We all have that friend who is notorious for constantly misplacing everything they own—wallet, phone, keys, camera. Or maybe that friend is you. While losing something important in everyday life is a hassle, doing so while traveling is especially complicated. A lost or stolen passport can leave you stranded, or a missing suitcase can ruin an entire trip. Luckily, there are a growing number of tracking products to protect your important possessions from thieves, careless airlines, and your own absentmindedness.
Most tracking technology relies on Bluetooth, and Tile is the biggest name in the business. The company launched in 2012, with a series of small devices that attach to items, like keys or a wallet, and connect to your phone via Bluetooth. Tile claims to find six million things every day across 195 countries. Simply push a button in the app and, if your item is nearby, the Tile device attached to the missing object will ring to help you locate it. The most useful aspect of Tile for travel, though, is its large network of users. If you’re out of its Bluetooth range, activating “lost mode” taps into any other phone running the app to crowdsource the location of your item by notifying you of its location when another Tile user passes close by.
Tile’s latest suite of products includes the updated Mate ($25), a small square intended to fit on a key chain that now has a range of 200 feet (up from 150 feet); the Pro ($35), which is similar in size to the Mate but has an extended range of 400 feet and a louder ring; and the brand-new Slim ($30) and Sticker ($40 for two), which are particularly suited to adventure travel. The Slim, a credit-card-size tracker with a range of 200 feet, is meant to lay flat in a wallet, passport holder, luggage tag, or laptop. The Sticker is the smallest of the series and has the shortest range, at 150 feet, but the fact that it’s the size of a coin allows you to attach it to virtually anything you might misplace, like headphones or an electronics charger. Both the Slim and the Sticker are waterproof.
One thing to keep in mind is that the Slim and Sticker come with built-in batteries that aren’t rechargeable. They’re supposed to last for three years, but if you plan to use them frequently, you might be better off with a Mate or Pro, which have replaceable battery units.
GPS and Cell Trackers
If you want better accuracy and range than Bluetooth, consider a GPS tracker. PingGPS makes a waterproof device ($80) that’s around the size of a Tile Mate, but it has built-in GPS and comes with an AT&T cellular data plan. If you misplace something beyond its 90-foot Bluetooth range, the GPS technology will transmit your item’s location via AT&T’s global network. You get 30 days of free use when you buy the unit, after which a data plan costs $6 a month.
Like PingGPS, LugLoc ($50) and Gego ($100) also require a $6 monthly plan, but instead of GPS, they use GSM/GPRS, the global network that cell phones rely on. GSM/GPRS claims to be more reliable than GPS, since items like luggage are often indoors, and GPS needs a direct line of sight to a satellite to work well. Gego is the newer of the two and has a faster 3G connection, but you do need decent cell reception for it to work. To meet FAA and TSA approval, both are designed to shut off while on an airplane. Once your item is off the plane and has been stationary for 12 minutes, you can see its location on a map anywhere in the world. Gego and LugLoc have virtually limitless range and are better for long-distance tracking.
Items with Built-In Tracking
Consider a multi-use product with built-in tracking capabilities. Woolet has a smart wallet with a sewn-in Blueooth locator. Some models will send you a notification if your wallet moves too far away from your phone, say, in the case of someone swiping it from your pocket. Some suitcase manufacturers apply the same technology to bags. Samsonite’s Geotrakr line comes with a built-in LugLoc. And if you’re traveling with your pup, you can even get him his own Fi-Lite tracking collar ($150).
A Low-Tech Tag
For something more affordable than Bluetooth and GPS trackers, Okoban ($10) offers a simple solution. It’s basically a label that attaches to luggage, passports, phones, or anything else you might lose, with a unique ID code that you register with the company. The ID code connects to a system that all major airlines use for lost luggage, called WorldTracer. If your item is found, the code is entered into Okoban’s website, which sends you a notification with the location. Some suitcase manufacturers, like CabinZero, now sell bags with Okoban tags built in (from $60).