Bluetooth trackers are those tiny tags that help you find lost items. They attach to your house keys or wallet so that if those things are misplaced, you open a smartphone app and tap a button to make the tracker play an alarm. That sound lets you find the item easily.
But that’s not all these trackers can do. You can squeeze a lot more value out of the tags by thinking beyond the items that live in your pockets.
I engaged in this exercise over the past two weeks. Bluetooth trackers, which are generally priced between $10 and $35, come in many shapes and sizes from dozens of brands, including Tile, Chipolo and Adero. I tested Tile, the Bluetooth tracker recommended by Wirecutter, a New York Times company that reviews products.
It turned out the tags were useful in far more situations than lost items. Who would have guessed that trackers would make retrieving my checked luggage at the airport slightly less miserable, or help an absent-minded driver find his car? More on these below.
There’s a bigger point to this exercise, of course. Many tech gizmos seem to be designed for one specific use. But with a little thought and inspiration, they can be helpful in more situations. Try it!
Find my travel luggage
The most annoying part about checking your luggage is waiting for it to arrive at baggage claim. The second most annoying part is searching for your bag amid dozens that look just like it. So when I travelled recently, I slipped a Tile into my luggage tag to see if it would make my bag easier to find.
This was useful. When my luggage finally showed up, the Tile app on my phone showed that the tracker was nearby. I pressed a button to play an alarm from the Tile; it was loud enough for me to spot my luggage as it arrived.
Find my car
In a crowded parking lot, my silver Toyota Prius is unremarkable and can be difficult to find. So when I parked in a large lot recently, I stuck a tracker into the glove compartment. It worked (though there are better ways to find a car). When walking through the parking lot, I opened the Tile app, which showed the last known location of the tracker on a map. I followed the map, and as I got closer to the location that it indicated, the app signaled the tracker was nearby.
This was helpful, but there are probably better methods for keeping track of where you parked. Some mapping apps, like Google Maps, can automatically detect where you parked and make a note of it on a map. But since I often drive without using a maps app, leaving a tracker in my glove compartment was a decent backup solution.
One final note: these situations were pertinent to my life, but there are plenty of other applications for these trackers for people with different lifestyles.
Busy parents may benefit from adding trackers to the jackets of their young children, for example. People with medical conditions may want to attach trackers to devices they need to find quickly, like inhalers. In other words, with a little bit of inventiveness, the things that are truly important to you won’t become lost.