picture of travel locks

Why You Should Always Use Bag Locks (Travel Locks Part 1 of 3)

To start things off in the new How To Travel category, I wanted to talk about bag locks and travel locks in general. This is an area that seems straight forward when you initially start traveling, but there’s some “gotchas” that catch a lot of people pretty early on in their travels. I’m going to break this down into three different posts, so lets talk about bag locks first.

picture of travel locks
My actual travel locks

Your bag locks (pictured center) are the locks that you’re going to be relying on the most during your travels. This is because you are most vulnerable to theft when you’re in transit between locations. Many times your bag and it’s contents may be out of sight. This could be in the belly of a plane, on top of a bus, or in a rack on a train. While most theft from other travelers is a matter of opportunity (example: you leave your iPad out while taking a shower), theft from random people digging around in your bag may be much more targeted.

For example, it’s common in Europe on trains and on buses in Southeast Asia, for people to dig around bags that they can get into and then leave the bag behind. When you see your bag is still there, you don’t realize until much later that things are missing.

To prevent this, you’ll want to use a bag lock. First, this means having a bag with zippers or fasteners that can take locks – a pretty common feature for modern travel-specific bags.

zippers that accept bag locks
Make sure your zippers look like these

Next, and this is a huge trap for many travelers, don’t use a lock that takes a key. Many travelers assume that a key is more secure. But, in reality, bag locks are so small that they are easily picked. Worse, what happens when you lose your key, or accidentally lock it in your bag, and you aren’t practiced in lock picking? (Hint: this is bad)

Instead of taking a key lock, use a dial lock. Now, here’s the next “gotcha”. Almost all bag locks are 3-dial locks. This means there are 3 0-9 spinners on the lock to form a 3 digit combination. Unfortunately, doing some math here, if someone takes 1 second to try a combination, then 10*10*10 = 1000 seconds or about 17 minutes roughly to try every combination. Assuming someone brute forcing this will get the right combination about 50% of the way through, we’re looking at about 9 minutes on average to crack a lock. For someone who is really motivated to take your stuff, this is not a lot of time. Especially while you’re asleep on a train or bus.

So, rather than using a 3-dial lock, use a 4-dial lock. This multiplies that 9 minutes to 90 minutes. Most people aren’t going to waste their time trying to crack this. Keep in mind, these bag locks are a separate kind of lock compared to TSA locks which I will talk about in my next post.

In order to set these locks, first open the lock. Then, turn the shackle (the lock loop) 180 degrees and press down (see below). While down, the spinning dials move freely. Reset your combination with the shackle down, double check, and then release the shackle pressure.

lock shank being pressed down
Flip 180, press down

Be careful when out on the road that you guard your combination. Any time you unlock the lock, the combination will be visible on the dials. Anyone can easily see the combo. Also, it’s easy to press the shackle while backwards by accident, so double check before locking that your combination is still the same.

I personally use Brinks locks. But, it’s up to you. Just make sure they are 4-dial locks. Check out these guys to start.

Next up, I’ll talk about TSA locks, and why they’re a special case. Don’t use TSA locks for your bag locks!

Read the next parts of this series: Part 2: TSA Locks, and Part 3: Locker Locks.

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