As travel is always of interest to me I tend to read a great number of news and blog articles that often distill tips into a ‘Top Ten’ list format and find I usually disagree with at least half – no, smiling isn’t a sure fire way to be upgraded to First Class – but I came upon this list about wise ways to carry money while travelling and found my disapproval rating was lower so found it of some value and worth sharing. Sure, the list is from an American source and so they are still a little behind the times with payment technology like chip credit cards but read on.
Carrying money on vacation is a balancing act between safety and utility. Making money difficult to access deters thieves, but when it comes time to pay for something, you still want to be able to get to it without stripping off clothes or playing hide-and-seek with a bag’s hidden pockets. With that in mind, here are 10 tips for carrying money safely and elegantly when you travel.
- Divide Money
Even if you disregard all other advice about carrying money, take this tip to heart: Whenever possible, divvy up your travel cash and even credit cards into multiple safe spots. If you’ve got all your money in one place, it only takes one time for a thief to totally wipe you out.
- Favor On-Body Storage
Under-clothing storage accessories have come a long way since neck pouches and money belts came onto the scene. Though those classics are still in favor, newer options include bra stashes as well as long johns, underwear, and undershirts with built-in for safe storage.
- Keep Small Bills Handy
Changing or withdrawing large amounts of money minimizes the fees you’ll pay to get local currency, but it also means you’ll be traveling with far more cash—and larger bills—than you’d have on you at home. We’ve already talked about the virtues of dividing your money, but it’s also wise to make smaller denominations of currency easily accessible. That way, you won’t pull out the local equivalent of a $100-dollar bill while attempting to buy a 30-cent souvenir.
- Carry an Anti-Theft Bag
Some, designed specifically for travel, have features such as cut-proof, steel-cable-reinforced shoulder straps; slash-proof fabric; and locking zippers. Since elements like these slow down thieves, they can do a decent job deterring opportunistic pickpockets.
- Trim Your Wallet
Before you leave, take the time to go through your wallet and take out everything except the necessities.
- Use a Dummy Wallet
If you’re traveling in a place known for pickpocketings or muggings, consider getting a cheap wallet that looks just real enough to keep in your pocket or bag. Pad the wallet with some small bills and make it look more real by slipping in one or two of those sample credit cards you get with offers in the mail. A dummy wallet can stop pickpockets before they get to your real wallet and in the scary and unlikely case of an actual mugging, it also gives you something to throw and run, buying you time to escape with your safety and your actual wallet.
- Buy a Travel Wallet
In addition to a dummy version, you might also consider a wallet that you reserve specifically for travel. If you’re the type of person whose day-to-day wallet is packed with cards—gym memberships, pre-paid coffee cards, frequent-buyer punch cards, and the like—the pockets are likely to be stretched out when you minimize the contents for travel. By having a travel-only wallet, your cards will have snug pockets that they can’t slip out of accidentally.
- Adapt to the Local Money Culture
Being prepared to pay your way on vacation means different things depending on where you are. In a cash economy, you’ll need to make sure to have a variety of bills and coins on hand at all times, but your credit cards will likely just collect dust. However, in much of Europe and parts of Asia, where automation is common and chip-and-PIN credit-card technology is standard, having a compatible credit card will come in very handy.
- Use Money Alternatives
In high-traffic settings such as metro stations and close quarters like bus lines, it’s nice to be able to forgo cash or credit-card transactions totally and rely instead on a multi-use ticket or other cash alternative.
- Stow Valuables Securely
Sometimes the best way to carry money is to not carry it at all. Hotels’ in-room safes are generally pretty secure, and if you’ve got an item (or a wad of cash) you’re particularly nervous about, check to see if the hotel has a safe-deposit box behind the desk.
In keeping score I use nine of the ten suggestions on the list when I travel, all except for having a dummy wallet as I’m enough of a dummy that in a confrontation with a mugger in some foreign land I just might mix-up the real and fake wallet so have never tried this tactic.
I do however have a web belt with a small zipper to stash some cash plus a small pocket that loops over the belt and goes inside your pants so it can’t be accessed from outside by a would-be pickpocket in a crowded street or subway station. Neck pouches and money belts can be too bothersome especially in warmer weather or warmer climates and are too visible so gave those up after a few European vacations.
I do use a separate travel wallet and leave my everyday version at home. The travel wallet is a lightweight rubber material that grabs the cards making it hard for them to fall out. The slim line wallet has only the essential cards and is in my front pants pocket making it harder to access by pickpockets.
Using metro passes or reloadable transit cards helps both security and convenience as there’s less fumbling for cash to plug into ticket machines every trip. I do try however to avoid using a credit card to purchase or load value onto these cards as public ticket kiosks could be easy targets for card skimming. Some cities such as Seoul and Tokyo have integrated transit cards that also are accepted at local convenience stores making it even easier to avoid cash.
All these steps are good precautions any traveller should use but they need to be backed up by an awareness of your surroundings and a dose of common sense to help avoid petty crime while exploring the globe.