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“2 items were left behind,” the alert chirped on my iPhone minutes after leaving the hotel. I turned the car around and returned to the room to retrieve my wallet and camera bag. Tucked inside each, Apple AirTags silently guarded the belongings I had forgotten to take with me.

AirTags are the latest addition to the Apple ecosystem. AirTags are Bluetooth trackers connected to Apple’s Find My network, and each is slightly larger than an American quarter and as thick as four of them. Using accessories to attach AirTags to luggage, wallets, vehicles, and keys, users can track their whereabouts.

After a thousand miles of road trips, shuffling between hotels, restaurants, and hiking trails, AirTags have kept track of my belongings. It has given me peace of mind to know that I would likely recover my stuff if something was forgotten, lost, or stolen.

Traveling with AirTags is now an indispensable part of my routine.

AirTag vs. Tile

Tile has been in the tracking business since 2012. Like Apple’s AirTag, Tile uses devices that you attach to your belongings. Thanks to a Bluetooth connection between the tracker and the Tile app on any smartphone, you can follow your possessions anywhere they go.

But that’s where the similarities end.

Tile offers a diverse lineup of four trackers. At $24.99, the Tile Mate is their least expensive tracker and most comparable to AirTag. The Tile Mate has a handy loophole so that you can easily attach it to your belongings. Using Tile’s app, users can play a sound to help locate the device when it’s nearby, and vice versa, double pressing a button on the Tile plays a sound on the phone.

Tile’s trackers are activated with a smartphone using their dedicated app for Android and iOS. Devices are tracked when within range of any smartphone with their app installed. With the app’s free plan, users can see their devices on a map, but you’ll have to pay $29.99 per year for the Premium membership to receive Smart Alerts when you leave something behind.

Apple AirTags are very different.

Debuting in early 2021, the $29 AirTag is only available in one size – it’s 1.26-inches wide and 0.25-inches thick. The minimalist device does not have a loophole or self-adhesive backing, instead relying on accessories to attach the devices to belongings. AirTag can only be activated with an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch, limiting who can use the device, but also creating the most significant advantage of Apple’s trackers.

Tiles and AirTags communicate via Bluetooth with any Tile app or Find My app, respectively, secretly sharing their location across the network. But only the owners of the trackers can locate them using the Tile app on a smartphone or Find My app on an iPhone, iPad, Mac, or MacBook. The biggest difference, though, is the size of the network. Tile has sold approximately 35 million devices to date and can only be tracked with smartphones. Apple, however, has approximately one billion iPhones, iPads, Macs, and MacBooks connected to the Find My network, greatly increasing the chances a lost device can be quickly found.

Users pay nothing extra for all the essential functions of the Find My app — smart alerts if you leave something behind, live tracking of all your devices on a map, and audio alerts to help you find lost items nearby.

AirTag Accessories: Keyrings, card cases, luggage tags, and stickers

A lack of loophole or self-adhesive backing is the most significant disadvantage of an AirTag. But like glitzy cases for AirPods, custom bands for Apple Watches, and a plethora of gadgets for iPhones, there is an aftermarket of accessories for traveling with AirTags.

Keyrings for Airtags

Apple’s leather keyring is available in several colors, but at $35, it’s ironically more expensive than the AirTag. Belkin’s keyring is a mere $12.95, and their secure keyring features an anti-theft wire cable for $19.95.

Credit card cases for AirTags

AirTag credit card case inside a wallet. AirTags should be an essential part of any frequent traveler's kit

Photo: Jason Barnette

Credit card cases for the AirTag are popular on Amazon, with options as low as $12.95 for two. Designed to slide into wallets and purses easily, the cases are as thick as five credit cards, so you’ll need to make some room for the AirTag.

Stickers for AirTags

Pelican’s Protector Series offers the only self-adhesive mounting option for AirTag for $19.99. The molded plastic case securely fastens the tracker to any hard surface.

AirTags luggage tag

Apple’s AirTag Leather Loop is an easy way to attach the tracker to luggage. It’s available in several colors for $39.99. This $19.99 Secret AirTag Leather Luggage Tag uses a buckle strap to attach to luggage and features an information card and hidden compartment for an AirTag.

Traveling with AirTags: How to use the devices best

Yellow bag with an AirTag attached to it. AirTags should be an essential part of any frequent traveler's kit

Hide your AirTags! Don’t let potential thieves see them! Photo: Bandersnatch/Shutterstock

AirTags take less than 30 seconds to put into action; all you need to do is pull the plastic tab on the AirTag, connect the battery to the device, and register it to your Apple ID. Now, the AirTag can be tracked on any device — iPhone, iPad, Mac, and MacBook – connected to the same Apple ID.

After I set up my four AirTags and their many accessories (two minutes in total), it was time to figure out where I would use these devices.

Hide your AirTags for more security

Although keyrings and stylish leather straps make it tempting to hang an AirTag from the handle of a rolling suitcase or the strap of a camera bag, these are the worst places to attach a tracking device. Find clever places to hide the devices rather than attach them in the open where nefarious thieves could quickly identify and remove them.

The two-pack card cases came into use with my wallet and laptop bag. I removed a few unused cards from my wallet and slid the AirTag into one of the sleeves. In my laptop bag, I slid the AirTag into a pocket within a pocket for ultimate security.

AirTag keyring attached to a set of keys. AirTags should be an essential part of any frequent traveler's kit

Photo: Jason Barnette

I used only one keyring, attaching an AirTag to my key fob. And I even placed an AirTag into a hidden compartment in my vehicle.

In my luggage, I usually tuck an AirTag into a rolled pair of socks. In my camera bag, I sneak an AirTag into a small inside pocket.

Remember that Airtags are waterproof

In my day hiking bag, I drop an AirTag into the water reservoir compartment — with an IP67 rating, AirTags can remain submerged in up to three feet of water for an hour.

If I leave my wallet or keys behind, I’m alerted right away. And if someone were to snag my camera bag or take my car for a joy ride, I know within seconds. It has given me comfort as I travel which is far more valuable than the money I spent on AirTags and accessories.

Now, if only I could remember where I put my sunglasses.