*Updated March 15, 2017*
Given my wandering ways and current location-independent lifestyle, it should come as no surprise I’ve assembled a solid list of travel safety necessities.
It’s time I shared them with you.
Protection for the things that matter most will go a long way; a trip is hardly enjoyable without that peace of mind. From simple accessories to online encryption technology, these are the essentials that keep me safe and my valuables secure when I’m on the road.
Pacsafe Anti-Theft Backpack
Anyone who personally knows me is well aware of my love for the Pacsafe line of anti-theft gear. I’ve travelled through Southeast Asia and Africa with their Ultimatesafe Anti-Theft Backpack — a high-quality, comfortable pack with a number of features to deter thieves, including: a security zipper, an adjustable strap that can be fastened to a stationary object to prevent bag-snatching and an inside RFID-blocking pocket. It also comes with a removable pouch that functions as a portable safe. Read my full review here.
Sadly, this backpack appears to have been discontinued, but the Pacsafe Venturesafe 25L GII Anti-theft Backpack looks comparable (minus the removable pouch).
Pacsafe Slingsafe 250 GII Handbag
For the times I want to carry my items in something more compact, I use this light, water-resistant purse, which includes the same anti-theft features as the backpack above (minus the removable pouch). Depending on the occasion, I wear the Pacsafe Slingsafe 250 GII handbag over the shoulder or as a cross-body handbag. Pacsafe offers a lot more than backpacks and purses. Check out their wide range of anti-theft products for both men and women.
SHOLDIT scarf with a hidden pocket
It’s a perfect travel scarf that can hold a passport, smartphone, money and keys. Just slip them into the secret pocket, zip it up and off you go. Your valuables will be kept secure right under your nose. Brilliant, right? The SHOLDIT infinity scarf is available in a wide array of colours and fabrics from lighter weight material for warmer climates to something heavier (as pictured here). Curious to know more? Watch this video demo.
I have three of these, each worn around different areas of the body: the neck, leg and torso. They can create a bit of bulk under clothing, depending on their contents, but it’s always smart to separate your cash. I usually keep some in my wallet and some in a money belt so I’m not rendered penniless should one stash be stolen. I’m also disturbingly prone to forgetting my belongings in public places, and money belts force me to keep them on me at all times. Back in the day when I stayed in hostel dorms, I slept with one on.
I just purchased this little device last year. Simply attach it to the door of your hotel room and arm it before drifting off to sleep. A loud alarm will be triggered if the sensor detects movement. Keep in mind it does not prevent intruders from barging in — it merely frightens them away (that’s the hope, at least). For another layer of security, consider pairing the door alarm with a door stopper (which only works on doors that open from the inside).
It’s tiny and weighs next to nothing but it sure packs an audible punch when your own vocal chords are proved futile. Chances are, you already have a whistle sitting in a drawer somewhere in your home. Long-term traveller Jodi Ettenberg of Legal Nomads explains in this post how one saved her on three separate occasions.
Retractable cable lock
This steel cable allows you to lock your suitcase or backpack to a fixed object, say, in a hotel room or on a train. One of the biggest challenges of solo travel is the absence of a trusted companion to watch your belongings when it’s impractical to haul them into a public bathroom stall.
I faced this dilemma at a train station in India some years ago. Unable to hold my bladder any longer, I raced to the restroom, hoping for the best. Thankfully, after the quickest bathroom break I’ve ever taken, I found my luggage exactly where I had left it. But the experience imparted an important lesson and I don’t take that risk anymore. A retractable cable lock, which is both compact and light, can solve this quandary.
Mini LED flashlight/lantern
Power outages and rolling blackouts are the norm in developing countries, whether we like it or not. From the Galapagos Islands to Rwanda, I’ve lost count of the number of times it’s happened. For this reason, I travel with a small LED flashlight/lantern that fits in the palm of my hand. It works like any other flashlight but, when you place it upright on a flat surface, it can function as a lantern. I’ve used it so many times.
A map will provide me with directions, but it won’t necessarily tell me which turn to make if I don’t know which way is north, particularly in the absence of street signs. A compass will. My iPhone comes with a compass, yes, but I try to refrain from pulling it out when I’m wandering through a pickpocket-prone area.
This powerful tool tracks and monitors stolen smartphones, tablets and laptops. If you lose your device, simp
ly log into your account, mark it as missing and Prey will: notify you of its location, sound an alarm, lock the screen, erase data, send messages through your device to the thief, and send you extensive reports, even with secret screenshots and webcam photos. (Note: the stolen device must be connected to the internet for Prey to collect the necessary data and generate its reports.)
The features vary, depending on whether you select the free or paid service. Click here for a closer look at the platform and to read the scintillating account of how The Expert Vagabond successfully recovered his stolen Macbook Pro (and enjoyed doing it). It’s the reason I downloaded Prey.
A Virtual Private Network (VPN) is imperative for digital nomads and anyone who requires privacy online. Simply put, a VPN connection encrypts your online activity, making it anonymous and, therefore, untraceable. With it, you can securely browse the web and check your email with public and hotel wifi. A VPN can also manipulate your IP address to give you the appearance of being located in a different country, allowing you to circumvent government restrictions in heavily censored countries like China. The benefits are manifold; this article provides an excellent overview of all 10 of them.
There’s one caveat: a VPN will reduce the speed of your connection by up to 50% (even more with a free service) but, for as low as 5 USD/month, it’s unquestionably a wise investment.
Shop around to ensure the VPN service will work in the countries you plan on visiting. For example, not all providers work in China (if you’re wondering, ExpressVPN and Astrill are two that do). Also, download the service on your computer and/or mobile device before leaving home as it can be difficult to do so in the destination country.
Right now I’m using TunnelBear. It’s free but slow and only gives me 500MB of data per month (TunnelBear tells its users they can add 1GB each month just by asking for it on Twitter; I’ve tried that repeatedly but they’ve never replied), which isn’t a big deal as I don’t have much need for a VPN while I’m at home in Toronto. But for future travels, I’ll probably subscribe to ExpressVPN.
After years of carelessly putting my online life at risk by travelling with my passwords jotted down on paper or typed in a spreadsheet, I finally started using a password manager this year. Why wait until your passwords are stolen or destroyed in a natural disaster? Protect your personal data with a password management system that uses sophisticated encryption tools to securely store all your passwords in one place, accessible from anywhere in the world. Many also come with a host of other features like mobile syncing and an automatic password generator.
LastPass and 1Password are popular and solid options, but I use KeePassX for both travel and everyday life. My passwords have never been stronger and safer. Click here for my post about the importance of a password manager for travel.
Lastly, there is no good reason to leave your country without travel insurance, at least an emergency medical policy.
World Nomads is one of the few insurance companies that offers coverage even after you’ve departed your home country. Their affordable policies include everything from emergency medical coverage to trip cancellation insurance and protection for electronic devices. They even offer a plan for high-risk activities like mountain climbing and scuba diving. Lastly, they offer the convenience of allowing you to extend your policy online.
Travel policies are not created equal. Before you make a purchase, review the details to get a solid understanding of what and how much you’re covered for.
For more important details about travel insurance and how they’re impacted by government travel advisories, read this post about travel essentials for health and wellness.
This isn’t exactly a travel product, but it is relevant. I strongly suggest registering your trip with your government prior to your travels. If you’re Canadian, register here. You’ll receive consular services and notifications about emergencies in your destination country. Your family and friends will be able to get in touch with you. In the event of a natural disaster or civil unrest, the Canadian government will be able to locate you and come to your aid.
Similarly, the U.S. government offers the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). Register here.
Travel safety: hope for the best, prepare for the worst
At best, sticky and dangerous situations will turn into a worrisome inconvenience or, at worst, a tragedy. Be prepared for them. You can’t put a price tag on peace of mind — or your life.
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I’m always on the lookout for more travel safety products so if you have your own suggestions, let me know in the comments below!
Disclosure: I received the Pacsafe UltimateSafe Backpack for review purposes. I also earn a small commission at not cost to you if you click on some of the links above and make a purchase through Amazon or World Nomads (thank you for helping me support this blog). Rest assured, however, that all views expressed in this post are entirely my own. If the product I use is no longer available for purchase, I’ve linked to a comparable product.