Gad­gets — and pants — that can de­ter the thieves who prey on trav­el­ers.

The Washington Post Sunday - - TRAVEL - El­liott is a con­sumer ad­vo­cate, jour­nal­ist and co-founder of the ad­vo­cacy group Trav­el­ers United. Email him at chris@el­liott.org. CHRISTO­PHER EL­LIOTT

Lit­tle things some­times make a big dif­fer­ence when it comes to travel safety. Like a strate­gi­cally placed zipper.

Con­sider what hap­pened to Aaron McHugh, who was re­cently ex­plor­ing Glas­gow, Scot­land, af­ter the last leg of a sea kayak­ing trip with his brother. “We were not fa­mil­iar with where sketchy parts of the city might be,” he re­mem­bers. But half­way through a 14-mile, self-guided tour, the duo found them­selves in Spring­burn, a neigh­bor­hood with a rep­u­ta­tion for drug crime. McHugh sud­denly felt vul­ner­a­ble. He clutched his credit cards, pass­port and cash and quick­ened his pace, hop­ing to make it to a safer area with­out in­ci­dent.

That’s a fa­mil­iar feel­ing to a lot of trav­el­ers, who are too of­ten un­pre­pared for threats to their safety. Just ask the pro­fes­sion­als. In a re­cent sur­vey of cor­po­rate travel man­agers— the ex­ec­u­tives who over­see com­pa­nies’ travel de­part­ments — safety was ranked the top pri­or­ity. The study, by Euro­pean travel safety con­sul­tant BCD Travel, ranked se­cu­rity higher than ef­fi­ciency, sat­is­fac­tion and en­vi­ron­men­tal and so­cial im­pact.

For­tu­nately, McHugh, a pod­caster who lives in Colorado Springs, had pre­pared by dress­ing the part. He wore a pair of pick­pocket-de­ter­rent pants de­vel­oped by a com­pany called Bluff Works ($93). His cards and im­por­tant pa­per­work were shielded in a zip­pered in­ter­nal pocket.

“That pocket gives me a lot more se­cu­rity and com­fort than a pair of jeans or any other pant I own,” he says. As a de­coy, he car­ried a mes­sen­ger bag over his shoul­der that he says screamed “Take me!” The Bluffs were his cam­ou­flage.

He made it through Spring­burn with­out in­ci­dent.

I’ll be the first to ad­mit it: Zip­pers don’t make for ex­cit­ing read­ing. But isn’t that the point? From in­con­spic­u­ous pants to ties that make your checked bag harder to break into, the gad­gets that can keep you safer on the road are com­pletely un­re­mark­able— un­til you need them. If you’re trav­el­ing some­where for ad­ven­ture this sum­mer, you’ll want to pack these ac­ces­sories.

Adam Rapp, who owns a bou­tique travel ap­parel com­pany called Cloth­ing Arts, agrees that small fea­tures can spell the dif­fer­ence be­tween be­ing a lucky tourist and a hap­less vic­tim. In 2006, on a trip to Xian, China, he was tar­geted by a team of pick­pock­ets, who took him for an easy mark.

“Luck­ily, we no­ticed some­thing was hap­pen­ing just in time to watch them dis­ap­pear into the crowded mass of peo­ple be­hind of us,” he says. “That was when I looked down at the wideopen pock­ets onmy chi­nos and thought, ‘Why not com­bine the se­cu­rity of money-belts and a great pair of travel pants?’ ”

The re­sult is Cloth­ing Arts’ pick­pocket-proof travel pants ($99-$109), which have a hid­den pass­port and money pocket that gives you the op­tion of lay­er­ing two and even three lev­els of se­cu­rity be­tween your wal­let and the world.

Bob Nielsen, a col­lege pro­fes­sor from West Lafayette, Ind., says the pants were worth the pur­chase price. On a re­cent trip to France, he had tucked his wal­let and pass­port into the left cargo pocket of his Cloth­ing Arts pants, seal­ing it with the snap and but­tons.

“Aswe were board­ing a train at a small sta­tion one stop be­yond the main sta­tion at Nice, I felt a small tug at the left pocket,” Nielsen re­mem­bers. “I in­stinc­tively slapped at the hand as I turned around to see a young woman and her male com­pan­ion look­ing at me as if to say, ‘How dare you foil our at­tempt to pick your pocket!’ ”

Zip­pers in your travel clothes may pro­tect your be­long­ings, but they can do the op­po­site when it comes to your lug­gage. Spend a lit­tle time online, and you’ll prob­a­bly see the video in which a se­cu­rity ex­pert shows how to break into a checked bag with an or­di­nary pen. It’s true: The over­size zip­pers, in the hands of an air­line lug­gage han­dler, are re­mark­ably easy to pen­e­trate.

That’s the idea be­hind the GripAzip ($35) a com­bi­na­tion busi­ness-card holder and se­cu­rity de­vice, com­pat­i­ble with TSA locks, that you at­tach to the han­dle of your carry-on bag to “dead­bolt” your zipper. A de­ter­mined thief can still use a pen to ac­cess your be­long­ings, but he can no longer re­seal the bag and hide the crime. That, GripAzip ar­gues, is a strong de­ter­rent to ground han­dlers who might want to steal from your checked lug­gage or to ho­tel em­ploy­ees who want to ri­fle through your pos­ses­sions.

Of course, the best so­lu­tion is not to carry valu­ables on your per­son or in your checked lug­gage. That’s a wor­thy goal, but it’s not al­ways pos­si­ble. Tools such as pick­pocket-proof cloth­ing and the GripAzip can de­ter thieves, but they can’t guar­an­tee your valu­ables will stay safe.

Un­for­tu­nately, no one can do that.

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