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Locked bag = ripped open by customs?

Posted by CrankyCarrot on 10/8/2010 at 15:54

They say an accurate title will increase the chance of an accurate answer, so it's all there.

I want to avoid being made a drug mule so I bought some combo locks to keep my checked luggage/backpack secure.

BUT, if customs thinks there's something suspect in the bag, what will they do?

A. Rip it open to check, hence ruining the bag?

B. Contact me to come and open the locks so they can look?

C. Something else?

I already know there's some special locks that can be opened by US customs with a skeleton key, but I'm not going to the US and I already bought the combo locks that don't do that, because they're vastly cheaper.

#1 CrankyCarrot has been a member since 24/3/2010. Location: Thailand. Posts: 662

Posted by SBE on 10/8/2010 at 16:37

Are you from the US Cranky Carrot? I have an American friend who says her bags get opened by US Customs practically every single time she enters or leaves the States... they slash open packets etc and she often finds stuff broken and or scattered about the bag when she opens her luggage. She reckons she must be on a CIA Al Qaeda suspect list. She's a very respectable 63 year old, not an international terrorist, but she does prefer finding out what's going on in the world through the Al Jazeera English language website rather than Fox News.

Anyway, back to your question... it's highly unlikely that your bags will be ripped opened by customs in SE Asia. Indeed there are notices in some airports advising passengers to securely lock checked in bags and not put anything valuable in them. Presume that's to prevent theft by baggage handlers. Another thing you can do to help secure your stuff is to get your backpack wrapped at the airport. Not all airports have this facility but a lot do. They wrap bags up so thoroughly that it's a right pain getting the polythene wrapper off afterwards and it's not terribly environmentally friendly either. But it's the only thing you can do really to secure your checked in luggage unless you have a lockable backpack or a packsafe mesh thing (and the mesh on those isn't small enough to stop someone slipping drugs into your luggage anyway).

#2 SBE has been a member since 14/4/2008. Location: Global Village. Posts: 2,020
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Posted by CrankyCarrot on 10/8/2010 at 17:22

I should clarify. I am a dinky-dai, ocker Aussie traveling from Sydney and could just as easily go by the nickname Paste E McWhite as Cranky Carrot. AND I'm going to shave tonight. Basically I'm the polar opposite to what you'd imagine a T-word to look like.

A friend of mine mentioned that packing tape thing, so it's probably offered here too. Is it expensive normally? Ballpark cost?

I spent a long time choosing this backpack, and I blew a chunky wad of about 400 bucks on it, so I don't want some security goon tearing it open because he confuses my Banana Boat sunscreen for plastique. OR something.

I'll ask at the Information Desk tomorrow.

#3 CrankyCarrot has been a member since 24/3/2010. Location: Thailand. Posts: 662

Posted by busylizzy on 10/8/2010 at 18:08

Cranky - or shall I call you Pasty?

Anyhow... I padlocked all zips on my backpack, had 10 flights over a 5-month period and never had a problem with anyone trying to get in - customs/immigration, or otherwise. Ditto for a trip the previous year which involved about 7 flights.

My suggestion - padlock them up then don't worry too much about it. Enjoy the flight!

#4 busylizzy has been a member since 31/12/2007. Location: New Zealand. Posts: 2,155
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Posted by CrankyCarrot on 10/8/2010 at 18:13


That's good to hear. I think the bag itself is insured for a little bit o' cash anyway, but you're experience is reassuring. I'll probably lock em up and relax... but I'm still gonna ask the info desk. You can never be too sure.

Oh, and call me Cranky ;)

#5 CrankyCarrot has been a member since 24/3/2010. Location: Thailand. Posts: 662

Posted by swag on 11/8/2010 at 07:35

As an aside my wife and I recently returned from 3 weeks in Vietnam. We have had those special US combo locks for a number of years with no problems till now. On arriving at Hanoi from KL we got to the hotel and found my wifes lock had been removed. Nothing was stolen but very uneasy feeling. Leaving Hanoi after unpacking and repacking cases and putting on cheaper combo lock got to KL to find her combo lock gone again. Nothing taken and nothing added so I wonder wether its the baggage handlers.So I don't think the special US locks did much good and short of wrapping your case can't see how you can prevent that stuff happening.
enjoy your trip

#6 swag has been a member since 28/3/2007. Location: Australia. Posts: 331

Posted by CrankyCarrot on 13/8/2010 at 15:35

Hey guys,

Well, much to my joy, my bag and locks arrived in tact. I'm in Phuket now, and have been using a wire and padlock deal to secure my bag closed and attached to the safe in the hotel room, which is way too small to house my laptop.

Seems like room breakins are a low risk, and most places have staff at the front on lookout 24/7. I like that.

Someone tell me if I'm being too complacent leaving a laptop in view in the locked room when I'm not there.

#7 CrankyCarrot has been a member since 24/3/2010. Location: Thailand. Posts: 662

Posted by busylizzy on 13/8/2010 at 17:45

I would NEVER leave a laptop or camera in plain view in the room.

I'm not an overly paranoid person, but I do try to be sensible. My modus operandi was to ALWAYS put the netbook, camera and other electrical bits into my main pack, zip it up and lock it with the padlocks. Wouldn't matter if I was in a backpackers or in a 4-star hotel. The only thing I would leave lying around the room outside of the pack would be my toiletry bag, maybe some clothes and a book. That's it. Everything is locked up.

You would like to think that hotel staff are honest, but the reality is that your one laptop is probably worth a year's salary to them. Why lead them to temptation by leaving somehing of value around?

Not so sure about securing your pack to the hotel safe though! Hadn't thought of that before. The only time I secured my pack to something was at one or two places in the islands where there were no locks for the room (Koh Kradan) and the walls were made of thatch so that anyone could put their hands through (Otres). But hey.... I guess it doesn't hurt!

#8 busylizzy has been a member since 31/12/2007. Location: New Zealand. Posts: 2,155
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Posted by CrankyCarrot on 13/8/2010 at 20:15


Now you got me all paranoid. I was just about to trot off for a massage, laptop all setup nicely in my locked room, not a care in the 3rd world. But now I'm going to pack it all away in the backpack and lock it up plus secure it to the safe.

The reason I use the safe that way is it's not big enough in and of itself to fit the laptop in, plus I'm too dumb to figure out the locking mechanism. BUT you can slip the secure wire through the bit between the hinge an the door and lock the bag shut attached. Everything else in the room moves or could be easily broken or unscrewed.

Did you pack away the cables that go with the laptop? So there's no hint of you having one, or just secure the laptop so it couldn't easily be removed. Surely if they see a mouse lying around, they'll figure there's a laptop somewhere? Where there's smoke and all...

#9 CrankyCarrot has been a member since 24/3/2010. Location: Thailand. Posts: 662

Posted by neosho on 14/8/2010 at 18:47

Locks keep honest people honest. Just don't make it easy and tempting for the others.

#10 neosho has been a member since 13/8/2008. Posts: 386

Posted by busylizzy on 15/8/2010 at 04:28

Sorry to introduce paranoia - that wasn't my intention!

Do I lock up cables, etc? I guess it depends on where I am and the sort of place I'm staying. The more basic the accommodation, the more likely I was to lock everything into my pack. In a hotel room, I might be more inclined to leave the odd cable lying around. But really, I just take the view of better to be safe than sorry. If I'm travelling, I'm there to enjoy myself. The last thing I want to do is deal with insurance claims, agro, etc.

Neosho sums it up nicely.

Disclaimer and as an aside: I am generally a neat freak when travelling anyhow. I hate living in chaos when I'm on the move each day, so my backpack is nice and orderly with packing cubes, etc. It makes life travelling on the road just that much easier. Everything has a home, and I always know where everything is. This is in complete contrast to the people I travelled with on my last couple trips who went for the 'random chaos' approach. They could never find anything when they wanted it. Anyhow - this probably contributes to my decision to hide away everything in the pack - I just like cleaning up my mess!

#11 busylizzy has been a member since 31/12/2007. Location: New Zealand. Posts: 2,155
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Posted by CrankyCarrot on 15/8/2010 at 14:31

Neosho's advice works for me.

Liz, I'm on the more anal side of the cleanliness scale too, but I wouldn't go so far as to use packing cubes, lol. I keep the room neat and the bag kinda messy. Since I've only either moved rooms or moved around the corner so far it's easier just to shove everything in the bag and lug it for 5 minutes. For a longer haul I guess I'd give some thought to pack distribution, since there's such a science to it according to the shaggy fellow who sold me the bag.

I'm getting faster at setting the lock and cable and slipping valuables in quickly. Still striking the balance between paranoia, practicality and security.

Another thing that's come up is what to do on beach trips. I'd like a little money for beer or a massage, but bringing my wallet is a no no since I'm traveling alone and don't want to leave more than about 500thb worth of stuff on the sand. Yesterday I went to Patong Beach and tied my room key to the drawer string on my swimmers/shorts. Just had a book and a towel in a plastic bag, oh and those cheap 150baht sunnies I'm guessing most Thai wouldn't give two sawasdees about. As a test, I put a travelex visa card and a 20 baht note in a plastic bag, and buttoned it up in another pocket. The visa being a lifeline incase my room got busted into and someone got all my other cash cards (told you I was paranoid)

Well, I'm pretty sure the visa is fine, despite getting wet. The soggy 20 baht note has dried out ok under my room a/c too. The shopping bag had a hole in it, which was kind of obvious in retrospect - being in Phuket and pampered constantly has made my brain a touch soft, you see.

I figure I could get a plastic zip bag - one of those small ones you get money from the bank in (or other nasty substances if you hang around the beach at night, I've discovered). That oughta keep the notes dry.

Koh tote khrup for the long post - I think I'm suffering from regular conversation-withdrawal.

#12 CrankyCarrot has been a member since 24/3/2010. Location: Thailand. Posts: 662

Posted by busylizzy on 15/8/2010 at 16:34

Hey Cranky,

On the beaches..... I handled it in a range of ways, depending on where I was. Sometimes I took nothing with me to the beach other than a sarong and a book. If I wanted to take money, I used an el cheapo wallet to carry just enough baht/dollars/whatever to cover lunch.

And once or twice, I used a small waterproof pouch to carry a room key and cash into the water if it didn't feel right leaving it on the beach. The pouch had a cord on it and I just wrapped it around my wrist and held it in my hand. Ziploc bag would do the same. (The waterproof pouch was for taking my small camera underwater but that was a waste of time.)

#13 busylizzy has been a member since 31/12/2007. Location: New Zealand. Posts: 2,155
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Posted by CrankyCarrot on 15/8/2010 at 16:40


I'm about to head into Patong surf now so, you're advice is timely. The hotel keys are as good as waterproof in my opinion anyway, but the cash... not so much, unless.... of course! Coins! Might be a bugger to get 200-300 thb together in coinage, but well, it's an idea.

Otherwise the simple ziploc (couldn't think of the name before) would do the trick too. I like the idea of going to the beach, buying a beer, then taking in a massage on the way home. Maybe I could get a tab at one of the parlours, lol. Thai are nothing if not accommodating.

#14 CrankyCarrot has been a member since 24/3/2010. Location: Thailand. Posts: 662

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