How to Protect Your Stuff from Theft at the Beach

Great beaches are big, wide, and sandy. It’s a dream for catching rays and waves, but:

Where do you put your stuff? And how do you keep your stuff safe and prevent it from getting stolen at the beach?

The easiest answer is: don’t bring it. But you’ll still need your phone, watch, maybe a wallet, and other essentials. The easiest methods are lockers and making sure you’re in a safe area. Probably the most foolproof way is to bring a couple of trustworthy friends and have someone always watching the stuff.

But when it’s just you, you need more awareness, or you may kiss your iPhone goodbye, or even your wallet or your clothes!

Thanks to modern technology and the fast so many people wonder how to protect their belongings at the beach, there are new solutions.


Beach theft isn’t new, but it’s on the rise

I really love going to the beach. But if I’m alone or I want to do something together with my loved one, or the friend I’m traveling with, then leaving things on the beach is a risk pretty much anywhere.

Even here in Japan, which is basically the safest place in the world.

Beach theft is common across the world, from Malta to Mexico to Australia. I don’t want to have to avoid going to crowded sandy beaches for this reason, but there’s always that chance of getting robbed.

I’ve found that a few smart approaches. The first is easy – check yo head!

Do you really need your valuables at the beach?

I usually leave valuables somewhere safe, and don’t even bring them to the beach.

The hotel where I’m staying is the simplest. I then think about what I need to take. I might need some money to cover the cost of renting some gear, a bit of lunch, a cold beer or two during the day. So for this I have a small cash wallet I use.

I only take the money that I need so that if I lose it, or it gets stolen, I’ve got other money elsewhere.

A camera’s nice, and I’m a photographer. I really want to bring it, and if I’m with friends, I do. But if it’s just me, it’s safer to simply forgo my Nikon DSLR and bring a small MFT, a point-and-shoot, or these days, my phone is just fine.

I’ve got a nice Galaxy Note, but I keep it in a crappy case. It doesn’t look like an $800 phone. It takes pretty good shots, too. I may not have my tripod and my dear 20-mm prime, but it gets the job done.

Another tactic is to use a cheap older cotton bag, or even an IKEA bag or, yes, even a plastic shopping bag (a good one, not one that’s rip or melt in the sun) to carry things. It doesn’t stick out like a fancy backpack or beach bag. That’s just making me a target.

Another option is one of the many wonderful slash-proof, lockable bags, like a Loctote. Many travelers swear by them. Not only are they virtually impossible to cut through, you can tie and lock them somewhere sturdy.

I still don’t feel good about it being out of eye-shot, but it’s a whole heck of a lot better than being 50 meters offshore out in the waves, and watching some kids walk off with my stuff.

Use a waterproof bag

There are many different waterproof bags (also known as dry bags) you can use that will let you go swimming and keep your valuables dry. This way, you can bring your stuff into the water with you. A bit of pain, but hey, you’ve got your stuff!

If you have a camera you can even put it in a waterproof casing. This works great for snorkeling. Test it first without anything valuable to make sure it’s watertight. It’ll float on the water alongside you so it’s a bit limiting and makes it difficult to dive but at least you have peace of mind. However, if you’re going swimming in the waves, it’s not the best choice.

Ideally, you can use a small dry bag for some cash, a couple of credit cards and ATM cards, and a cellphone. Make sure the strap’s well-attached. I’ve also heard that there are waterproof wallets you can strap to your leg or arm, and that also seems like a great solution if you’re traveling light. It’d be great if you’re staying not too far off, but far enough that you can’t leave everything at the hotel.

Use a locker

There are places on the beach that might let you hire a locker if you hire something else from them. Here in Japan, there are simply coin lockers. You might get a shower with one, too.

I was at the beach in Bali with a friend and we wanted to go snorkeling together. I found one shop on the beach that had lockers, but they would only rent you a locker if you rented something else from their shop. So we chose the lifejackets because my friend wasn’t much of a swimmer and we could then store our things in the locker.

The peace of mind was worth the additional rental cost of the lifejacket. We were able to snorkel without distraction for over an hour together, and there was no feeling of concern about the safety of our belongings. Otherwise, we would’ve had to take turns going out into the water, which just isn’t as much fun.

If there’s a key with the locker, then you’ve got to keep that somewhere safe. Some board shorts and swimsuits have zipper pockets, though they’re often flimsy. For women, you can buy bikinis with small pockets in them.

I’ve heard of people burying the keys in the sand and I would suggest that you know exactly where that is. I’d also suggest you don’t do it on a windy day and you know when and where the tide comes in. Perhaps you might do it under your towel.

Or if you don’t have anything outside the locker then you may need a stick in the sand or something. Otherwise, you could end up searching for a while. A very long while. Sand’s rather annoying that way.

At Bondi Beach in Australia, they have lockers in the pavilion with a security code, which you just pay a set fee for. In Europe, there are beaches where you can hire chairs and umbrellas and some of these will provide you a locker as part of this arrangement.

Case-by-case, but be also factor in the country and the general trustworthiness of the area.

Talk to your hotel about these types of things or a local contact, as they’ve probably heard this question a lot. Again, take the advice with a grain of salt, or sand.

Ask somebody to keep an eye on your things

A good buddy or two is/are a valuable treasure indeed.

Does someone want to swim? OK, the other one can work on their tan. If you’re in a pretty safe crowd, look at the folks around you and see if there’s someone who’d be willing to either watch your stuff for a bit, or trade-off. I’d suggest choosing someone who looks more mature, such as an older female solo traveler.

There have been times when I’ve gone to the beach solo when I have made a point of putting my towel down near an older couple. It’s especially good to choose a couple who don’t look like they are spending a lot of time in the water. Then when I have wanted to go for a swim I have asked them to keep an eye on my things while I swim. I have never had any difficulties with this approach. I think most people are understanding of the need to be careful.

Countrymates can be a good bet if you have a brief chat to feel them out.

And speaking from a lot of living experience here in Japan – trust the Japanese. Unless they totally don’t speak English or they’re clearly vagabond beach bum types. But even then, I’ll bet you could leave $1,000 cash in a wallet with any Japanese person, and you’ll come back to find it right as you left it. Koreans are pretty awesome, too.

That said, there are good people everywhere.

Other ideas to keep you from getting robbed at the beach

You can use sealable plastic bags, like Ziplocs, to store your things then bury them in the sand and place your towel over the top. Obviously, you need to be less obvious about burying your things. If somebody’s watching you with the intent to steal then they still might see this. And if they are watching you, you probably don’t know it. Know your surroundings.

But once you put your towel over the top nobody will know there’s anything under it but sand.

I’ve seen special sunscreen storage bottles. They look like sunscreen but they are for storing small valuables like cash and keys.

One of the more unusual approaches I’ve heard of is using a disposable diaper/nappy that looks like it has been used to wrap up valuables and leaving it lying beside other items. It seems very unlikely that somebody is going to steal that.

You need to remember that none of these options will be 100% safe, but if you reduce the risk then it’s much less likely you’ll have your valuables stolen.

If you take something to the beach then there is always a chance it will be taken, so the best option is to take the bare minimum with you, and preferably things you can afford to lose. And there’s travel insurance that will help you out if your things get stolen.

The important thing is to enjoy that time at the beach. I know that it’s like a form of therapy for some. I always feel much better after a relaxing dip in the ocean (unless there’s jellyfish).

I hope that you’ll get the chance to relax and enjoy the beach, with your belongings safely guarded. Any more ideas? Let me know!