How to Use Locks on Luggage for International Travel
Should you put locks on your luggage for international travel? Yes, you should, and here’s everything you need to know to do it the right way.
I’ve been traveling internationally for the past five years with locks on my luggage and have never had to deal with TSA questioning my lock or a cut luggage lock.
In this article, I’ll tell you the best way to lock your luggage, the best locks to use, alternative methods to securing your luggage, and additional safety tips to follow when traveling away from your home country.
Should I lock my luggage when flying internationally?
I once asked myself this very question, and I’m sure many people have as well.
The short answer is yes.
The best way to lock your luggage is with a TSA-approved padlock. My favorite type to use is a combination lock with easy to turn dials and numbers that contrast in color.
Bigger numbers that are white on black are easiest to see. You also don’t want dials that are too small and hard to turn, especially if you’re a man with larger fingers.
Click here or the image below for a reliable lock that will get the job done.
What’s nice about these locks is they also come with an open alert indicator (the small red button beneath the shackle). If TSA opens your bag using the special TSA key, the red button pops up. Make sure to inspect your bag before leaving the airport if you notice the raised red button.
Are luggage locks allowed on international flights?
Yes, they are. TSA-approved luggage locks can be used worldwide on your luggage. The key is to purchase a lock that is TSA-approved.
TSA is more likely to check your luggage if they see a lock that is not TSA-approved. The only time it’s wise to use a non-TSA luggage lock is when transporting a firearm or inside your hotel, since non-TSA locks are more secure than TSA-approved locks.
However, there is no guarantee that TSA won’t cut your lock if you’re using a TSA lock. I’ve read reports written by people who’ve had TSA locks cut. It’s luck of the draw; there are no guarantees when traveling internationally.
I personally use a Samsonite rolling suitcase with a built-in TSA combination zipper lock, but I never use the zipper lock when flying because I don’t want TSA breaking my suitcase zippers. Instead, I lock my zippers with a TSA combination lock by Stanley.
Then, once I arrive at my destination, I use the TSA lock on my suitcase inside my hotel or apartment to keep my larger valuables safe.
Are luggage straps useful?
If you don’t want to use a padlock on your suitcase, you can also choose to use a luggage strap to keep it closed.
The best luggage strap w/ a built-in TSA combination lock is available on Amazon. Click here or the image below to check it out.
I’ve personally never used a luggage strap since I prefer to use padlocks.
A locking luggage strap can also come in handy once you’re inside your hotel or hostel to keep your luggage shut. Although, I think it’s a lot easier for a thieve to cut through the strap than a hardened steel shackle, wouldn’t you agree?
Why did TSA search my checked luggage?
TSA will physically inspect your bag if it pops up in a random search or if they think you’re traveling with a prohibited item.
In my opinion, you’re more likely to have your bag searched if there are any red flags on the outside of your bag such as duct tape, a high-security non-TSA lock or anything else out of the ordinary.
Click here to view TSA’s guidelines on what you can bring with you in your carry-on and checked baggage.
If TSA does physically inspect your checked baggage, the officer should place a notice inside your bag informing you that your property was checked without you present.
Where to buy TSA luggage locks?
The best place to buy TSA luggage locks for the best price is online at Amazon. As long as your flight date isn’t too close, you should have enough of a cushion to get them shipped.
Click here to check out Amazon’s full page dedicated to luggage locks.
I’ve also picked them up locally for a good price at T.J.Maxx or Ross, but the only lock I’ve ever had malfunction came from there.
Last, you can try the local hardware store or a travel shop.
Best Luggage Locks
There are several types of luggage locks that work well. I’ve already mentioned the combination padlock I like to use, however, some of you may prefer using a keyed lock.
Click here or the image below for good keyed TSA lock:
Click here or the image below for a quality cable luggage lock that you can fit through more than two zippers at once or a narrow hole:
You may also be interested in these keyless TSA locks that use small cards instead of keys. Click here or the image below to check out this type of TSA lock:
Here’s one final lock I think is cool because it allows you to connect your suitcase or bag to a fixed object. Click here or the image to read more about it:
Non-TSA and High-Security Luggage Locks
I wrote articles dedicated to these two subjects.
Click here for my article on best non-TSA luggage locks for backpacks and suitcases.
Click here for my article on best high-security luggage locks for international travel.
Should I lock my carry-on bag?
I think it’s just as important (if not more) to keep your carry-on luggage locked while in transit since your most valuable possessions should be kept inside your carry-on bag.
You can use the same locks I listed above for your carry-on bag as long as it has zipper holes to fit a shackle or cable through.
I also use a hidden RFID-blocking money belt while going through the airport and once I arrive at my destination since it’s the safest place to keep my money, credit cards, and passport.
Whenever I put my carry-on backpack in the plane’s overhead compartment, I keep the zippers to the main pockets locked.
You can click here to check out my ultimate list of best anti-theft backpacks and bags for travel. There are enough options there to suit everyone’s taste.
Tip: I prefer to use hard-side luggage because I don’t like having a lot of external pockets on my luggage or my carry-on backpack. It gives me peace of mind knowing that no one can easily reach into my backpack or luggage.
Should I wrap my luggage?
Have you ever seen the luggage wrapping machines at airports while traveling internationally?
If you want to wrap your luggage, this is the best way to have it done.
Wrapping your luggage at the airport can protect hard-side luggage from scratches.
It also ensures that no one puts something in your bag that could lead to trouble in the airport.
Don’t use duct tape to wrap your luggage when flying internationally, it’ll only make your bag appear suspicious to TSA agents.
Imagine if you were shipping a package through the USPS with a bunch of duct tape on it. Do you think they would flag your package? Probably so.
Instead, opt to have it professionally wrapped at the airport because it’ll blend in with the other bags that have been wrapped, and it’s nothing out of the ordinary for a TSA agent to see.
Congratulations! You’re now an expert when it comes to using locks on luggage for international travel. The next time someone asks you about it, you can teach them everything there is to know.
I think the biggest takeaways here are:
- Use a TSA-approved lock to avoid having your lock cut by a TSA agent
- Don’t use anything suspicious looking such as duct tape to secure your bag
- Don’t use an expensive non-TSA lock because TSA won’t pay for your lock if they cut it
- Use cable ties or a carabiner clip to secure your luggage zippers if you don’t want to use a lock
- Use locks on both your carry-on and suitcase
- If you want to wrap your suitcase, get it wrapped using the service at the airport near the entrance to the departures
Best of luck and as always, safe travels!