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How to secure your belongings while travelling

how to secure personal belongings while traveling, pacsafe, travel gear reviews

Why is it important to think about securing your personal belongings before you travel?

Who are we and why do we think it’s important to secure your personal belongings?

We’re Leon and Tash, lovers of frequent travel and adventure. Between us we’ve racked up eight countries in six contents and planning on much more.

Our experiences on the road has taught us a few things. One of the biggest is, making sure our personal belongings are secure while travelling.

The world is changing fast and we found that it’s not necessarily in favor of good either. While there is still plenty of good left to find, modern travelers need to be more security savvy.

What do we mean by that?

How do you travel?

Think for a minute on how you travel when you’re on holiday? Do you use public transport, tour buses, trains, sleeper buses, etc.? Where do you stay? Is it in low or high rated hotels? Maybe hostels or home stays or privately advertised accommodation? Do you even get to decide if it’s part of a pre-organized tour?

Where do you go while you’re on holiday? Restaurants, attractions or sightseeing perhaps? Do your belongings go with you or stay behind?

Do you behave differently on holiday then when you’re at home? Seem a little less concerned and bit more carefree? Nothing wrong with that, and we’re here to help you keep it that way.

A good example of securing personal belongings gives you peace of mind

Backpacking for example is a different creature to what it was, even 10 years ago. The general presumption is that backpackers don’t have much in the way of valuables.

They also seem to be the least security aware. Is that the impression you get when you see them on your travels?

Your average backpacker today will have a plethora of digital accessories with them. And well, why not? Everybody loves to document their experiences in different ways and that is great!

Laptops, tablets, smartphones, you name it. Almost every backpacker today has at least one or more of these items on them.

Where does that backpack go when it’s not on their back? Is it secure where it is?

 

Setting off on the dream trip

Imagine this for a moment. After months of planning, saving and sacrifice you finally arrive at your bucket list destination.

Everything is as picture perfect as you expect. First leg of your journey is a three hour bus ride. You get there and the backpack slides off your back and straight into the cargo bin in the bowels of the bus.

Giving it and the attendant loading the precious cargo a decent eyeball because you want to make sure it will make it to the destination with you, right?

 

What do you mean ‘this is how we do it here’?

Then you reach said destination and your hit with the first ‘peculiar’ custom of this new country. The luggage gets unloaded but you have to stay on the bus until after it’s all done. Huh?

Fair call you think, it avoids chaos on an already packed sidewalk. Everybody goes straight for their bag once they get off the bus, no fuss.

HA! Not so! You sit on the bus watching a hoard of taxi drivers descend on the growing pile of luggage! They grab what they can carry and start walking away. Meanwhile you’re still stuck on the bus.

Before you start panicking, you realize that he’s just standing there. Odd you think, but then it dawns on you that he’s waiting for the owner to turn up and get a possible fare out of it.

You breathe a sigh of relief, because you are either happy to use his services or you’re ready to wrestle your backpack to freedom if need be. No stress there.

Once that situation is out of the way, you happily set off towards your accommodation.

This is where the fun starts.

 

You’ve got to be kidding me right?

You greet the receptionist who asks for a passport, deposit or payment and you happily oblige. Everything is still fine at this point everybody is happy.

You unlock your backpack (if it even has the option), to find that the content is not in the same condition it was in before you left. Curious, you think.

You then head for that secret spot where you keep you cash stash and that’s where alarm bells go off. Because your stash is no longer there. But, you stay calm and rationalize that it may have fallen out or moved during the trip. You proceed to unpack the whole thing with cautious optimism.

That’s when reality dawns and you find that not only is the cash gone but your tablet, portable hard drive, etc. is gone too!

How can this be? The betrayal is real and it hurts.

 

Reality bites!

Somewhere during the three-hour trip, your backpack got cleaned out. And done in a very elegant and inconspicuous way. Would you have noticed a difference if it weren’t for the luggage chaos on arrival? Probably not.

You contact the bus company looking for an answer.  All you find is that suddenly nobody speaks English, nor can they assist you. They don’t understand what the issue is. They got you and your bag to your destination. If something is missing it isn’t their fault.

Now the fun and games of insurance (if you have any), replacement, etc. starts. If that doesn’t sound like fun, it’s because it isn’t!

You can be on the most luxurious trip or a budget backpacking trip when disaster strikes. Security is not guaranteed, no matter what.

But we are here to tell you that there are measures you can take to make your belongings more secure. And they are not hard or too expensive (in the scheme of things).

Ideas on how to secure your personal belongings

We’ve done a fair bit of backpacking in the last two years. Hence why we can relay the example we did above.

The situation didn’t happen to us directly as we were fully aware of the scam before we set out. But we did meet someone who was unfortunate enough to get caught up in it.

 

Simple way to secure your personal belongings

Tash’s backpack is a smaller 40 L Kathmandu Altai with zero ability to secure it with locks or much else for that matter. For domestic travel in our native New Zealand, we use anti tamper seals to combat this problem. We’ve never had an issue so far (touch wood).

We even use the security tags on our luggage for international flights as a deterrent. To date, we’ve never had our bags opened. But make sure you get the ones with the double tags. That way can tear one off and keep as a physical record.

So how is Tash still able to use her unlockable backpack six years later?

 

How did we make the backpacks more secure?

We invested in a small PacSafe® arsenal. Initially we purchased two of the backpack and bag protectors and the Venturesafe™ 150 GII Anti-theft cross body pack.

We got the backpack and bag protectors specifically after reading and watching videos on various scams throughout Southeast Asia. It was to try and avoid people getting into our bags when we couldn’t be with them. Be it on tour or in our hotel room while we’re out or the cargo hold of a bus (wink-wink).

 

Backpack and bag protectors

The PacSafe backpack protectors come in three sizes, 55 L (small), 85 L (Medium) and 120 L (large). We got the 55 L for Tash’s backpack and the 85 L for Leon’s 70 L Kathmandu Interloper and both fit more than comfortable around the backpacks.

These nifty cages are easy to use and great to travel with as they come in their own travel pouch when not in use.  The best part about them is the extension cable at the bottom.

We’ve had a few occasions where we weren’t comfortable leaving valuables in an unsecured room. Thing is there were no hidy-holes or a safe to use either. That’s where these protectors came in really handy.

Once the cage is tight and secure around the backpack, you can wind the cable around a permanent fixture like plumbing or a decent wardrobe rack.

That way nobody can get into the pack, nor can they carry it away easily. If it looks too hard, they will leave it alone.

We also used the PacSafe® Prosafe combination locks with the bag protectors. All PacSafe® locks are TSA accepted too!

How do we know all this?

This we can attest to this thanks to a five week trip through Cambodia and Vietnam two years ago.

We never once had an issue. In fact, our bags were the only ones left on the side walk once we got off the bus. That was because nobody had seen the cages before, nor would they touch them. Also, luggage tampering is a problem in this part of the world and we can safely say our protected backpacks have never been tampered with.

We are also confident in leaving valuables in the backpacks, caged and fastened to secure moorings in our accommodation. Not saying this is fool proof but we found taking these precautions made our belongings less venerable.

Other backpackers were constantly asking us where we’d got them from as they had never heard of the concept. We were happy to share the info and experience using the products.

 

The Venturesafe™ 150 GII Anti-theft Cross Body Pack

We got the Venturesafe™ cross body pack as it houses our compact camera and various other small essentials easily. It’s perfect for day trips or going to places with large crowds.

Compact, comfortable and generously equipped with all the security features you would expect from a PacSafe® product. (It also features on our vlogs if you want to see it in action).

The best part is they are not that expensive either.

The things we love most about this pack? First off, it’s slash and cut proof. The shell incorporates eXomesh® which is similar to the pack protector.  The eXomesh® hidden under the shell makes it invisible for added protection. (eXomesh® features in many PacSafe® products, which is why we invested in some more pieces later on.)

Secondly, are the cut and slash proof straps, designed not to fail or rip either. BONUS!

Another great feature is the secure zipper system. This means nobody can sneak up behind you, open the bag and run of with your stuff. They could get it if they worked hard enough for it, but it won’t go unnoticed by you.

how to secure your personal belongings while traveling, secure travel backpack, secure luggage, travel locks

For example

A new trend here in Vietnam is when locals riding scooters, stop on the side of the road to buy wares from street vendors.  Once they paid for the goods and put their money back in their hidy hole (under keen supervision of the vendor), they will get ready to re-enter traffic.  In that short space of time, the crafty vendor has figured out how to get in the bag and get the wallet or purse.  By the time the person on the scooter realizes their bag is open and money gone, there is no telling where it happened.

One lady even caught her thief red handed and after a lengthy argument, managed to get her purse back. Even then it had been stripped of its contents.

The scary thing here is that they are targeting their own, and not just tourists who normally seem to be their victim of choice.

 

Investing in more security

Once we invested in better travel gear like our DSLR camera, phones, laptops, tablets, etc., it was time to up our game in keeping them secure.

Leon purchased the Venturesafe™ 15 L GII Pack.

It’s pretty much the big brother to the crossbody pack and sports the same features but on a bigger scale.

Despite its long list of features, this pack is light and comfortable to wear and it can house a fair bit of gear. Do note that it’s not a dedicated camera bag. It has some padding but not as much as a proper camera bag.

Another thing that sets this one apart from the cross body is the Turn and Lock security hook. This allows you to secure the bag to something fixed while you are not using it.

For example, you can secure it to the chair next to you at a cafe or seating on a train ride. That way if someone tries to grab it, they will have an almighty time trying to keep it. Again, not fool proof, but certainly a good deterrent. And peace of mind while you enjoy your beverage or ride.

 

Trying new generation PacSafe® products

That last purchase made in 2018 took the kit to six items in total. (The previous purchases were made between 2104 and 2016.) The older pieces are all still in use and in great condition for many more travels to come.

They really are quality products.

 

Trying the new Slingsafe™ LX300 Anti-theft Backpack

This year Tash decided to upgrade her trusty day pack to a Slingsafe™ LX300 Anti-theft Backpack. It’s slightly smaller than an average 15L backpack but light and comfortable to wear (especially in hot climates). It fits her 14″ laptop, charger, headphones and a few smaller items comfortably.

This is more of an everyday pack so the features are more relaxed compared to their other packs.

For example, the Slingsafe™ has a simpler version of the Smart Zipper security system. The difference is they are still lockable but not hidden like the Venturesafe™.

An added feature on the Slingsafe™ too is the RFID blocking inner pocket. It’s big enough to house a passport (cabin luggage) or a standard wallet (small purse) to protect your biometrics and moolah.

how to secure your personal belongings while traveling, secure travel backpack, secure luggage, travel locks

Using the ProSafe® 750 luggage locks

We like to upgrade our locks after a couple of years for two simple reasons. One, they take a pounding or eventually stop working; and two, technology improves quickly in this industry. Which is a good thing!

When Tash bought the Slingsafe™ backpack she saw the new ProSafe® 750 TSA accepted key-card locks and had to try them out.

Not only do they look awesome, but instead of a combination (easily forgotten), or a key (easily lost), these locks open with key-cards. It’s the same size as a credit card, and has a pattern punched into it which opens the lock mechanism.

Yup, you read it right.  A key that looks like a credit card with holes in it.

Tash loves this because she’s forever victim to losing keys or forgetting combinations. Also, Leon had demonstrated how easy some combination locks are to crack.  Not cool.

With this lock all you have to do is pop the key into your purse like a credit card, easy peasy! Plus, they look so different to a normal lock, it seems like a great deterrent for lock picks. We’ll let you know how we go with them.

how to secure your personal belongings while traveling, secure travel backpack, secure luggage, travel locks

Why TSA accepted? Under certain circumstances, they have the right to open your bag. We don’t know about you guys, but we prefer it if they could open and close the lock again properly. That way we know our belongings remain secure after they’ve done their thing.

Not cool, we know but an inevitable part of travelling.  All the more reason to make sure your personal belongings are secure.

What did our kit cost us?

Well, there you have it, our small arsenal of PacSafe® products in all their awesomness. How much you ask?

Our kit (across the last four years) cost us AUD 539.00 (USD 398.00) and it was well worth the investment.

We will admit that we are deal hunters and bought the two bag protectors second hand on E-bay. We got them for a bargain price of AUD 80.00 and they are more if you buy them new, but well worth it.

Everything else, we purchased new and we didn’t hesitate because we knew it was a worthy investment.

So, we hope the insight has given you enough to think about on how to secure your belongings on the road using PacSafe® products. (This is in no way a paid or endorsed piece, we just love the heck out of these products and wanted to share them with you!)

If you have a story you want to share with us or you have any questions, feel free to drop us a comment.

Thank you for reading and see you in the next one….

Helmet buying in Vietnam and what to consider before spending money

How to buy helmets in Vietnam
buying a helmet in vietnam, motorcycle helmets, what to know when buying a motorcycle helmet, ECE accreditation, DOT, SNELL, SHARP

Do you need to wear a helmet in Vietnam?

Short answer – Yes you have to wear a helmet.

Long answer – legally in Vietnam you have to wear a helmet when riding a scooter/motorbike. If caught riding without one, you are liable for a fine of ~VND 100,000 – 200,000 / USD 4.40 – 8.80. Or jail depending on the circumstances. That may sound like a small price to pay for those outside of southeast Asia, but we assure you, it’s not worth the hassle.

 

Don’t run

Running when the red light is swinging at you, could be tempting but in reality, it’s a bad idea. They will take chase. As a result, you can cop a hefty fine and they will impound the bike. Probably not worth it.

Fun fact – traffic police are by law obligated to salute you when they stop you. Found that bit of info on the RentabikeVN website. Great reads on their blog, go check it out.

 

Fines and bribes

Going back for a minute to fines (or bribes for that matter). You’ve most likely heard or read plenty about pretending to be stupid so you don’t have to pay the fine or get off. That may have worked in the past, but things are changing and not in the favour of stupid.

Thai traffic police for instance, have learnt how to read English international licenses. They now understand how the classes/restrictions should apply to foreign licenses.No more pretending your home license allows you to ride a scooter lol.

We learnt this from a man who completed an advanced motorcycle training course with us last year. He’d been to Thailand many times, riding a 110cc scooter on his Australian car license without incident.

Not to say that it will happen in Vietnam, but in reality, what’s to stop it from happening here in the future?

(FYI you can only ride a 50cc scooter on your car license in Australia and NZ. Anything bigger and you need a proper motorcycle license. Same goes for Vietnam.)

That all changed once he got wind of the new methods adopted by the local police force. He weighed up his options and figured it wasn’t worth the drama of getting caught. Hence why he opted for the course of getting a proper motorcycle license.

 

Speaking of valid licenses

Vietnam will only accept an international license issued by a competent authority of a member state of Convention on Road Traffic 1968. Do your research on that before you come to Vietnam, because most countries in the world won’t comply with that little requirement. And no, you can’t just roll around on your normal license, it doesn’t work that way lol.

But back to the topic at hand. We wouldn’t advise negotiating or engaging in bribery. Avoid if you can, it’s not worth it.

Ensure you have the correct paperwork on you at all times. That includes a valid license, vehicle registration, insurance and passport. It’s not fail safe but those are the minimum requirements as set out by official government law.

 

Also consider

Another thing to think about is Vietnam has southeast Asia’s second highest fatality rate. You don’t hear or see much of it on international news but it’s a stark reality once you’re here and experience the chaos for yourself.

In all fairness, they have improved vastly in the last decade but have yet to introduce a minimum safety standard for motorcycle helmets. That basically means you can wear anything on your head that resembles a helmet and it’s fine. Hell, we’ve seen cats here on 1,000cc street bikes wearing what looked like bicycle helmets.

There is a silver lining to that dark cloud. Since introducing the compulsory helmet law, 15,000 individuals can thank their lids for saving their lives. Progress, not perfection. But it is a good reason to cover your head, yeah?

 

Which helmet is best

We can’t tell you which helmet is best for you, but what we can do is give you the info you need to start your own research.

 

Types of helmets

Vietnam offers a plethora of helmet options including;

  • Half helmets – covers the top of the head only and most popular in Vietnam
  • Open faced helmet – covers three quarters of the head and second most popular option.
  • Full faced helmet – covers the whole head plus chin (least favorable option).

So, let’s see what the types of helmets are about.

 

Half Helmets

Half helmets or brain buckets, are the most popular option in Vietnam. Not because they are safe, but rather they are a cheap option to avoid copping a fine from traffic police.

A run of the mill brain bucket will set you back anywhere from USD2.00 to USD6.00 and at that price you can imagine the level of safety on offer. Oh, yes safety standards. There are none for this type of helmet.

By all mean if you have a $10 brain, buy a $10 helmet.

** UPDATE **: Something I didn’t consider when I first wrote this article was the integrity of used helmets.  As frequent travelers to Vietnam well know, motorbikes are bought and sold at an astronomical rate in Vietnam and most of them are second hand.  If are are buying a secondhand bike and the deal comes with a brain bucket (half helmet) we highly recommend you toss it and buy a brand new one!

One, they are cheap and readily available and it is totally worth it.  Two, you have no idea what kinds of knocks and hits that helmet has already had and have no idea of its integrity.   Would you rather have an inherited helmet and cracked head or a new helmet and a better chance at surviving?

At the end of the day it’s your choice, we just you to make an informed one.

 

Open faced helmets

Awareness of safety is filtering through to Vietnamese motorcycle riders. Offering more protection than a brain bucket, the open faced helmet is becoming more popular. To be fair, they do offer more protection than the brain bucket.

While they are a better option, they are not ideal as the chin is still exposed to injury. Sounds minor I know, but all you have to do is look at online pictures of these injuries to know how painful that experience is going to be (shudder).

Good news is, a few big brands make this type of helmet but it comes at a price. It’s still a better option as you now have peace of mind with minimum safety standards. Do your research first before you rush out and buy one. (We’ll cover those standards soon.)

 

Full faced helmets

If you want protection for your whole head, then you’ll want to consider a full faced helmet.

Do be careful as full face doesn’t automatically equate to safe. We found full faced helmets at Lottemart (Vietnamese version of Target) for USD 20.00 and they were nothing but a shell with some Styrofoam looking lining. Not saying it won’t do the job, but again a $10 brain = a $10 helmet.

 

Safety Standards

If you definitely want a helmet you can depend on then look into the following safety standards.

 

Snell

This is the king of helmet safety testing. Snell standards pertain mainly to the racing industry and for this reason considered the king of helmet testing standards. The testing process is both vigorous and detailed and the reason top manufacturers line up for Snell’s accreditation.

This however, is not a money-making racket either. The Snell Memorial Foundation is a not-for-profit organisation focusing their testing on high level safety standards.
You can read more about them and their work here.

 

DOT

DOT is the American crash helmet safety standard and stands for Department of Transport FMVSS (Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard) No. 218. This standard applies to helmets sold and used in the U.S. only.

The test covers a few things, but most notable is their testing for high speed and multiple angle impacts. The high speed is self-explanatory. What makes the multiple angle impact interesting is that there is no way to predict the direction and force of an impact on a helmet in an accident. So, these guys test the sides, top and back of the helmet to gain clearer insights. And that’s great!

Now while your helmet may have a DOT sticker on it, doesn’t mean the model was actually tested. Here’s the deal.

Manufacturers don’t DOT test all their models. They will get approval for some but not all. If they get audited and hit one that hasn’t gone through testing, well, we’re not sure what the penalty is for that.

Something to think about and you can read more on that here.

 

ECE 22-05

This is the European minimum safety standard. Also known as the Economic Commission of Europe Regulation No. 22 (05 is a specific amendment number).

ECE testing includes low speed and angle impacts as well as subjecting the helmets to environmental conditions, high and low heat, solvents, ultraviolet, humidity and moisture. It’s a comprehensive level of testing and why it’s popular worldwide.

Unlike DOT, if a manufacturer wants an ECE accreditation then testing must be across the entire range. So when you see an ECE sticker, you know the model has the appropriate level of protection for its specifications.

Knowledge is power right?

 

SHARP

SHARP is an online tool that takes ECE one step further. Here you’ll find the safety data from ECE complimented by test results for comfort and proper fit. at your fingertips for direct comparisons.

Basically, they have all the info you need on most helmets in one place so you can compare say, a Shoei to an LS2 and see which one offers what you’re looking for. When it comes to picking helmets, SHARP is your friend.

 

Where can I find a helmet in Vietnam?

Simple answer, almost anywhere.

Long answer, research is your friend. If you know what type of helmet you want and what level of safety you need, then a simple online search can point you in the right direction.

Vietnam has a big motorcycle culture and there are many shops that will have what you want.

Our advice is, always try before you buy! Just because it looks good on paper doesn’t mean it’s going to work for you. Find a shop that knows what they are talking about. Ask them about the safety features. If they can’t tell you the basics (which you already know), then keep going until you find one that takes your safety as serious as you do.

Plus, it’s a good way to meet like minded riders.

 

How much does a helmet cost?

Again, this will depend on your chosen options, but think about the following;

  • How often and how long will you be wearing the helmet for?
  • Type of conditions you expect to ride in?
  • Have a budget and make sure it covers at least your minimum requirements for safety and comfort.

At the end of the day, it’s your brain and your life. What’s it worth to you?

 

Summary

We went through this experience here in Da Nang not so long ago, hence why we’re sharing what we’ve learnt with you.

Back home it’s easy, you rock up to a bike shop and you know you’re getting the right advice and the right product.

We’ll be honest and say the no minimum safety requirement for a helmet here in Vietnam threw us. Motorbikes make up over 90% of registered vehicles on the road and accidents happen. You can’t have that many vehicles on the road and expect it to be all honky dory.

We knew we wanted full faced helmets. Apart from being a smart choice, it’s also the only choice back home.

We knew about the different safety standards and decided on a make and model that complies with the ECE standard. (Nothing wrong with the others, this one is just our preference).

 

What we wanted

We were happy to find a motorcycle accessory shop in Da Nang that stocked what we wanted and they delivered a great service. In fact, X135 went above and beyond to help us out and for that we thank them. If you are looking for riding gear or motorcycle accessories, they are the peeps to contact. You can find them on their website or Facebook.

(This is in no way a paid or beneficial piece, we really think these guys are genuine and great to deal with and we’re happy to recommend them.)

The only option available within our minimum criteria was the LS2 Stream EVO helmet .  It has the ECE standard, is rated 3/5 for comfort and fit on SHARP and it’s in our budget at VND 2,300,000 (USD100 give or take).  That is not much by western standards but here in Vietnam that is considered and expensive helmet.  Still we’re happy with our purchase as it delivers what we want.

We had a more important reason for spending dollars on full faced helmets, but more on that in coming weeks, hehe.

Sources

We also did a fair bit of reading on Billy’s Crash Helmets for info on EU standards. They have some great reads to, go check it out.

We hope this helps you find your perfect lid but if you have a question, feel free to leave a comment and we’ll help where we can.

Here is a link to a fun little vlog we made on buying our helmets and you get to see X135 in action if you are curious.

If this is your first visit to our site, then welcome!  Head on over to our Things to do in Vietnam Page where we tell you about more things you should add to your Vietnam itinerary.

Don’t forget to subscribe and join our Tribe!  You’ll find us on TwitterFacebook , Insta  and YouTube too!

Thanks for reading guys and we’ll see you in the next post…


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