Travel Explainer

Split the Bill

How to be sure your cash stays with you while on the go.

Pick Pocket.
Yoink! Beware of pickpockets.

Photo by Jacob Lund/Shutterstock

When it comes to keeping your financial instruments secure while traveling, things are a lot better than they used to be. Stolen credit or debit cards can be canceled and reissued with a fairly quick phone call, and banks are increasingly sophisticated regarding fraud monitoring and recovery. But there are lots of places where having cash is still necessary—and having all of it stolen in one go by a skilled pickpocket could be a serious problem or even dangerous. What’s the best way to keep cash secure during a trot around the globe?

Store your money in many different places—but don’t feel compelled to use standard money belts. When traveling there’s always a balance between wanting to carry as little cash as possible and potentially needing a lot if ATMs are scarce or unreliable. Distributing currency around your body and bag is the best way to prevent a single incident from wiping you out. Soft zip-top pouches or hidden cloth pockets sewn into travel clothing are ideal ways to keep cash in multiple places. Additionally, experts suggest unexpected and hard-to-access storage strategies when traveling in particularly dodgy areas, such as stashing a few bills between the insole and bottom of a shoe.

Bulky money belts that are meant to be worn and concealed under clothing can work, but they have drawbacks as primary cash holders. You have to lift or at least adjust your clothes to access the money, and you might not even feel safe doing it without privacy. (Take this “bra pocket,” for example.) Plus, in the process of accessing the money, you reveal where all of it is. Hiding special apparatuses under your clothes also requires you to wear enough clothes to disguise them. In hot climates it can be difficult or uncomfortable to hide a money belt under, say, a light T-shirt and shorts.

In general, being discreet, blending in, and carrying small bills or coins (instead of paying for a soda with the equivalent of a $50) are all ways to reduce risk further. Using a messenger bag or other crossbody bag that you can keep on the front of your body without seeming defensive is a good way to watch over your larger belongings while still acting natural.

Whether you’re staying at a hotel with a safe, or a hostel with a bring-your-own-lock locker, it’s always better to leave the bulk of your belongings and valuables behind while you’re exploring. That way you’re not giving the visual impression that you would potentially be a lucrative target. And of course, flashing a full wallet, wearing an expensive watch, or carrying a pricy-looking camera just makes you stand out to thieves. Travel experts call this glittering; a savvy—and safe—traveler will do her best to remain as dull as possible.

Explainer thanks Carolyn McCarthy, author of Lonely Planet guidebooks focusing on Latin America.

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