Whenever I travel, I make sure to put all my valuables into my carry-on bag, and only check-in things that I could relatively easily replace or do without such as clothes. However, the fact that my bag doesn’t contain valuables doesn’t mean that I don’t lock my bag.
Below, I look at the two reasons I believe locking your bag is important regardless of all the reasons you find out there not to lock your bag, at what you can do to lock and secure your luggage, and at what some of the best luggage locks for international travel are.
The Two Main Reasons to Lock Your Luggage
As for the reasons why I lock my luggage when traveling both domestically and internationally, there are basically two.
First of all, the obvious one – keeping the contents of your bag safe against thiefs.
Now, don’t get me wrong. There is no way you could 100% protect your luggage against thieves. After all, they could just cut through your softshell bag or they could open the zippers with a ballpoint pen like many YouTube videos demonstrate.
However, regardless of that, having your luggage locked will deter at least a certain percentage of would-be thieves.
The second, perhaps not-so-obvious but important nonetheless, reason is to prevent your bag from unintentionally opening in transit.
From the time you let your luggage go at the check-in desk until the moment it arrives at the luggage belt at your destination airport, it goes through a lot. It gets thrown, kicked, dragged, and so on, and it is not unheard of for unlocked zippers to open or hard shell luggage locking mechanisms to open during the process.
Having your luggage locked will prevent you from finding your suitcase half-open when you pick it up after arrival.
Three Ways to Lock and Secure Your Luggage
If you agree with me and believe that you should be locking your luggage whenever checking it in, continue reading to see what some of the options for securing your luggage are.
The first and the simplest and most practical solution is to use luggage with built-in locks.
In the case of zipperless luggage, virtually all models include a built-in combination or key lock. Combined with their sturdiness and the fact that it is easier for a zipper to break than for a zipperless suitcase’s locking mechanism to break, a hard shell suitcase is what I would recommend for international travel in the vast majority of cases.
In the case that you for one reason or another decide to go with a softshell or other zippered luggage, you have two options when locking your bag.
The first option is to look for a suitcase that has a built-in lock such as this one from Delsey. With that, not only will you not have to worry about getting an external lock, but it will also prevent anyone trying to open your luggage with a pen to tamper it since they wouldn’t be able to close the suitcase afterwards by moving the zippers around the suitcase freely.
The other option, especially if you have luggage without a built-in lock, is to get an external lock.
In that case, whether you will go for one with an actual key or with a combination lock is completely up to your preference (I prefer ones with actual key), but in case you ever travel in the US or Canada, I suggest getting a TSA-approved lock. This will prevent your lock from being broken in case the airport security decides to look into your checked-in luggage without your presence for one reason or another.
Separately from the above, to make your suitcase even less accessible and to secure it from unintentionally opening, you can also use a luggage strap. There are both straps that you wrap around the suitcase in the direction in which it opens and “cross straps” that secure the luggage in both directions. Personally, I just use a simple one-directional strap.
If you want both the benefits of a lock and a strap, you can even go for a luggage strap with a lock.
Best Luggage Locks for International Travel
Now that you know what options you have when it comes to locking your luggage, let’s finally take a look at what some of the best luggage locks are in case you don’t have a suitcase with a built-in lock or you are looking for an extra layer of security.
Rather than providing you with a long list of products many of which are similar, I will give you one product for each of the following two categories: external lock with a key and external combination lock. Keep in mind that both of them are TSA-approved, and so in the United States and Canada, the airport security will not have to break the lock to get into your luggage.
If you don’t find any of the below appealing, you can of course browse through the countless options on Amazon.
Best Luggage Lock with a Key: Smooth Trip ClickCard TSA-Approved Luggage Lock
One of the biggest issues with luggage locks with actual keys is the fact that the keys are small and easy to get lost. That is the reason why I recommend the Smooth Trip ClickCard lock rather than a conventional lock.
Instead of coming with a set of keys, the lock is opened by a key card the size of a credit card that you can safely store in your wallet. Alternatively, you can use the other, smaller, key card that comes with it that you can put on your keyring.
The lock comes in several colors, and if you would prefer to make your luggage stand out to be able to see it easily on the luggage carousel, you can go for the bright green version.
The downside of the lock is that even though I believe the key card is harder to get lost than an actual key, it can still be lost which would mean the need to replace the whole lock. Also, the lock comes with a rigid U-shaped bar rather than a flexible cable, and so might be a bit more cumbersome to set than some other locks.
Best Luggage Combination Lock: Forge TSA-Approved Cable Luggage Lock
There are several reasons why I recommend the Forge TSA-Approved Cable Luggage Lock in case you want a combination lock.
First of all, this lock is equipped with a flexible cable rather than a rigid U-shaped metal bar and so it is much easier to set on your luggage.
Second, because the lock has a switch that you use to turn it into “combination setting mode,” the code is much easier and fool-proof to set than on many of the other locks out there. This is something I would appreciate if I was forced to go for a combination lock rather than one with an actual key as I always get frustrated with trying to set the code.
Finally, the Forge TSA-Approved Cable Luggage Lock comes in (among other colors) orange which is great in case you have a generic looking suitcase that is hard to spot on the luggage carousel. The orange color will make your suitcase stand out, make it easier for you to notice it, and more difficult for someone to mistake it for their own.
The downside of the lock is that it works on a 3-digit combination rather than a 4-digit one like some other locks do, but that is still a thousand potential combinations that a thief would have to guess from.
To sum it all up, in spite of the fact that no matter what kind of lock you use, people that want to do so will still find their way into your luggage, you should be locking your luggage in order to minimize that risk.
The easiest way to do so is by simply using a luggage that has a built-in lock. However, if your luggage does not have a built-in lock, you will have to get an external lock. While I prefer ones with actual keys, if you tend to lose things but remember numbers, you might want to go with a combination lock instead.