How to keep track of your things while travelling: the best tracking tags and device monitoring apps
Luggage, keys, handbags, pets – short-range radio and now mobile phone-powered tags with unlimited range are creating an Internet of Travel that covers almost every country, so you never need to worry about losing things
Travel may be about finding yourself, but it can too often be about losing things. Cue travel trackers, which come in all shapes and sizes, and use various ways to keep everything in sight – at least in touch with your smartphone.
Perhaps the most simple is a Bluetooth tracker such as the TrackR Pixel (US$24.99), which works well for keys, handbags and pets. A tiny 26.2mm diameter device weighing just 4g, it can be attached using a loop or an adhesive strip to whatever you don’t want to lose. You then pair it with your smartphone, and use a free app to find it.
If you lose your keys, you open the app and the Pixel beeps loudly. It also works as a phone locator; pinch the Pixel and it makes your phone ring loudly. Although it only works up to 30 metres, it also includes a novel crowdsourced ‘last seen’ feature. If another TrackR user happens to pass within 30 metres of your lost item, you get a notification.
Another tracker with identical features is Tile (thetileapp.com), which comes in various models. The 40mm diameter, 15g waterproof Tile Sport (US$35) is likely to appeal most to travellers, while its 54mm diameter, 9.3g Tile Slim – the thinnest Bluetooth tracker available – is designed to go inside a passport cover, or on a laptop.
Specifically for the airport is another simple Bluetooth device, the iBebot Bag iTag (US$30), which sends your phone an alert when your luggage is about to appear on the carousel at baggage reclaim. Similar technology is being used by airports to accurately route and load luggage.
Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) has been using a similar short-range technology, Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), since 2009, and now allows passengers with the HKG My Flight app to receive a notification when their RFID-enabled baggage tag is detected on the belt. It’s something that is being copied around the world, with Delta Air Lines now allowing its passengers in the US and in its international hub airports to receive real-time updates on the whereabouts of their luggage from check-in to the arrival carousel.
Unfortunately, Bluetooth and RFID is geographically very limited, and GPS only works outdoors, so is generally useless in airport terminals and baggage loading areas. So we are now seeing locators that connect to the mobile phone network.
There has been an explosion of these devices in recent years as ‘asset trackers’ for businesses to put on cargo and freight, but they’ve now got small and cheap enough to track luggage globally.
For instance, the 42mm x 42mm x 12mm, 25g Ping (US$99) uses Bluetooth, GPS and the phone network. It promises to let you find what Ping is attached to at any time, wherever it is in the world. So does LugLoc (US$70) and Trakdot (US$40), which sends you a message when it connects to your luggage, and even vibrates as you get closer to your luggage (or it gets closer to you).
There is a catch: not only do these devices use more power, so the battery has to be recharged once a week (sometimes even more), but these more ambitious trackers come with an annual service fee. After all, if you’re going to use the phone network around the world, it’s going to cost.
Ping charges US$36 for a 12-month data plan to cover the US and Canada, and a further US$10 to cover the rest of the world. LugLoc charges US$30 per year, and for Trakdot, it’s US$20 a year or US$50 for lifetime use.
It will get cheaper. So-called LTE-M networks are currently being rolled out around the world, which will make it possible for phone networks to support hundreds of thousands of devices per square mile that occasionally send out an alert. Within a few years all of our bags, passports and even our loved ones could soon be connected to a global Internet of Travel. Then travel truly will be about finding yourself.