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Securing backpacks during transit?

Hi all!

My husband and I will be leaving next week on our trip to London, Rome, Venice, and Florence. We are each taking only a backpack and personal item (a purse for me, a messenger bag for him), and our backpacks are just standard school-size backpacks rather than hiking packs. In addition to our flights, we will be taking the train around Italy, and public transportation/metro to and from our hostels with the backpacks. We do not plan to carry them while sightseeing at all.

The thing I'm a bit nervous about is not being able to keep an eye on my luggage, as it's on my back instead of being carried/pulled (if I were to have a suitcase). I've heard tales of pickpockets taking items from backpacks without their wearers even feeling a thing. Does anyone have success (or horror) stories in regards to backpacks? Is it worth the effort to lock my zipper pulls together while we're in transit, or am I just being paranoid?

Thanks!

Posted by
516 posts

I'd play it safe and lock the zipper pulls. It takes minimal effort and doesn't cost a cent to do (assuming you already have locks). Like many petty crimes of opportunity, if you make it even a little more difficult for them to execute the crime, they'll likely move on to the next target.

Posted by
16769 posts

If you're talking about a backpack where you're storing your basic gear that you'll really only access in the hotel, then yes I do lock mine during transit, and when leaving it in the hotel, and pretty much anywhere. (This is not the same as locking a bag onto something else.) It's not critical for items that are not worth stealing, but still feels like a good habit to maintain. It's been no inconvenience, since I rarely access those contents outside of my hotel. A lock is a standard packing list item and you definitely should have one for hostels, where they may provide locker compartments but no lock. Once you have the lock, where else are you going to carry it? Might as well put it to use.

Posted by
3262 posts

My husband uses zip-ties, aka cable ties. They are available in all kinds of colors just about anywhere. He finds the 6" ones to be the best size. He puts a very small pair of TSA okay nail clippers in an accessible pocket on the pack or inside his CPAP bag. He uses those to cut the zip-ties. He loosely calculates how many he'll need for the entire trip.

I use split key rings. I use one per pair of zipper pulls and leave it on one of them. They are somewhat less widely available that zip-ties. I've found the 1" diameter ones to be the most useful.

Either is enough of a deterrent that we have never (so far) had an issue with anyone trying to take anything from us. Being a deterrent makes them a deterrent for us, too, but one that is worth the hassle in some locations.

Posted by
661 posts

This is better than nothing, use safety pins to lock the zippers together, I know that they can be taken off but most pickpockets are looking for a easy score. I never let my bag leave my site when on the train.

Posted by
333 posts

I've used my Pacsafe backpack for both of my trips to Europe and haven't regretted it. Having personally witnessed two attempts at pickpocketing on the trains and noting the few attempts made on my tour-mates (one guy was pickpocked twice at the Colosseum) I never worried once about my things. I refer to my Pacsafe gear as "Fort Knox".

Posted by
1173 posts

Along the lines of the safety pins mentioned above, you can consider simply using leftover bread-bag ties (zero cost).
When I'm feeling fancy, I like screw-gate mini carabiners.

Behavioral tips: when standing in close quarters, like a tram or elevator, keep your bag between your feet in front of you rather than on your back. This is a point of etiquette as well as a point of security.

On long-distance buses with no intermediary stops, leave it in the undercarriage storage. If there are stops when the undercarriage storage will be accessed without you there to see it, fit your bag in the overhead, either immediately above your own seat, or just forward of your own seat. If it doesn't fit there, then you've got yourself a custom footrest.

On local buses that aren't crowded, consider giving your bag the window seat while you take the aisle. If crowded, between your feet or on your knees. If stuffed, on your front with one arm over it, the other on a pole.

Posted by
5 posts

Thanks so much for all the helpful replies! I never would've been able to come up with all these options on my own. I will review what I have in my house already and/or see what I can acquire in the next few days, and certainly plan to secure both my husband's and my backpacks with one of these methods. I feel much more at-ease (but of course I'll still stay alert)!

Posted by
516 posts

Another point to keep in mind, keeping your bag zipped up, locked and secured also keeps unwanted items from entering it. Although I'm not so sure this sort of thing happens in Europe, but in some countries contraband found in your bag can result in very severe penalties, regardless of how it got there. Once it's in your bag or on your person, it's considered yours.

Posted by
27 posts

I use key rings or bread ties, both mentioned above.

If possible, I avoid walking into crowded areas while wearing a backpack. If not, I weave and rotate a bit, figuring that makes me a more difficult target. When I stop for any reason and locals flock in, I do 360s while working my way out of the scrum. They usually laugh. I couldn't care less. If I have to stop in a crowd of people, e.g., waiting for a traffic light, I keep moving to stay on the outside.

Paranoid? I couldn't care less.

Posted by
23550 posts

I certainly hope that as you spin you are courteous of your neighbors. A spinning backpack works effectively as a clobbering device.

It is pretty much considered rude to do that. (You probably don't care).

In fact, when using the Underground you will see posters specifically talking about bashing people with your backpack.

When you are in a crowded place take off your backpack and put it by your feet, or hold it down by the strap.

If you whacked me with it you would soon know...

Posted by
4499 posts

I'm with you Nigel. There is a good reason backpacks, even small ones, are not allowed in most museums. How many times have we all been wacked by someone?

I'm not really sure why so many people go MacGyver with zip ties and bag twists and key rings. They do sell small travel locks with simple combinations that are TSA approved. I have several and use them all the time. Bags are locked in transit, bags are locked in checked luggage, bags are locked in the hotel room and bags are locked if we leave them at the hotel after checkout. And I can get in and out in just seconds.

Posted by
30958 posts

During air travel, I always lock my large Backpack with a TSA Padlock, and so far that method has worked well. I also lock my smaller carry-on Daypack whenever I'm going to be away from my seat, using a RS FlexLock. Those work well as I can leave them secured but unlocked or spin one or two of the dials to provide a minimum level of security. It's possible to change the combination, which is a nice feature.

Posted by
516 posts

I'd still go w/ an actual lock (TSA or otherwise) because they are harder to break or break through and reusable. Key rings can be slide around and out, zip ties can be cut. Sure, ultimately any type of lock or device is useless if the bag is actually taken away from you, but an actual lock would prove more impenetrable if someone is trying to get at your bag while standing in the subway or similar situation.

Oh and ditto on the backpacks wacking someone...I've been blindsided a few times by someone w/ a backpack turning around without looking first.

Posted by
1173 posts

This past Sunday I was with a group listening to a docent showing us around a museum and the munchkin mom of a small family kept her daypack on one shoulder, with which she managed to bump the hip and ribs of everyone within her 5-meter moving perimeter, as well as the edge of sculpture and installations on display, and her son was finally actually grabbed on the arms by a guard to stop him from sitting on the pedestals and platforms holding the artwork, while she seemed oblivious of any faux pas. She kept shooting me a friendly smile (maybe because I am also diminutive? or seemed sympathetic?) while I was hiding my annoyance -- but they were not Americans, so at least it didn't count against us.
Go team!