European travel, trains, and luggage.

We’re prepping for a quick trip to Paris and Bruges in late April, and just bought our train tickets between the two. I gather that we carry our luggage with us on the train, and we can stow it either in the racks above our heads, or in a storage area near the entrance to the carriage.

Practically speaking, how worried do we have to be about anything getting stolen? I know that there’s no 100% guarantee that someone won’t walk off with our bags, and anything valuable (passport, credit cards, phones) will be in our day packs and always with us. But what happens if we want to take a walk and look around the train, or go to the dining/drink car? Or the bathroom, for that matter?

Some web sites I read say “ALWAYS take your luggage with you.” Others say that the risk of people grabbing your bags on anything but the shortest of trips is pretty minimal. So, frequent European train travelers, what would you do?

A secondary question:

We’re thinking of doing the backpacking thing as opposed to rolly bags or traditional suitcases. The last time I bought a travel backpack was for my summer in Greece in 1990. Heck, I still have that thing, but I’m thinking it’s time to upgrade. Any good websites? Models? Suggestions? I’d like something that’s good for 1 - 2 week trips.

I don’t worry much about my rolling bag, stowed at one end of the car. If I’m going several cars back, I usually will take my Rick Steves® Civitas daypack. However, there’s seldom any need to leave your carriage. On European trains they’ll come around once an hour and sell you snacks and drinks right at your seat.

There’s lots of discussion about backpacks on Reddit, in the /travel and /bifl subreddits, but it seems like the best recommendation is to go to an REI store and ask for advice and try on several.

Bags can only really go missing if they’re taken off the train. If a thief is found on the train with the wrong bag, things are going to go badly for them. So the best time for a thief to steal a bag is as they get off the train.

With that in mind, there really is no need to worry about leaving your luggage behind when you’re between stations. If you do go to the toilet and come back to find your bag gone, it will be recovered if you contact the guard immediately. The time to be keeping a watchful eye on your bag is just before you pull into a station. If it’s in the end luggage rack, you might have to crane your neck to see it but as long as you can, you’ll be fine.

It is possible a thief could rifle through your bag and steal valuables if you left your seat, but this is pretty conspicuous behaviour. If you’re worried about that you can always ask a neighbour to keep an eye on your things for you, although they’d probably notice anyway.

Basically, it’s a pretty small risk to begin with and you can minimise it by being alert at the right times without needing cart things around with you.

It’s really not very likely to be stolen, but you can always just take it in turns to go to the toilet, etc. Being able to easily identify your bag can be comforting - if you can look up and say ah, yes that’s my bag with the orange loop around it, then you will feel more relaxed.

Unless your luggage is Luis Vuitton it is an unlikely target for thieves. Who is going to take that kind of risk for what is likely just a case full of dirty laundry?

That’s not really true, luggage gets stolen all the time from airports and stations. But as people are saying, if you’ve got your wits about you you should be ok.

It’s been awhile, but I used to attach my luggage to the rack with a length of short chain (like a dog leash) and cheap lock. Nothing someone determined couldn’t break in 5 seconds, but enough to deter the casual thief, since my bag was suddenly not the easiest one to steal.

I’ve done a couple of extended train trips around Europe, as well as regular travel by train in the UK, and never had anything stolen. If you’re backpacking, you can either put your pack in the overhead rack, have it next to you on the seat or floor (as long as the train is fairly empty) or put it in the racks at the end of the carriage. Try to leave it where you can see it, but don’t worry about leaving it for a few minutes while you go to the toilet or get food or drink.

I would recommend keeping your money, passport etc on your person, though. When I was inter-railing I kept passport, credit cards and most of my cash in a money belt under my clothes, and day-to-day spending cash in a wallet in my pocket. It’s also worth having a padlock on a zipped pocket of your pack for other valuable-ish items - it won’t stop a determined thief who’ll just cut the fabric, but it will deter casual pocket-dippers.

I’d also say, take much less stuff than you think you’ll need. Staggering round carrying your entire wardrobe on your back is no fun. Laundries are cheap.

I’m a regular train traveller in the UK and Europe and have never had any luggage stolen. You would be wise to keep your valuables with you in a small daypack (money, credit cards, passport, tickets and hotel info, phone, tablet etc) and obviously don’t leave that unattended at any time.

Large pieces of luggage are unlikely to be stolen unless they look particularly tempting! I’ve seen someone steal a laptop just as the train reached a station (travelling between Brussels and Antwerp), the thief grabbed the item and jumped off the train as soon as the doors opened but the owner followed him yelling that he’d stolen from her and he was quickly stopped by people on the platform.

Great, thanks for all the answers. I pretty much thought that was the case, but nice to get confirmation.

Unfortunately I live in the middle of nowhere; the nearest REI is hundreds of miles away. Anything I get must be purchased on the Internet.

A couple specific suggestions – maybe one of each so you can switch off carrying modes. The Jam is extremely light (it’s the original ultralight backpack) and it will compress down to the size of just the stuff inside it. It’s a very good backpack for just about any situation.

TraveLite 20" Wheeled Carry-on

Jam 50L Pack

I’d say stick with your old bag, as it’ll look old and less stealy-desirable. (Who’s going to steal from stinky hippy backpackers? :D) But if you really want a new one:

For a woman of average size definitely don’t go over 70l, go smaller if you plan on lugging it around a lot or going on hikes. If you are average strength & height you’ll be fine with 70l. Try to get one that opens up in the middle and not just at the top. It’s so so so much easier to be able to find your stuff.

If you want something that you’ll be walking around with on hikes and such it’s important you go to a proper shop with people who know what they are talking about. You need to get fitted: the height is adjusted, and they show you how to adjust the straps and belt. If it’s just for lugging stuff around I would honestly buy something second hand, they look old and scraggly and like there is nothing valuable to be had. I have two: nice one for comfort and old skanky one that nobody would steal. My nice one is Lowe Alpine, I think. It is very good, though rats did manage to chew through it once! :stuck_out_tongue:

Nice, I’ll take a look at those!

My old bag is 24 years old; I’m not sure I trust the zippers and such for this trip.

I know what you’re saying as far as proper shops and all that, but really, buying locally is not an option. We have 2 stores that might carry 2-4 backpacks. One is a discount store, and I don’t want that. The other is a high-end store, and I don’t want that, either ($300+ backpacks are not in the budget.)

We won’t be doing any real hiking. We will be doing some bike rides in Belgium, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we have some 30-40 mile days, but we’ll use our day packs for those. I really just need something that won’t be demolished during the plane ride and will be easy to transport from the airport/train station to our hotel. Honestly, I think we could get along with wheeled suitcases, but Mr. Athena has never done the backpack thing and he wants to try it. (I lived out of my previous backpack for many months in my 20s, it’s not the shiny new thing to do for me anymore though I’m far from opposed!)