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Leaving luggage in a locked trunk for a few hours?

On another thread, I explained that my planned itinerary for a few weeks in Tuscany in July included a period of about 12 days traveling by private car. My friend and I have arranged to spend about three nights in each of four separate home swaps around the area, using each as a base to explore nearby towns. We will also use the day traveling between one base and another to explore some towns and sights along the routes: Pisa to Montecatini Val di Cecina; Montecatini Val di Cecina to Siena; Siena to Pitigliano and Pitigliano to Asissi.

I've gotten several cautions about leaving our luggage in the car. I live in the south of Spain in a heavily touristed area and know-well that luggage in plain sight, especially in a rental car, is practically begging to be stolen. But it wouldn't have occurred to me that it was an enormous risk to leave our smallish carry-on bags in a locked car trunk fWhat or a few hours while wandering through a small town and getting lunch. Is that true? If so, what are tourists meant to do? Do we really have to drive straight from one abode to another without stopping in order to drop our luggage off at our next base before backtracking to some place along the route that we wanted to stop at? We would, of course, NEVER, leave money, jewelry, cameras, passports, etc. in the car in any case. But yes, I wouldn't want to lose my clothing (or my laptop, which probably WOULD be left in the car.)

Just how paranoid do we need to be?

Posted by
4769 posts

In New York City, it is considered naive to open a trunk to get something out, and show the public that the trunk is full of good stuff. But it is not reasonable to assume that even a Hertz sticker will produce a break-in if there is NOTHING visible inside the car: No paper bags, no propped-open canvas bags, no canned food, no NOTHING.

Another prospect is to park in a lot that is ... er ... attended by what Rick calls a Bogus Traffic Warden, namely a hard-up pensioner in a ragged fluorescent vest. The two or three Euros you give him may get a lot of protection for you buttoned-up car. You may ask, "How do I find one?". But when we were in Arcos de la Frontera and also Italica (the Roman site), you couldn't avoid them. And I thought the parking areas were quiet and remote. It was money well-spent.

Posted by
627 posts

I agree with Tim. You want to look like just another tourist out visiting sites with all their valuables safely back in the hotel. So that means never opening the trunk for any reason at a site. If you need to get a jacket or something then stop a few miles before the site and do it on the side of the road. There are no guarantees, of course, but thieves are more likely to break into the car where they know there is luggage instead of picking some random car in the lot and hoping they get lucky.

Posted by
7662 posts

What Tim and John said. In a locked trunk in Europe I’d leave luggage, but not in a hatchback. San Francisco has an off the charts problem with car break ins, but a locked trunk is usually safe.

Posted by
50 posts

Melissa, you are traveling by car in rural Tuscany where crime is lower than other parts of Italy. Pisa is the only exception. We have driven a rental car several times throughout Tuscany and Umbria without a concern. Just keep bags in the trunk and out of sight. You will likely park in large lots in both Siena and Assisi but still not anything I’ve ever been concerned about.
Be smart, not paranoid. Have fun.

Posted by
415 posts

I got this advice from this forum. When we went to Venice we parked in a parking garage. We backed in so close to the wall that no one, not even us could get into the trunk.

Posted by
192 posts

As other people said if you don't leave nothing visibile on the car is a good way to avoid risks in the 90% of cases.
Another good suggestion is always to park in crowded areas, where sometimes there are policemen passing. I mean, not in secluded and desert streets.
Is good too using parking garages, where the risk of something stolen is much smaller than on the street. And if you park near the center of a town usually the cost isn't so much higher than the toll on the street (blue lines).

Posted by
1935 posts

It' not a matter of crime (that, incidentally, is low all over Italy including Pisa).

It's a matter of that specific type of crime, during a specific season, in specific areas where they will be obvious tourists making an obvious self-driving holiday.

Pisa stands out because thieves know that most tourists driving around Tuscany stop by the Tower without sleeping in Pisa, but it happens everywhere.

90% seems a good approximation, as I wrote in the other thread It all depend on how much you are willing to take that 10% risk of ruining your vacations.

Posted by
2446 posts

I’ve done it and been fine, which is worth absolutely nothing! But some basic caution will help. Put the luggage in the trunk when you leave your hotel or wherever you are, then drive to your destinations. Do not open the trunk in the lot where you are leaving your car - so no one sees the luggage in the trunk. Keep anything essential on you instead of in the luggage. I’m thinking life saving medicines, cash, passport like you mentioned. Leave nothing visible in the car and try to park somewhere that seems safer. This is a judgement call, depends on the area but busy street parking in front of businesses might be better than dark alleyways.

Posted by
2684 posts

Just a note about hatchback cars: the one we rented in Europe (I think it was a Volvo) had a pull-down fabric shield that covered the hatchback area. It was impossible to see from the outside whether or not anything was in the hatch under the shield.

Totally agree with the advice never to open the trunk (or hatch) at the location where you're going to park, and never to leave anything at all visible in the car. Backing up next to a wall making the rear of the car inaccessible is also a good strategy when possible.

Posted by
1144 posts

In addition to the foregoing advice, we open our bags and spread some belongings out to show the thief how pathetic the gain will be.

Posted by
12125 posts

I do that frequently. The only times something was stolen from my cars so far (multiple times) has been in California. Only once in Italy, at Riomaggiore, when I was 20 years old (I was living in Italy then).
To mitigate the risk do what I suggest below and that others have suggested:

  • Use a guarded parking lot
  • Use a well lit lot on a busy area with lots of people around
  • Do not open the trunk after arrival at the parking area
  • Back as close as possible to a wall o tree so that the trunk is not accessible
  • Spread your belongings all over the trunk so that it won’t be as easy as grabbing a bag and run
  • Take with you any items of value that you definitely wouldn’t want to be stolen, like important documents (passports), electronic devices.
Posted by
1698 posts

You've gotten some great advice. It's the advice we followed when we drove through Tuscany. The only time I was nervous was when we parked at the public parking lot and Greve to catch the bus into Florence. We parked at 6:30 and didn't get back until 7:30 that night. The car was fine.

Luckily our Hertz rental car did not have any obvious markings to indicate it was a rental. I travel a lot for work and have noticed over the years they've made an effort to be more inconspicuous.

I hope you have a wonderful trip! Use common sense and situational awareness, but don't stress out about it. You read all these reports it the aggregate makes it sound much worse than it is. There are places in Macon and Atlanta that would make me far more nervous than anyplace we went in Tuscany.

Posted by
1819 posts

As I said, I have done it without problem several times, and lived to tell the tale, but I have read several instances of people having their dirty laundry (or worse) stolen from a locked trunk. Pisa most often. We just have to share the warning, and you have to manage the risk. If you can go without the laptop, I would. Otherwise, people have given good tips such as not opening the trunk, parking strategically, etc.

Posted by
7662 posts

A hatchback, even with a cargo cover, is easier to break into than a trunk.

Posted by
1555 posts

Another piece of advice, perhaps old fashioned, is to buy an Italian newspaper and leave it visible in the car.

It also used to be that rental cars could be quickly identified by their license plates, is that still true?

Posted by
12125 posts

Rental cars cannot be identified by the license plate, at least not in Italy.
So unless the rental car company puts a sticker with their logo in their cars, you cannot tell it from any other Italian car. I’ve never rented a car in a Italy where the rental company placed a sticker with their logo in their fleet cars.

Posted by
71 posts

Thank you all, very much for the excellent and (somewhat) reassuring advice.

One follow-up question: I cannot do without my laptop. I will be traveling for a total of 8 weeks and I'm an internet and email addict, who uses my laptop extensively when traveling to investigate and plan outings along the way, as well as to keep in touch and take care of normal monthly bill paying, etc.

I'm wondering if on the occasions when the laptop and luggage must be in the care....that is, when en route between lodgings in one place and another...I would be better off not to put the laptop in the trunk with our luggage. On the theory that despite all possible precautions the car might be broken into and the luggage taken, perhaps the loptop might be better off in say, a dark bag pushed well under a seat? It wouldn't be visible at all and with nothing else visible (except perhaps an Italian newspaper, as someone suggested!) to indicate that there was anything valuable in the car, perhaps it would be overlooked, should the trunk lock be broken and the luggage taken. What do you think?

Posted by
1935 posts

That they break all locks to see if there is something worth stealing under the seats and in the trunk. Thieves are not stupid, they know tourists are not naive.

The Italian newspaper advice makes no sense, a Newspaper won't change a new car, parked "out of the walls", into a local's car with the residents' free parking pass on the dashboard. I doubt a thief from Eastern Europe would notice the difference between an Italian and a French/German/Spanish newspaper.

In summer you could be forced to park in the shade to avoid turning your laptop into a stovetop.

Posted by
733 posts

How heavy is your laptop? Can't you put it in a backpack and bring it with you. That's what I do. Yes it's somewhat a pain but at least I'm not worrying about it and it's better than not being able to stop in that cute little town between your bases.

Posted by
7662 posts

I agree with isabel, you need to bring your laptop with you.

Posted by
12125 posts

I would like to reiterate what I and others have said above: do not leave anything of value inside the car that you are not ready to lose for good. I would consider a laptop to fall into the category of personal belongings that one would not want to lose or have stolen under any circumstance. I would buy a proper backpack and carry the laptop with me while roaming around town.

If you are not willing to carry it with you, hiding the laptop under the seat is the worst possible place. If you park against a wall, the trunk is not easily accessible but the passenger area will always be accessible and that is likely the place thieves will open first and try their luck. Assuming you are able to park against a wall, a much safer place for the hidden laptop is the spare tire compartment under the trunk. I do sometimes hide my work computer in the spare tire compartment while I go to the gym, with the car backed against the wall. It is almost impossible to access the spare tire compartment in my car without accessing the trunk. Even if one opens the passenger side and lowers the back seat it would be very difficult to access it without opening the trunk. Of course the thief, once inside could move the car forward and go to the trunk, but it’s less likely. And more time consuming. You can try that if your rental car allows it and you are able to back against a wall. But the best option is to take the laptop with you.

Posted by
1696 posts

Could you trade laptop for an iPad or similar device?
Does all the same things, weighs less

Posted by
71 posts

ChristineH: Not without buying an iPad, which I'm loathe to do. I have an old one which can't accommodate a lot of current software needs and I always HATED it anyway. Can't stand those ersatz keyboards. . My MacAir is pretty light and pretty small, so I always travel with it.