Travelling is one of Life's great joys; everyone from friends to relatives to the internet likes to bombard us with this fact. "Travel," they'll say, their faces shining with the honest bliss of a person who’s hiked through the Amazon armed with nothing but a phrasebook and a child-like sense of wonder, "Or you're throwing your precious years away!" They make it sound like they need nothing but their wits, when really a combination padlock would have been a better asset. While there is undoubtedly an ennoblement of the soul that can be credited to travelling the world and experiencing first-hand the wonders, nature and culture it has to offer, there are also more than a few dangers associated with it. Wise travelers will tell you it is like having a job itself, and a hard one at that: aside from being able to make and follow through with plans if you don't want to get stuck in a train station in the middle of nowhere, your journey will also have you repeatedly trusting complete strangers for advice and directions, far away from the world, friends and family members that you're used to. Your combination padlock might just be your best friend in certain situations, so here's that and a few other gadgets and pieces of advice to help you get through your spiritual and geographical journey feeling just a smidgen safer and more secure... and they can be as simple as buying a few combination padlocks.
The Money Belt
This is a wonderful little doohickey which has personally kept me safe on many a journey. Money belts come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but all follow the same basic template: it's a belt (more of a girdle really; learn to live with it, men, it's worth it) that you wear around your waist underneath your clothing. There are even a few variants that go around your leg instead - I've never tried them myself, but they look like they'd do the trick since even the nimblest of thieves would have a hard time stealthily hitching up your pant leg to get at your hard-earned cash. Inside your money belt, you can feel free to pack your passport, cash, credit cards, travellers' checks... All those pesky, but vital items you need while travelling that would otherwise contribute to the growing mass of leather that is your wallet. Why take that risk when thieves and pickpockets are drawn to that obvious square in your pocket like flies to honey? For an extra layer of protection, a small, unintrusive combination padlock threaded through the zippers of your money belt will do the trick. As long as the lock isn't too bulky itself, it'll work like a charm.
This creation blew me away when I first saw it, and for good reason: specially designed socks, briefs and brassieres for women with discreet secret zipper pockets sewn right into them (thankfully no need for a padlock here...can you imagine the kind of chafing a lock would cause rubbing against your skin all day while walking?). A close cousin to the money belt, but sneakier and definitely much harder to spot or have any unwanted, probing hands get at. The only downside is that the pockets themselves have to be quite small by necessity - not much chance of fitting a passport or checkbook in there, but they're a wonderful way of setting aside some cash for an emergency so you can breathe that much easier. Just remember: combination padlocks that close to your sensitive parts are a terrible idea.
The Combination Padlock
Picture this: while backpacking, you're standing in line at a food kiosk in some far-away exotic place, waiting impatiently to get a taste of some local delicacy the kiosk's owner is preparing. The pleasant smell of cooking and unfamiliar spices sets off your hunger and all you can think about is biting into whatever he's making. Meanwhile, someone is taking advantage of your malnourished brain's limited attention span to nonchalantly open up the compartments of your giant backpack and leisurely take his or her pick of the valuables you keep inside. Chances are that thing's bulkier than you are, so good luck noticing what he's doing in your near-starvation state of mind. Makes you wish you'd thought to buy a combination padlock before leaving home, doesn't it? Maybe five or six of them? Your run-of-the-mill combination padlock (available in any hardware store for a very reasonable price) is an elegant, sophisticated solution to these threats of theft, and they come in a variety of sizes. Always go with a combination one rather than one with a key - the combination for your padlock (for you, anyway) should be much easier to remember than where you stashed that tiny, flimsy key. A combination will save you from having to keep that key safe, too; theoretically, you could keep your key locked in a bag pocket with a combination padlock, but that might be overdoing it.
Some airports in Europe will offer you the option of using a special machine to wrap individual items of your luggage in plastic wrap similar to what you might use in your kitchen. While it's no lock, it's an interesting idea - you'll clearly be able to see if your luggage has been tampered with at any point during your journey, so unscrupulous members of the airport crew won't be tempted to rifle through it. In my opinion, the humble combination padlock is still king, but take a shot at combining these two for maximum protection and deterrence.