This Budget-Friendly Item Is The Secret To Not Worrying About Theft While Traveling

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Whether you're in a Times Square tourist trap, outside the Vatican, or waiting for the Paris Métro, you might want to keep your eyes on your luggage. Pickpockets and petty thieves tend to frequent tourist destinations, and for good reason. When you're on your once-in-a-lifetime vacation — getting lost on public transportation, trying to get the most out of your museum trip, attempting to order dinner in the native language, and generally having the time of your life — you might not be paying much attention to your backpack. The simplest solution? Put a lock on your bag.

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It only takes about two seconds for a pickpocket to discretely take an item out of your pocket. While it might be trickier to get something out of a bag that zips closed, it doesn't prevent theft. According to the U.K.'s Metropolitan Police, those looking to take something out of your bag may follow you in a crowd, subtly unzipping your bag a little at a time until their hand fits inside. While not foolproof, locking up your bag before heading out on your day of sightseeing makes your valuables a little safer — and it'll probably cost you less than $20.

Deter opportunistic thieves

"Even a twist-tie, paper clip, or key ring is helpful to keep your bag zipped up tight," travel expert Rick Steves explained on his website. "The point isn't to make your bag impenetrable, but harder to get into than the next guy's."

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Can any lock 100% prevent theft? No. If you're willing to spend more than $350 and lug around almost three pounds of extra weight, you could get a heavy-duty Abloy lock, but that wouldn't make your bag impenetrable. In fact, if it has a zipper, any thief who has a moment alone with your bag can use a ballpoint pen to disconnect the zipper on your luggage at the seam, discreetly ripping your bag open without ever touching the lock. So, why bother with a lock at all? Because most pickpockets are opportunistic, looking for the easiest mark. A cheap lock is all you need to make yourself less of a target.

Unless you're making it obvious that you have something particularly worth stealing (never a good idea), even the cheapest combination lock you can toss on your zipper is a decent deterrent. Chances are, when an opportunistic thief sees your bag has a lock on it, they will move on to their next target instead of going through the trouble of breaking into your lock.

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Choose a TSA-approved lock

If you're choosing a lock for travel, you should go for one approved by the TSA. These locks are specially designed to allow TSA agents to access your luggage using their master key. While it might seem counterintuitive to choose a lock you know other people can get into, if you put on an unapproved lock and the TSA needs to get inside to check your luggage, they will just snip your lock off with bolt cutters. Most of the time they don't need to do a physical search, so you might be able to get away with using your preferred lock, but if they do need to break in, you won't get reimbursed for the price of your lock.

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Fortunately, there are a good number of TSA-approved locks to choose from, and they aren't very expensive. If you prefer a combination lock, a two-pack of Master Lock Lockdown Triple Security Locks for around $30 might be your best option. If you'd rather use a key, you might prefer the Forge Dimple Key Luggage Lock, which you can buy four of for $24.

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