How to Protect Your Belongings on the Beach

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How to Protect Your Belongings on the Beach

Imagine relaxing on the whitest beach you’ve ever seen. The breeze is gentle, the sun is warm but not harsh, and you’ve got your eye on the bright blue sea before you.

And that’s not all — you’re here alone. Because you feel like it. And you’re having a kickass time.

Ordinarily, you’d trade off swimming time and watch-the-bags time with a friend, but on your own, that’s not an option. And that water is looking very inviting. So you run straight in, diving beneath the surface, and emerge just in time to see…

…a dastardly criminal running off with your $800 smartphone!

Many solo travelers shy away from swimming at the beach, which I think is a shame. I love swimming in the ocean year-round (well, Thailand and Nicaragua in the winter months) and I make beach time a major part of my travels, whether it’s on the Adriatic or the Caribbean.

I don’t let traveling solo stop me from spending a glorious afternoon sunbathing on the sand — nor do I let it keep me from taking a swim on my own, even if I have valuables with me.

People are always asking me how to protect your belongings if you go to the beach alone — so here are my top tips for solo beach travelers!

Kate on Little Corn

1) Decide whether you even need your valuables at the beach.

Sure, you want to take photos at the beach, but can you do that and then head back to your accommodation to drop off your phone, then return empty-handed and go for a swim?

If you’re staying close to the beach (or even on the beach!), this is a smart option. If you’re staying further away from the beach, it becomes less desirable.

When you lock up your valuables in your accommodation, be sure to use a portable safe and lock it to the sturdiest thing in your room. I consider my portable safe the most important thing I pack.

One thing…if you choose this route, just hope that The Rock doesn’t randomly show up on your beach. You’d really hate to not have your camera for that.

Kate, Sky, and Grace

2) Leave your belongings with a trustworthy fellow traveler while you swim.

Other people are in the same position as you — they want to swim, but they’re alone and they don’t want to leave their belongings unattended. Seek these people out and ask if they could watch your things for a few minutes while you take a short swim, then offer to do the same for them.

You’ve got to be careful who you ask. I spend time watching people on the beach and seeing how they behave before choosing someone to ask. What are they doing? Who are they with? Are they sober? Do they look responsible?

I personally look for the following kinds of people to ask:

  • Fellow solo female travelers around my age
  • Families with kids
  • Older couples

I personally choose to avoid asking the following kinds of people:

  • Teenagers or very early twenty-somethings
  • Local kids
  • Solo men (usually)

While this system isn’t foolproof, and people of all demographics can be trustworthy, I find that older rather than younger people in established families or groups tend to have a bit more “insurance.” I also tend to pick out bookworms rather than people who are drinking, and I make sure that they have their own valuables within their eyesight, not just pushed behind them somewhere.

Kate Surfing in JBay

3) Pay for a locker or a service that will guide your valuables.

Some beaches have lockers for rent, which is great, but they’re uncommon.

Many European beaches have chairs and umbrellas for rent, and these often come with a locker or even a private lockable changing shack right on the beach.

If those aren’t an option, consider doing a water activity like renting a kayak or stand-up paddleboard. Companies who run activities like these have systems for holding onto your belongings while you get in the water.

Sometimes they’ll allow you to keep your stuff in one of their lockers for a little bit longer if you want to take a swim afterward. Just ask before you pay for the rental.

Akumal Corona Beach

4) Buy something at a bar or restaurant, then leave it with the staff.

When you arrive at the beach, visit a nearby restaurant and spend some cash — buy a drink or have a meal. Then ask the bartender or waitress if it’s possible for her to watch your bag while you have a swim.

I’ll be honest — I consider this the iffiest option on the list, and it would probably be my last resort. Every bar and restaurant varies. Many refuse due to the liability factor; others agree but will get distracted and forget to watch your bag closely.

But there are some bars and restaurants that take it seriously and will keep a close eye on your belongings as long as you take a relatively brief swim.

If you choose to go the bar or restaurant route, ask about exactly where your belongings will be kept and who will be watching them and for how long. Your best-case scenario is if it’s kept on a shelf behind the bar and the bartender won’t be leaving the bar during your swim. Lock your bag, if you can, before handing it over.

Kate in Senggigi

5) Swim with your valuables in a dry bag.

I actually travel with two dry bags, which many people think is excessive, but trust me — after you survive a shipwreck, nothing is excessive.

My first dry bag is an extra-large (20L) Sea to Summit Dry Sack, which I keep in case another of my boats goes down and I have to put my entire tech bag in it. So far, it’s been most useful on the very wet panga ride to Little Corn Island in Nicaragua.

My second dry bag, and the kind that I recommend you use while swimming, is a generic bag from Central America, but the most similar model to it is the Freegrace small 5L Ultimate Lightweight Dry Sack.

This bag is small enough to sling around your shoulder, yet it wraps your valuables up tightly. If you want to go swimming with it, it will float gently on the surface — not ideal for free-diving or anything like that, but perfect for surface swimming!

I recommend that you use a plastic bag as a liner and test it out without your electronics inside, seeing if there are any leaks, before you actually swim with it. Wrap it up tightly and you’re good to go.

Mindil Beach

Know that nothing is ever 100% safe.

You can choose the sweetest old lady to watch your phone and she could be part of an international crime ring. Likewise, the day you choose to leave your valuables at home could be the day a hostel staffer breaks into the dorms.

Nothing is ever 100% safe, not even if you stay home. Yes, you could have your belongings stolen if you followed any of these tips, bit pointing out these tiny loopholes isn’t the point.

Travel — and life — are not about learning how to be 100% safe. They’re about reducing your risk as much as possible. Just because seat belts don’t save lives 100% of the time, that doesn’t mean they’re a waste of time. These tips reduce your risk of theft enormously, and this is why you should follow them.

And that’s one reason why you should purchase travel insurance before your trip. If your items are stolen, they will help you get refunded. I use and recommend World Nomads.

My Favorite Beaches in the World

Now that you know how to protect your belongings, how about a little travel inspiration? After 74 countries (and all seven continents), here are some of my favorite destinations:

Koh Lanta, Thailand. The best island on the planet, perhaps my favorite place on the planet that isn’t Antarctica, and I’m so pleased that over the years it hasn’t lost its charm. Here’s a complete guide to the island. The best beach is Relax Bay, pictured above.

The Florida Panhandle. This part of Florida is called the Emerald Coast and is home to soft white sand beaches with bright teal water. I recommend the retro town of Seaside, where The Truman Show was filmed.

Belize. Caye Caulker may be mostly beachless, but sailing down the coast for three days will bring you to uninhabited islands straight out of a movie.

Western Australia. This is the wildest part of the country and the beaches do not disappoint! Cottesloe Beach in Perth is the spot to see and be seen at sunset; Broome’s Cable Beach has camel rides as the shadows get long, and Shell Beach is one of few beaches in the world totally comprised of seashells.

Little Corn Island, Nicaragua. An under-the-radar destination that won’t be unknown for much longer. A tiny speck in the Caribbean Sea with low-key island living.

Boracay, Philippines. The whitest, softest sands with unbelievable sunsets, and the sweetest mangos in the world (which can be lit on fire at a Greek restaurant). Do keep in mind that this island is dealing with overdevelopment and will be shut down temporarily starting in mid-2018.

Southern Albania. Did you know that this country has some of the best beaches in Europe? Saranda makes a great base but the best beaches are a drive or bus ride away — consider day tripping to Ksamil and Drymades.

Sydney, Australia. I’m convinced Sydney has the best urban beaches on the planet — soft, white, and impeccably clean. Do the coastal walk and see for yourself.


READ MORE: Top 10 Travel Safety Tips for Women


Do you go to the beach alone? How do you protect your belongings?

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65 thoughts on “How to Protect Your Belongings on the Beach”

  1. I usually try to avoid to take valuables with me and only take what I really need, because I don’t want to be worried about my belongings while I’m swimming.

  2. I find this is one of the most annoying things about travelling alone, so I’m glad you decided to write about it! I try to take the minimum possible to the beach, but it’s always the camera that is my dilemma!

    So what I sometimes do, is I put my camera in an underwater housing (as I happen to have this for diving), take off the weight (so it floats), and swim with it…not ideal for proper swimming, but good enough for a gentle dip!

  3. I do go to the beach and just leave all of my stuff on the sand. Probably not the smartest decision, but as you said, I leave most of my valuables back. I’m at the beach! What more could I need, right? Sand is going to get in everything anyway. Good tips here, though!

  4. This is even relevant if you’re travelling with a friend or two but want to go swimming together!

    This past spring, my boyfriend and I were in Mexico and really wanted to go snorkeling and swimming with the turtles in Akumal. At the same time. We found one shop on the beach that had lockers, but they would only rent you a locker if you rented something else off them. So we rented life jackets (which proved to be useful) and stored our stuff in a locker. It was well worth the price of the life jacket and we were out in the water for over an hour without worrying about our belongings. Otherwise, we would have had to take turns going out in the water! Plus, the turtles were a decent ways off the beach so the logistics would have been annoying.

  5. I’m finding we’re having similar problems now we’re travelling with our 9 month old. Our upcoming trip to Greece will be fine because we’ll be with extended family, but when it was just the three of us in Menorca it was more difficult – since it was baby’s first trip to the beach, we both wanted to take him into the sea to play as a family. It was ok when we got a spot right on the water’s edge, but if we didn’t, then one of us had to be bag watcher. Not fun when you’re missing your baby moments. I always try and avoid taking excessive cash to the beach (just enough for lunch and drinks) and although I’d always be glad to watch belongings for a solo traveller, I’d never offer, because I always feel they’d be a bit suspicious. Would you agree?

  6. Not a huge beach girl but had the same trouble on hawaii. I used a small dry bag for the bit of cash, credit card and my mobile I had with me, my key cars went into a empty suncream bottle with tissues and no big camera.

    When I had my camera around, I went for a really early swimming experience and looked for an empty spot on the beach- there were so many doing it the same way.

  7. I always have a tough time with this. Even though I usually travel with my husband, he gets beat up by the sun so I usually go to the beach by myself. I try not to bring anything with me because I don’t want to worry about it the whole time!

  8. I avoid going to crowded sandy beaches for this reason. I don’t take any valuables with me, but I wear glasses – which are more valuable than my phone and other things. If someone had to run away with my bag I’d go crazy without them.

    Beach theft is very common here in Malta, which is why I seek out little-known rocky areas instead. However I still make sure to swim within sight of my spot. Solo swimmers are always easy target.

  9. Great tips. When I go to the beach, I pretty much just try to take the essentials, but sometimes I have to bring my camera and stuff. I’ve used pretty much all of these except the lockers. I think it really depends on where you are as well. In Barcelona, you can NEVER leave anything unattended, but at some places in Asia I’ve found it to be very safe.

  10. Wish I read this before my Cuba trip! (

    Even though I was at the beach not alone, but with my “Familia Cubana”, some locals still managed to rob us.. thankfully only my phone and not my camera.

  11. Actually, I always leave my stuff (including my phone) in my bag by my towel and never had any problems… did the Portuguese (and Moroccan) beaches spoiled me?
    I don’t even think about, I just put my stuff away and go swim!

  12. I worried about this so much in Mexico that we bought a small watertight dry box, the kind you would use on a boat, to take with us to the beach. It fit our phones, cards, and cash and we could swim with it if we wanted. The beaches turned out to be pretty legit and not super crowded or sketchy so most of the time it wasn’t a problem. Also, very true about the restaurants. If you’re buying food or drinks, in Mexico at least, we got free chairs and umbrellas where we could usually leave our stuff without too much worry. If you’re a paying customer, oftentimes the establishment will look our for you.

  13. I’m such a beach baby- I absolutely love swimming and will spend a lot more time in the water than on the sand. Depending on where you are I’ve sometimes found a very secluded spot and buried my bag behind a tree or something but you have to be very careful with that.

    Normally I just don’t bring anything valuable as it is the safest option. Then I organise another trip to the beach to take some photos. But I just bought an awesome new camera so I might be more reluctant to leave the camera at home now!

  14. Thanks for the tips. Now I know what to do when I travel alone to the beach next time! I admire how you dare to travel alone as a female. Even though I am a guy, traveling alone can get scary. I’m 19 and I just travel abroad to Paris for the first time, and I also just started my blog, would you mind to check it out for me at http://www.skinnytiechuck.com for me? Any feedbacks or advice is welcomed as I just started it few weeks ago!

  15. Great tips, I’ve never really considered leaving my stuff with someone else as it’s always risky but you’re right about general demographics being safer than others. People have left their things with me before, too. There’s also a cool little bottle thing you can buy that looks like sunscreen but holds your phone and money and any other small bits – still a bit of a risk, but definitely a deterrent.

  16. These are great tips, Kate! I always struggle with knowing where to leave my stuff when I go for a swim. Lately, I’ve just stopped bringing most of my valuables with me and left them in the hotel safe. But its difficult for me not to bring a camera, so I usually take a small risk!

  17. Definitely good tips! The few times I’ve gone to the beach solo, I made a point of putting my towel down and sitting for a bit near older couples (especially ones who don’t appear to be spending much time in the water). Then when I wanted to go for a dip, I would just ask them to keep an eye on my stuff for 10 or 15 minutes.

  18. This is perfect! I’m going solo for a business trip to Miami next week and I was stressing on how I would account for my belongings when going to the beach. I actually was getting to the point where I was like “Ah screw the beach…maybe I’ll just find a spa instead.” because I was so stressed about this. I just bought a dry bag and a capsule thing for my phone!

  19. Great tips! A tiny dry bag sounds like a great investment.

    I’m super spoiled here in Japan as things are soo safe – I leave my wallet and iPhone on my towel when I swim and don’t worry much about it. But when I was at the beach in Lima a couple years ago I put my bank card (only valuable thing I had) in my bikini top before swimming. But I was so stressed it would fall out into the ocean at every wave!

  20. Great post! We got an awesome 10L dry sack to take to St. Croix last February and it worked great. All of our valuables were safe from the water. But I think your best advice is to leave anything remotely valuable back at your hotel or hostel to avoid the risk entirely.
    http://www.thisrainylife.com

  21. I was recently alone in Florida and had that problem at the beach.
    I did either leave my valuable things in the car near the beach and hid the car key in the stem of a palm tree.
    Or I took a cheap cotton bag and a cheap towel and just left my stuff on the beach – near some trustworthy looking people – as long as I was swimming.

  22. Alone beach time is so relaxing but as you said creates a dilemma when you want to enjoy the cool inviting water. Lucky for me, I don’t like to swim too much or go out far so I chance leaving my stuff in an empty spot on the beach where I can see it easily while I’m in the water. I always face the beach while in the water. Then I pray no one nabs my stuff.

  23. Great tips Kate,

    I don’t take anything valuable with me except my phone and some small change and if I really need to leave something, I either hide it with something dirty or target a family nearby or an older couple but the best thing is not to take anything you value anyway.

  24. Great post, this is what I have been doing while on the Ruta del Sol in Ecuador. I bring things I do not mind getting stolen. Like I down just wearing a cover up, my flip flops that I picked up and then keep my smartphone, ID & cash in a water proof pouch. Now I have had NOTHING stolen so far but even if someone took my cover up and flip flops I would be fine with it. I also swim around that area, but yeah it would be awesome to have someone watch out for me.

    Plus a water proof pouch like this means I can take pics while in the ocean. 🙂 http://www.triedntested.co.za/waterproof-smartphone-pouch.html

  25. I have a waterproof waist pack which is just about big enough for phone, cash, keys and card. Everything else stays locked up. If I’ve got the camera with me I don’t swim – it’s a nuisance but better to be safe than sorry.

  26. Some very important tips here. Beaches are a very easy place to lose your things – I prefer to leave absolutely everything I can at the place I’m staying rather than carry it there.

  27. The best thing is not to take your valuables while going on the beach. I’ve seen people putting their money in their shoes, hoping that no one will see them, which is crazy!

  28. You could use “Dicapac”, waterproof case for your camera for up to 10 meters and just put some of your money inside.

  29. Hey, just came across your website, amazing! I love this post I was in Bali in February, and went surfing. So I hired a locker, but then didn’t know what to do with the key, as my friend was surfing tooo… so I bury the Key in the sand – and it was so difficult to find, especially as the current made us drift down the beach a bit… the second time, I managed to get a decent recognisable stick, and found the key instantly this time around! All good though, i’m always travelling Asia, maybe we’ll cross paths one day whilst i’m looking for my locker key in the sand 🙂

    http://www.thailandinthenews.com

  30. If you don’t have tons to lug around, I always use one of those little waterproof cell phone bags with a lanyard attached. It holds my smartphone, drivers license, debit card, some cash, and a key. It’s not super sexy, but it’s survived a couple snorkeling trips.

  31. Super helpful advice. Thanks Kate. The family travelling with the 9-month old have the perfect solution with them – and it’s a tip I’m surprised no one has mentioned yet:

    Hide your valuables in a dirty (looking) diaper/nappy

    Then you can leave them next to your stuff and no one will touch them. I read about this on one of those “life hack” posts once and I think it’s a brilliant solution. Just pack one for your trip if you’re planning on hitting any beaches. If you don’t have a baby you most certainly know someone who does. Ask them for a diaper before you leave home.

  32. Jennifer Miller

    Great tips. When my husband and I want to go swimming together, we either ask a responsible looking person next to us to watch our things or if there isnt anyone. we dig a hole under our blanket and put in our wallet and/or phone and camera… Inside even a plastic bag will work. Then hide your blanket over it, this way it looks like there are no valuables left behind.

  33. Great article!

    Being robbed 2 times this season I must admit it’s a true plague on the beach these days 🙁
    For luck there wasn’t lots of money in my purse although I will be avoiding taking anything but my towel to the beach the next time.

    Greetings from Marbella Spain
    xxx

  34. This is my problem at the beach, too! And especially when traveling alone. I just take a waterproof case with a strap when swimming. It’s still quite a hassle, though.

  35. bury ’em in the sand and of course make sure you mark the spot in a not-too-obvious way.

    also waterproof bags by watershed or aquapac …submersible and they can float…

  36. I usually just bring my waterproof small point and shoot camera. Then I can take photos in the water too. Having that camera has really saved me a lot of trouble and they have gone down in price substantially. I think mine cost a little over $100 three years ago, and it still works great.

  37. My favorite option is to leave it with bar staff, but that’s only if they seem really responsible.
    Sometimes if the beach is pretty empty, I leave my stuff within view and try to not swim out too far.

  38. The best advice is to not take anything valuable. Leave it behind, and take only what is necessary. When I go to the beach, I wear what I’ll swim in, some cheap sunglasses, cheap thongs (or flip-flops for Americans, a cheap towel, cheap hat, as well as water and sunscreen. You don;t need anything else like your phone. If you’re so desperate that you can’t live without your phone for a few hours, you need to reevaluate your life choices. If you can’t be without your phone for some important reason, you shouldn’t be at the beach. You’re supposed to relax and swim, not stare at your phone. You don’t need to take a photo, because no one gives a shit about photos of your greased up legs or the same beach that a thousand other people have photographed. I usually get public transport to the beach and even leave my keys at home, using the emergency spare key to get back in when I get home.

  39. Hi Kate, thank you for the tips! I think what I’ll do is get a dry bag so I can swim by myself with my belongings on me. I like the one you linked to however I have read in other places to dress as the locals do and I’m worried that the English writing on the bag is kind of a giveaway for being a tourist. Do you have any other dry bags you could recommend? Or phone cases? Thanks so much!

    1. People will know that you’re a tourist no matter what — you can’t hide that. English lettering on the bag won’t make a difference there. I say to just buy the bag as is.

      I also highly recommend the Lifeproof phone case: http://amzn.to/2pdBL2N I’d be scared to swim with it, though!

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