4 Ways To Track And Recover Your Stuff If It Gets Stolen When Traveling

January 31, 2012 by Anil Polat  


We’re beginning a new era in the cycle of travel theft in favor of the victim despite the amount of coverage of what thieves can do to you with technology. Yet, our stuff that is so tempting to steal, is also getting smart enough to protect itself, fight back, and find its way home. You’re probably carrying smaller, more expensive electronics today than you ever have – two good reasons to prepare yourself in the craftiest ways possible.

1. All Around Laptop, Tablet, Mobile Phone Recovery: Project Prey

I am a huge fan of Project Prey and if there’s one solution you should use as part of a physical security plan for your gadgets, Project Prey is it. This free piece of software runs on your laptop (Windows, Mac, and Linux), mobile phone (iPhone and Android), and tablet (yes, iPad too); remaining hidden until you activate it. If your gadget gets stolen, you activate Project Prey remotely (through a free account on their website) and you can track it, get secret screenshots, steal passwords, and even get pictures of the crooks covertly with any built-in camera. Need more convincing? Project Prey helped Matthew recover his Macbook Pro in Panama.

owl eyes

Mac users can also take a look at iCloud (although it doesn’t work nearly as well).

2. Set A Decoy Wallet Trap To Surprise A Pickpocket

I’ve talked about decoy wallets before as part of a broader travel security plan to reduce your loses if you’re unfortunate enough to be pick-pocketed. Decoy wallets also make good dummy targets but if you want to add a small chance of catching the thief, be sure to leave an unused – but activated – credit card in yours. This won’t work in every country but if the pickpocket decides to use that credit card somewhere and you’ve reported it stolen, police can use surveillance footage from stores to track them. More criminals are caught this way than you might think. Plus your credit card company likely won’t hold you liable for unauthorized transactions.

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green and orange jfold wallet

You probably won’t get your wallet back but justice may still be served.

3. Find Lost Or Stolen Luggage With An Inexpensive GPS Tracking Unit

Although controversial, GPS tracking units are often used to follow the movements of criminal suspects in many countries around the world. These small-palm sized devices broadcast radio signals that can be used to track them from a computer. Place Hide one of these (the Winplus AC13268-72 Beacon GPS Tracker is $29 or the Telespial TrackStick $149) in your backpack or checked luggage to find out where it is when it’s not where it’s supposed to be.

gps luggage trackerWinplus AC13268-72 Beacon GPS Tracker

amazon buy now

lost travelers looking at map

4. Keep A Digital Eye On Your House With Your Desktop

There are plenty of uses for that clunky desktop when you’re traveling; one of which is to act as security guard. Both Yawcam (Windows) or iAlertu (Mac) can snap and email you photos when they detect any motion – especially useful when things should be motionless. A picture of a potential burglar may help you get your stolen things back. Plus, you’ll finally know if you’ve really trained your cat not to jump on tables when you’re at work.

gingerbread house

In addition, iAlertu (and Laptop Alarm for Windows) can put some muscle on your laptop so it sounds a loud alarm if moved. Useful for those times you’ve just got to hop up for a napkin or your 6th cup of coffee in a cafe with your laptop just within visual range.

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Hope For The Best But Plan For The Worst

No security is absolute – the first rule of security – and that’s why any plan without a backup is doomed to fail eventually. Remember, your data is more valuable than any piece of electronic equipment you own so don’t screw up your vacation by preparing for mini-disasters. Recruit your gadgets and technology to work on your side for protection and preparation just in case.

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  1. I had heard of Project Prey – but never considered actually installing a GPS device. Great tips!

  2. Chris says:

    This post is very helpfull. I will definitely download Project Prey and Yawcam is also cool!


  3. mina says:

    your most reminded me of this – http://thisguyhasmymacbook.tumblr.com/

    although i’m skeptical that it was a clever marketing campaign for the “hidden” app, these sorts of apps would definitely come in useful.

    i really hope i’m never in a situation like this. great post.

  4. Barnes says:

    Great advice, the dummy wallet is genius! I am still surprised at the number of tourists you see with wallets in their back pockets?!

    Not sure if it’s wise to have any activated cards in the dummy wallet. Someone cloned my card before and once that was done, they were able to set their own pin codes and make charges to my account. Criminals are always getting cleverer. I’d let law enforcement do their job and just worry about your own security.

    Still, a cracking post, my travel tweet today will be this top post.

    • Anil P. says:

      It’s definitely a riskier path and you won’t lose anything by not setting the trap 🙂 Plus it will introduce added work (canceling the card, reporting it stolen, etc.) – and I can imagine you’d want to avoid that, especially given your experience.

  5. I have read about Matt’s ordeal in Panama, so I am familiar with prey, but did not know about these other ideas. Thanks for the tips.

  6. karen says:

    prey is an amazing site

    A good site for helping find your camera if it goes missing whilst travelling is http://www.stolencamerafinder.com. Some guy from Hong Kong got his camera back after leaving it in a taxi in San Francisco!

  7. Read that post by Matthew. It was actually funny how they got caught and all the details project prey can tell you about some random people that stole your piece of equipment! And this is actually very good software. Glad it worked out well for him and will definitely use this!

    and some smart ideas here man 😉

  8. Lane says:

    Great suggestions. We will definitely look into Project Prey now. Thanks!

  9. Viajeria says:

    Thanks for the tips. We have a few engineering students looking into ways to improve tracking of lost luggage. The GPS trackers look interesting, though I’m wondering why the Winplus Beacon’s price has dropped so much…

    • Ruth says:

      Have you tried it? Their site says it doesn’t give real-time, just a USB plug in and download option. Would be cool if you could track it on the web. The only ones I can find that are available in Canada are like 200$.

    • Anil P. says:

      Surprising – especially considering it has such great reviews online. I’m certain these type of devices are going to get smaller and smaller, it’s only a matter of time before they become an option with luggage 🙂

  10. I enjoy sitting at coffee shops and do my online work, particularly in foreign countries where I particularly enjoy the ambience of the strange smells and sights. However, it makes you vulnerable to theft, and you really don’t want to loose your laptop as a digital nomad.

    In ‘safe’ countries, I use a K-Lock to deter simple snatch-and-run attacks.

    In medium-risk countries, I leave the laptop at home and take a less crucial tablett.

    Finally, in really risky countries, I don’t take either. You don’t want someone following you when you leave the coffee shop and club you over the head for that piece of kit. There are worse things than theft.

    • Anil P. says:

      A physical lock is such an underrated deterrent and very effective, I’m glad you mention it. I also like your strategy overall, I practice something similar. It is easy to get comfortable showing common gadgets (especially mobiles) and forget it’s like taking out hundreds of Euros in public. Plus, like you point out, electronics can be replaced, a head not so much 🙂