Despite a few international travel trips in the past, my summer 2017 trip to Italy, Croatia, and Bosnia was my first solo international trip. For me, traveling internationally is always high stress, and traveling alone definitely added a layer of anxiety to my travel at first.
First, What is a Daypack?
A daypack is a small, lightweight backpack. Not suitable for camping, daypacks are size perfect for carrying essentials when you are exploring a new city or familiar environment. In modern English, daypack and backpack are often used interchangeably, but the word daypack specifically refers to a small lightweight backpack just large enough to carry a day’s worth of supplies. Daypacks and backpacks were more distinct in the past when backpack referred to a large bag designed to hold a week or more’s worth of gear, and daypack referred to a smaller version that campers would use for short hikes out from a campsite.
Being extra vigilant about my security felt important, so I put my creative-on-overdrive brain to work and I came up with a few novel ways to keep my belongings in my daypack (including my passport and wallet) safe from pickpockets, theft, or accidental misplacement. These tips may help other solo travelers plan ahead for ways to keep their passport, ID, cash, wallet, phone, and tech conveniently stored and secure while traveling.
Choosing a Travel Daypack (and modifying it for security)
The right type of suitcases, backpacks, and purses are the first line of defense from theft, and the daypack you carry on the ground in your destination country or countries will often make or break the difference between a safe, uneventful trip and a disaster.
These days, I use an Eagle Creek convertible backpack for transfers (where I had to have luggage), and an ultralightweight North Face bag for day trips. Although Eagle Creek Convertable bags include a detachable daypack, Eagle Creek daypacks are a bit heavy, and a tad over-engineered for the carefree, lightweight adventure of exploring a foreign city.
The North Face Unisex Flyweight Pack weighs in at only 6 ounces and, when folded into its pouch, takes up about as much space as a deck of cards. This daypack also has a pocket that is only accessible from the panel that rests on the back of the wearer (see photo below). This body-protected pocket sits securely between the shoulder blades preventing pickpocketing theft and providing lots of peace of mind in places like crowded train and bus stations.
While the Eagle Creek bag is by far more comfortable for carrying heavier loads- like my whole portable office to a coffee shop or coworking space while digital nomading or just headed to a good study/woork spot at home in Seattle, even empty it’s heavier than the ultralight daypack, so the NorthFace bag was my go-to for exploring overseas.
To give myself a little extra security when storing my wallet in my North face bag during my trip, I used a lanyard and a coin purse to create a literal link between my wallet and my bag. The lanyard, knotted onto my bag, was clipped directly onto the zipper of the change purse- making it impossible to steal my cash or credit cards without unzipping two zippers and unclasping a snaphook first.
Slash Proof Daypack
While the thick fabric of an Eagle Creek Daypack offers some protection from slash-and-grab type theft that’s increasingly common in urban hubs and tourist spots, The North Face Unisex Flyweight Pack falls flat in this area- the ultra-thin ultralight material being especially prone to this type of theft.
As my work responsibilities have demanded that I travel with more and more expensive tech hardware, I’ve grown increasingly worried about this. AS a remedy, I recently added a slash-proof tote to my list of portable office must-haves. The LOCTOTE Flak Sack II is a simple tote bag that’s slash-proof and lockable via webbing-encased-steel straps. It’s perfect for placing inside another bag for protection, carrying as a primary daypack, or using as a travel safe.
Using a Basic Lanyard to Boost Travel Security
Lanyards make it Easy to Find Keys
It’s so easy to lose your guesthouse or rental car keys when traveling- I think that’s because we don’t have a familiar keyring to track. When I travel, I always bring a lanyard and a card-holder (for hotel key cards) to make travel life a little easier.
When used as a keyring for hotel, rental car, or Airbnb keys, lanyards make your keys highly visible and hard to lose. A length of fabric, especially bright colored fabric, can help you locate a lost set of keys or hotel key card easily- even if it gets dropped between couch cushions or lost in a cavernously large backpack.
Lanyards Increase Personal Safety
Coming home after dark in an unfamiliar location is often the time that a person is most vulnerable to person-to-person violence. I always have my keys at the ready when returning to my rental car or Airbnb alone late at night. Having your keys on a lanyard means they can be found and gripped easily using only your sense of touch, helping increase personal safety.
Lanyards Are Handy
If you have your keys, ID, bus pass, etc attached to a long lanyard, they are easy to find, even when you are not wearing the lanyard around your neck. Items can be securely placed into a purse, pocket, or backpack with the fabric lanyard extending out of the bag so when you need your keys or ID in a hurry- you simply grab the part of the lanyard hanging free. – In some situations, especially unsafe areas after dark- being able to access your keys or bus pass can be an important part of personal safety.
Keeping your Daypack Safe
Backpacks are a secure and theft-discouraging way to carry essentials and valuables, but you can’t wear a backpack ALL day. Travel daypacks are most vulnerable to theft when you relax for a few minutes on a park bench and set your bag next to you, or when you plop it into a chair nearby while stopping for lunch at an outdoor café.
When you are traveling solo in an unfamiliar destination, train yourself to always secure your bag. In some locations where theft is very common – like Santiago Chile – it’s common for restaurant tables to include a small strap and buckle bolted to the bottom of the table. Customers are encouraged to buckle their purse or day pack to the table to prevent theft.
While most locations – even high theft areas – don’t have this feature, you can still create your own in most cafés and even park benches. It also makes transfer days easier – Creating a makeshift tether between your bag and your seat makes napping on trains and buses much more secure. In the image below, you can see how I use a lanyard and a lightweight carabiner to make a clip that can be affixed to almost any bench, chair, or armrest.
Artist, digital nomad, and highly sensitive person, Lynli started traveling full time as a digital nomad in 2018. Writer and Illustrator by day, remote-destination explorer by other-days, Lynli is passionate about pushing the boundaries of her own comfort zone, exploring the world as a female, fat, one-bag traveler, and journalling it all on WanderBig.com