Lost or stolen luggage is a nightmare for any traveller. Just the thought of arriving at your destination only to find your bags have disappeared is enough to send the stress levels soaring.
Lost luggage might not be the biggest problem travellers face in relation to their possessions, however. Research has shown that the number of items lost in air transit has been falling steadily for the past decade, despite passenger numbers rising.
And even then, 85% of all ‘lost’ bags are reunited with their owners within 48 hours – suggesting that most are only temporarily misplaced or mishandled, rather than actually lost.
All in all you would have to be pretty unlucky to never see your luggage again.
Thefts, of course, do occur, and it isn’t just air travel that poses the risk of your bags going walkabout. Trains, buses, boats – in other words, any form of public transport – carry the risk of opportunistic thieves taking a liking to your luggage.
There is, however, more to the risk than losing entire suitcases or backpacks. Especially with large items, thieves will be put off by the weight and the inconvenience of trying to spirit them away inconspicuously and at speed. Quick-fingered criminals will therefore often opt for another tactic – opening up your bags and trying to snatch anything of value.
This can in some ways be even worse than having your luggage stolen outright. It might be several hours before you open your case and notice something of value is missing – by which time, not only is the likelihood of recovering your property greatly reduced, but the logistics of reporting the crime to the police are that much more challenging.
You could well be in another country by then.
So how can you stop criminals rifling through your belongings as you travel? Here are some basic precautions to take which will increase the likelihood of you getting all possessions to your destination safely.
You will sometimes hear people say things like “luggage padlocks don’t look very sturdy, they won’t stop a determined thief.” And yes, there is some truth in that – if someone really wanted to get into your luggage, they could rip the zips open without the padlocks being able to do much about it.
Two things are worth saying in response to this, however. One, luggage padlocks might be small for the sake of convenience, but good quality locks are still tough. Second, fitting a padlock to your baggage is as much about deterrence as it about physical security. Seeing a padlock on your bag might be enough to make a would-be thief look for an easier target.
In terms of padlock ideas for your luggage, the most popular models are combination padlocks, as these avoid having to carry, and potentially losing, a key.
There are times when you cannot avoid your luggage being out of your sight while you are travelling – checking bags into the hold on a flight being the obvious example. But whenever possible, the best way to prevent theft from your bags is not to give criminals an opportunity.
The British Transport Police, speaking specifically about travel on public buses and trains, advises passengers to always keep bags as close by as possible and within sight – the overhead racks on a train, for example, are safer than those at the end of each carriage. It also offers commonsense advice about keeping valuables hidden, especially if you choose to sleep during a journey or get up to use the bathroom.