A Fool and His Money – How to Keep Your Cash Safe When Traveling

Written by Avid Traveller

Topics: Travel

When you are on travel it is convenient to always have some local currency (as well as dollars) available, since many places may not take a credit card, or will charge a fee for using one. Cash is useful for hailing a taxi, grabbing some street food or a nice cup of coffee at a cafe, or you spot the perfect souvenir at a stall in the nearby market. The problem with having cash, is making sure no one “permanently borrows” it when you least suspect it. Rarely are tourists robbed outright in a confrontation, it is typically more of a crime of convenience; so this article will discuss how to make your money less convenient for disappearing.

There are 3 critical locations where money safety tips come into play:

  1. At the ATM
  2. On your person
  3. In your hotel/hostel

There are a couple of key things to do prior to going on your trip. First; trim your wallet. You do not need your library card, Pizza King frequent buyer card, or 12 credit cards. Pick 2 credit cards (hopefully 1 without foreign transaction fees), and 1 or 2 debit cards. Second; tell your bank that you are going on travel and where and when you are going. Third; take a photocopy of the front and back of all cards to include the customer service hotline numbers. You may want to leave ac opy of this with someone you trust at home as well in case you cant call the banks from abroad.

At the ATM

Use a well lit machine if it is night, inside is generally preferable to outside, and make sure there is no one simply ‘hanging around’ the machine before you use it. An ATM in a large hotel will charge a bigger fee, but generally tend to be safer than one on the street. If you are not traveling alone, only have 1 person take out cash and the other keeps a lookout for anyone approaching too closely. Do not count the money while standing at the ATM; quickly split the money into two stacks, fold it, shove it into 2 pockets and leave the area. Also, remember to cover up the keypad with your other hand when entering your PIN.

My general game plan for using the ATM:

  • I try to calculate how much I will need for the next day or two
  • I then use my hotel (or a nearby one) or major bank during the day and take out that cash; I do not pay a fee because I have a Charles Schwab account and the return all ATM fees.
  • I then go to my hotel and store any cash I do not need until the next time I return to my room.

On Your Person

First of all, only carry what you think you will need, and maybe a little extra. The less you have on you, the less overall risk if you lose the cash. Next, spread it out on your person, do not put it all in one pocket or your wallet.

Next is the classic money belt, although not very stylish, it is great as a money of last resort emergency. It can really only fit one (big) bill, and is very inconvenient in that you could not use it for everyday purchasing. But if someone  does get ahold of your stuff, you know you always have enough to get you somewhere safe.

I prefer a travel wallet which can be hidden underneath your pants but is readily accessible if you need some cash. You can also keep your passport and credit card in this as well. I have the Lewis N. Clark Rfid Travel Wallet (aff) which I got from Amazon. You can also just stuff a folded up bill down each sock (or shoe) if it is a temporary situation and you are not sweating too much. [Women you can stuff some cash in your bra alternatively.] If you want the poor-man’s version of the travel wallet you can just tape a small ziploc bag into the inside of your pants – but for $9, I would get the above wallet.

Also, I like to wear Dockers (vs. jeans) which are not only more comfortable, but they have pockets that can be secured with a button. This is a big deterrent for any amateur pickpocket. Also, wearing these type of pants makes you stand out less as an American tourist (who all wear jeans or shorts it seems.)

If you want to go to an extreme (I admit that I do this), you can create a “mugger’s wallet” which is a cheap throw-away wallet for your back pocket. In it I put a used Visa gift card, an old photo ID (with a non-current address), and about $5 in cash, just enough to hopefully placate them. I then keep my real cash in different locations on my person. The idea is the pickpocket will see the bulge in your back pocket and assume that is where you keep the cash. Or, if you actually get mugged, maybe they will just take the fake wallet (and of course you watch and any camera you are holding, and possibly your cell phone) and then leave.

Here is my general game plan for carrying money on my person:

  • I carry 1 debit and 1 credit card, the others are in the hotel safe
  • I keep smaller bills scattered throughout my pockets
  • I keep larger bills in my travel wallet in my pants and use a safe area to extract money when I need it
  • I keep a $100 bill in my money belt, just in case
  • I use a fake wallet in my back right pocket
  • I try to use/show my cell phone as infrequently as possible

Final tip for this section: Keep an eye on your stuff!

In Your Hotel

The safe in your hotel room is not as safe you think — almost everyone on staff at the hotel has, or can get access to it if needed. However, it does prevent easy opportunity thefts from occurring and I use it regularly. If you are more paranoid then me, or in a location or accommodation with known theft issues, use the same technique as cash on your person: spread it around. Here are some god locations to place a few bills:

  • Inside the shower curtain rod
  • Taped to the inside of the toilet tank (you should always bring duct tape and ziploc bags on a trip! They are just too useful.)
  • Taped to the bottom of a dresser drawer
  • If you have a king/queen-size bed you might want to put a few bills in the dead center between the mattresses.
  • Inside the cover on the ironing board
  • Under the television if it is the big klunky kind

Also, I lock my backpack to an immoveable object using the Travelsentry 3-Dial Combo Lock with 48 Inch Cable (aff). I also lock the main pocket zippers with TSA-approved locks from Tarriss.

If you really want to prevent someone from taking your cash, but keep it in almost plain sight, you can put it under a pile of dirty clothes and purchase this beauty: Brief Safe Underwear. Would you touch this? It might help out in customs too.

A general key point:
It is better to give up a few replaceable items and some cash then to risk your life in an altercation.

Many of these tips came from the following reference pages online:

Corporate Travel Safety

USA Today article

Travel Insurance Review Article

Photo by koalazymonkey

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