When planning family vacations, we spend so much time booking airline tickets, making hotel reservations, researching fun excursions, and corralling our kids’ stuff. Yet we don’t give nearly enough thought to keeping our valuables—including our personal information—secure during our time away. We’ve found some ingenious anti-theft travel gadgets that outsmart even the savviest of thieves, plus some great insider tips from a security expert, so you can have peace of mind on your next trip.
1. Forget about the in-room safe.
Forget about leaving valuables in the closet safe, warns San Diego-based security expert, Jim Stickley, who specializes in cyber theft. “Hotel safes are so easy to open; I’ve bought a few major ones, and all of them can be picked in a minute or two at the most, even the digital ones,” he says. Since many people have access to your room, ask if your resort has a safety deposit box in the main lobby, and keep your things there instead. Or purchase a safe disguised as something else, such as this combination safe that is disguised as a book.
2. Invest in a FlexSafe.
Better yet, invest in a FlexSafe—particularly useful if you’re going on a beach vacation—instead of hiding valuables in your shoes or beach bag. “That’s where everybody puts stuff, so it’s the first place that a thief looks,” Stickley warns.
The FlexSafe can be locked onto a heavy beach umbrella, stroller or lounge chair. Constructed of lightweight, water- and slash-resistant materials and featuring RFID blocking, this anti-theft lock box is spacious enough to secure everyone’s valuables. Bonus: Lock it to the closet rod in your hotel room or stateroom when you’re not on the go.
Invest in luggage tags that conceal your information, so thieves lurking near airport check-in areas don’t see your address as the perfect house to rob once you board the plane, suggests Stickley.
4. Be careful what you say at hotel check-in.
“When you check in to your hotel, rather than say your name, just hand the staff your ID,” he adds. “Often, people just mill about the lobby, eavesdropping. If they hear who you are, they can later pretend to be you and get a duplicate room key, or charge stuff to your room.”
5. Use the “Do Not Disturb” sign.
Stickley encourages families on vacation to leave the Do Not Disturb tag on the doorknob all day. “I also leave my TV on, so it sounds like someone’s in the room, and both these things stop people from entering my room,” he says. When you return, call for housekeeping to bring fresh towels and cleaning services as necessary.
6. Buy an anti-theft handbag.
The best way to ensure your passports and credit cards aren’t stolen is to carry them on you at all times. We highly recommend the Travelon Anti-Theft Crossbody Bag, which features slash-resistant straps, RFID blocking card slots and a roomy storage compartment that locks.
Related: 8 Best Crossbody Bags for Travel
7. Or wear your valuables (secretly).
“When I travel, I wear a vest with lots of pockets, so I can keep all my documents on me, spread out in different places,” says Stickley. “Criminals wanting to rob you look for actual money belts, so if you’re wearing one, that’s what they’ll grab first.”
Other anti-theft travel clothing options: throw on an infinity scarf that features hidden zippered compartments large enough to stow your smartphone and important documents. Slip into a pair of loafers that have a hidden compartment under the tongue. Or consider pickpocket-proof underwear, bras and socks to keep your ID and cash where no one but you can get to it. Belts with inside zippered pockets make it easy to stash cash and car keys, too.
8. Don’t leave receipts and tickets behind.
While on vacation, we collect various printed materials—theater tickets, excursion receipts—that contain confidential information, and many of us leave that paperwork in full view, which Stickley says is a terrible idea.
“Anything with your credit card information on it, or your name and address, should never be lying around because someone can take pictures of that stuff. It won’t be until much later when you discover you’re a victim of identity theft, and you’ll have no idea how it happened. So pack away anything that has identifiable information.”
9. Pack as few valuables as possible.
The easiest way to hide your valuables on vacation? Don’t pack them! Only pack the absolute essentials. “No one’s going to know the difference if you’re wearing costume jewelry, and you won’t be at risk,” Stickley says.
10. Be wary of public Wi-Fi.
Want to stay connected while on a family vacation? That’s fine, as long as you don’t rely on public Wi-Fi, says Stickley. “Be really careful, because public Wi-Fi is so easy to clone: I can be malicious and post a Wi-Fi hotspot that’ll look just like a legitimate one at a coffee shop or restaurant, and if you connect to it, I can monitor what you’re doing and capture your information, potentially sending malware to your phones or your computers,” he explains. Don’t book a hotel room or do any electronic banking unless you’re using your carrier’s data plan or a wired connection in the hotel.
11. Be careful what you post on social media.
To be extra safe, don’t broadcast that your house is empty via social media, he adds. Hold off on sharing those Instagram shots until you’re back home—with all your valuables in your possession.
Montreal-based Wendy Helfenbaum is a journalist, content strategist and TV producer who writes for dozens of digital and print magazines, as well as many brands. Wendy loves cruising, adventure travel and venturing off the beaten path with her husband and teenage son, and she can pack a carry-on bag like nobody’s business. Follow her @WendyHelfenbaum.