Vehicles are tempting targets for thieves since they don’t take a lot of effort to break into. With the right tools or a quick smash of a window, a thief can access everything inside in a matter of seconds.
Keeping valuables in a vehicle is risky, but sometimes there’s no other option. When you’re on a road trip or living out of your car or RV, you have to carry everything with you wherever the road takes you.
Travelers are targets since they’re more likely to carry valuables in their vehicle. Thieves have all sorts of tricks: in some cases, they’ll go as far as following you until you get out of the car and leave your belongings behind.
As a tourist with luggage, map, or out of town plates, you stand out to thieves, so you need to do whatever you can to protect your valuables on the road. While you can’t prevent every theft, there’s plenty you can do to make yourself less of a target.
Don’t Leave Unnecessary Valuables In Your Vehicle
The simplest way to protect your valuables is to keep them with you. Your vehicle will be a tempting target for a thief if they suspect you’re a tourist or living out of your car.
If you can, take the important things with you every time you leave your vehicle. There’s no need to store expensive or irreplaceable items in your car when you could simply toss them into your bag. That said, you’ll need a better solution for larger items like laptops if you’re out for a hike or doing something else where carrying them is impractical.
You should always keep your passport and other important documents with you, but if you absolutely need to leave them in your vehicle, ensure they are well hidden and, if possible, in a tethered safe.
Turn Off Your Electronics
Your Bluetooth-enabled devices can be tracked by thieves if they are left on. Simple apps allow people to scan for nearby Bluetooth signals, which can lead them straight to your unguarded electronics.
There’s a good chance most of your tech has Bluetooth capabilities, including laptops, phones, cameras, speakers, and headphones. If you have to leave electronics in the car, always turn everything off before you go. This means completely shutting down your laptop rather than just closing the lid, for example.
Keep Anything of Value Out of Sight
Never leave anything of value in plain sight. If a potential thief takes a peek through your vehicle windows, they shouldn’t be able to see anything worth stealing. You can move valuable items to the trunk, put them in the glove box, or tuck things under a seat to keep them hidden.
If you have larger items, such as shopping bags, a suitcase, or a backpack, make sure they’re in the trunk or at least hidden under a blanket or towel. A computer bag or backpack bursting at the seams doesn’t conceal your valuables, it just shows criminals how much you’re storing in your vehicle.
Even the smallest amount of money can attract thieves, so ensure you don’t have bills or small change lying around. If you have a habit of tossing your coins in the cup holders when you get in your car, always empty them before you leave or just start keeping them in the center console instead.
In general, anything you can’t easily replace shouldn’t be left unprotected in a vehicle. If you have to leave valuables behind unprotected, invest in a safe (below) that will at least prevent opportunistic smash and grabs.
Don’t Forget About Chargers and Mounts
When you’re hiding valuables, don’t forget about the accessories that go with them. Phone chargers, phone mounts, GPS mounts, etc., will give thieves an idea of the valuables you could have in your car.
Cover or conceal anything that could give away what might be in your vehicle. If you mount any tech to your windshield, ensure you wipe away marks left by the suction cup.
Watch Where You Park
You can help prevent thefts by carefully selecting where you park. Avoid leaving a vehicle in a deserted area, and park underneath a light or near a security camera if there’s a spot available.
Thieves are looking for easy pickings. They want to get in and out as fast as possible, and they need to be able to take what they can without being seen by others.
In a dark and deserted area, a thief is able to spend as long as they like breaking into your car or safe if you have one. If you feel uncomfortable when you get out, it’s probably not a good place for your vehicle. When there’s no other option, take any valuable or irreplaceable items with you.
Use a Safe For Your Valuables
A lightweight travel safe is a good investment for anyone taking long or frequent road trips. Store the safe out of sight under a seat, in the trunk, or under a towel, and ensure it can tether to a fixed part of your vehicle.
Those traveling light will need to compromise on size and weight when choosing a safe since anything heavy-duty won’t fit in a backpack. Unfortunately, the more portable a safe is, the less secure it will be. A determined thief, especially one armed with the right tools, will be able to remove or break into almost any portable safe given enough time: treat them as a deterrent, not a guarantee.
If you keep everything in your vehicle, look for a safe that's large enough for a laptop and any other tech you carry. Store anything of value in the safe, including cash, jewelry, and any documentation you don’t keep on your person.
A smaller safe can work, but if you only need to store things you might normally carry in your pockets like a phone, cash, and identification. These are good for extra security when you’re surfing, swimming, or other activities where you can’t take any valuables with you.
If you’re tight on space, we recommend choosing a portable option that can serve multiple purposes. The Pacsafe Travelsafe is a 12-liter portable lockbox for travelers. It can fit a pair of 15-inch laptops inside, and only weighs 1.6 pounds. You can tether it inside your vehicle or carry it by its handles, and it comes with a TSA-approved combination lock. Other sizes are also available.
The FlexSafe by AquaVault is designed for the beach, but it can easily strap to a bar or belt in a vehicle as well. It weighs half a pound and can be strapped to anything from a beach chair or golf car to a bike, stroller, or hotel furniture when it’s not needed in your car.
Make sure whatever you choose is at least secure enough to prevent a smash and grab theft, but don’t allow the safe to give you a false sense of confidence. If you don’t have to leave valuables in your vehicle, don’t, and always keep your passport and anything irreplaceable on your person if you possibly can.
Want more advice for life on the road? Read our tips and tools for working out of your car or the best road trip apps for adventures on (and off) the highway.