Little things sometimes make a big difference when it comes to travel safety. Like a strategically placed zipper.
Consider what happened to Aaron McHugh, who was recently exploring Glasgow, Scotland, after the last leg of a sea kayaking trip with his brother.
“We were not familiar with where sketchy parts of the city might be,” he remembers.
But halfway through a 14-mile, self-guided tour, the duo found themselves in Springburn, a neighborhood with a reputation for drug crime. McHugh suddenly felt vulnerable. He clutched his credit cards, passport and cash and quickened his pace, hoping to make it to a safer area without incident.
That’s a familiar feeling to a lot of travelers, who are too often unprepared for threats to their safety. Just ask the professionals. In a recent survey of corporate travel managers – the executives who oversee companies’ travel departments – safety was ranked the top priority. The study, by European travel safety consultant BCD Travel, ranked security higher than efficiency, satisfaction and environmental and social impact.
Fortunately, McHugh, a podcaster who lives in Colorado Springs, had prepared by dressing the part. He wore a pair of pickpocket-deterrent pants developed by a company called Bluff Works ($93). His cards and important paperwork were shielded in a zippered internal pocket.
“That pocket gives me a lot more security and comfort than a pair of jeans or any other pant I own,” he says. As a decoy, he carried a messenger bag over his shoulder that he says screamed “Take me!” The Bluffs were his camouflage.
He made it through Springburn without incident.
I’ll be the first to admit it: Zippers don’t make for exciting reading. But isn’t that the point? From inconspicuous pants to ties that make your checked bag harder to break into, the gadgets that can keep you safer on the road are completely unremarkable – until you need them. If you’re traveling somewhere for adventure this summer, you’ll want to pack these accessories.
Adam Rapp, who owns a boutique travel apparel company called Clothing Arts, agrees that small features can spell the difference between being a lucky tourist and a hapless victim. In 2006, on a trip to Xian, China, he was targeted by a team of pickpockets, who took him for an easy mark.
“Luckily, we noticed something was happening just in time to watch them disappear into the crowded mass of people behind of us,” he says. “That was when I looked down at the wide-open pockets on my chinos and thought, ‘Why not combine the security of money-belts and a great pair of travel pants?’”
The result is Clothing Arts’ pickpocket-proof travel pants ($99-$109), which have a hidden passport and money pocket that gives you the option of layering two and even three levels of security between your wallet and the world.
Bob Nielsen, a college professor from West Lafayette, Indiana, says the pants were worth the purchase price. On a recent trip to France, he had tucked his wallet and passport into the left cargo pocket of his Clothing Arts pants, sealing it with the snap and buttons.
“As we were boarding a train at a small station one stop beyond the main station at Nice, I felt a small tug at the left pocket,” Nielsen remembers. “I instinctively slapped at the hand as I turned around to see a young woman and her male companion looking at me as if to say, ‘How dare you foil our attempt to pick your pocket!’”
Zippers in your travel clothes may protect your belongings, but they can do the opposite when it comes to your luggage. Spend a little time online, and you’ll probably see the video in which a security expert shows how to break into a checked bag with an ordinary pen. It’s true: The oversize zippers, in the hands of an airline luggage handler, are remarkably easy to penetrate.
That’s the idea behind the GripAzip ($35) a combination business-card holder and security device, compatible with TSA locks, that you attach to the handle of your carry-on bag to “deadbolt” your zipper. A determined thief can still use a pen to access your belongings, but he can no longer reseal the bag and hide the crime. That, GripAzip argues, is a strong deterrent to ground handlers who might want to steal from your checked luggage or to hotel employees who want to rifle through your possessions.
Of course, the best solution is not to carry valuables on your person or in your checked luggage. That’s a worthy goal, but it’s not always possible. Tools such as pickpocket-proof clothing and the GripAzip can deter thieves, but they can’t guarantee your valuables will stay safe.
Unfortunately, no one can do that.
Christopher Elliott is National Geographic Traveler’s reader advocate and author of How to Be the World’s Smartest Traveler. Visit his website, www.elliott.org.