pop inside. Place it in the shower for added realism. Don’t forget to write this on your inventory list!
Hanging towel – I recently used this in the Philippines. I had a small cloth bag containing my passport and bank cards. I hung it on a hook and then hung my wet towel over the top.
Behind and under – Balance your passport behind a picture frame, place your bank card underneath the TV. Even better, stick it under a table or chair with tape.
Assume the worst can happen. If someone cleans you out and steals everything useful from your hotel, can you still phone for help and pay for essentials like food or your hotel? What I’m saying is if you hide all of your bank cards, cash and phone in your hotel room and they’re stolen, you’re screwed. Keep one bank card with your passport, and a copy of emergency telephone numbers and another bank card in your wallet.