With something like twenty million bags lost by airlines each year, and a huge-but-unknown number damaged or stolen from, keeping your luggage safe and in your possession can be a major concern when you travel.
There are plenty of expensive ways to secure your suitcases and track down your missing backpack, but who wants to spend a fortune on gear when that money could be better spent on fruity cocktails beside the pool?
These four solutions will help get you and your bags to the same place in one piece, and they all cost under twenty bucks. Even the most cash-strapped traveler can afford that, right?
If you don't want to spring for a high-end luggage tracker, there's a much lower-cost alternative from HomingPIN. For $10-$20, you'll receive a pack of luggage loops, tags and stickers of various sizes for attaching to phones, cameras, suitcases and more. A one-year subscription to the tracking service is included – after that, it's $8/year.
After registering your contact details on the site, plus noting basic information about the size, type and color of your bags, you travel as normal. The tags are integrated with lost-luggage services at every airport, meaning if your suitcase disappears in transit, carriers and ground handlers have all the information they need to track you down and get your bag back to you.
If your luggage or other valuables are lost outside the airport, anybody who finds them can visit the website. They enter the unique code on the tag or sticker, along with a message and their contact information, and the site sends an email and SMS to alert you of the find.
Because the company handles the communication, your personal information isn't disclosed to strangers unless you want it to be. It's a cheap, simple way to find your missing gear, and help avoid a miserable vacation experience.
One of the most common luggage security options, a small lock helps keep undesirables out of your bags. Some suitcases have them built-in, but for those that don't, there are a couple of things to look out for.
First off, look for combination locks rather than padlocks. It's too easy to lose tiny padlock keys when you're traveling, and the last thing you want to do is arrive at your destination only to find your luggage key is several time zones away. Three digit locks are common, but if you're worried they're too easy to guess, four digit models are also available.
Secondly, ensure they're TSA-compliant. All this means is they can be unlocked by a master key held by Transportation Security Administration officials. This is vastly-preferable to them breaking the lock or hacking it off with bolt cutters, either of which they're more than happy to do when inspecting your bag's contents.
Depending on exactly how you'll be attaching it to your bag, you can get standard locks with a U-shaped metal shackle, or with longer, flexible cables that may be easier to loop through zippers. Either way, look for strong, metal locks, in bright colors to aid identification on the baggage belt.
This is one you can buy from Amazon, but no matter which you buy, don't pay more than $10-15 for it.
If you don't have any luggage locks, cable ties will serve the same purpose in a pinch. If your luggage has lockable zips (two zip pulls, with small loops at the base of each), just thread the largest cable tie that fits through the loops, and pull tight.
For zip pulls that don't have the dedicated loops, thread the cable tie through the holes at the top of each zip instead. It's not quite as secure since the zips can still be pulled apart to create a small hole, but it's enough of an inconvenience to send many would-be thieves looking for an easier target.
Unless you know you'll have access to a cutting implement, you'll need to plan how to get into your luggage at your destination. Since scissors, blades and even nail files may get confiscated by the TSA if kept in your carry-on, it may be worth storing whatever you're planning to cut the cable ties within an unlocked pocket of your checked bag.
Oh, and don't forget to keep a few spares in your bag for your return trip!
Buy from Amazon – you'll likely pay under five bucks for a bag of 100.
Luggage Wrapping Services
If you're worried about people cutting the fabric, forcing the zipper or tampering with the lock to get stuff out of (or put things into) your bag, consider a luggage wrapping service. Vendors offer this option in many major US and international airports, typically using a machine to encase backpacks and suitcases in many layers of transparent plastic film.
There's also some limited protection that comes with all that plastic – your gear will still get damaged when the baggage handler drops or crushes it, but minor scratches, spills, and rain will only affect the wrapping, not the valuable contents.
While it won't prevent a determined thief from getting into your luggage, it'll be clearly obvious as soon as the bag comes off the carousel that something is amiss, and the issue can be dealt with then and there. Like most other approaches to luggage safety, it's an incentive for criminals to move onto the next bag, rather than foolproof protection from those truly determined to get inside.
Be aware that like any other security measure, the TSA will have no problem cutting the plastic off if they want to inspect your bag. Some US companies, like SecureWrap, will re-wrap free of charge if that happens.
Unsurprisingly, the wrapping is single-use only, so you'll need to pay for it each time you want to use it. Fees average around $15, depending on the size of the bag.