How to Keep Your Money and Valuables Safe on Your Travels

How to keep money and valuables safe when you travel
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I got an email last week from a blog reader: an older American woman who was considering booking a solo adventure, but who was curious about whether traveling on her own would make her “a target” for thieves and other unsavory types.

Now, I'm a huge proponent of solo travel, and always stress the fact that the world “out there” isn't nearly as scary or dangerous as many people believe. But, at the same time, that doesn't mean that there aren't simple steps you can take to keep you and your belongings safe on your travels, whether you're traveling solo or not.

7 ways to keep money and valuables safe when you travel

In order to help this reader and any others with similar concerns, I decided to share all my tips for keeping your stuff safe on your travels. These are simple tips that just about anyone can use.

Here we go!

1. Don't take more than you need

Keep this tip in mind when planning and packing for your trip. There's no need to travel with expensive jewelry, electronics you won't use, every single credit card you own, or large sums of cash. ATMs are readily available in most countries, and as long as you call in advance to let your bank know you'll be traveling, you should have no problem taking out money abroad a bit at a time.

Anse Royale on Mahe Island

Even remote places like the Seychelles still have ATMs!

This tip also applies to when you're out exploring in a new city (and especially if that city is known for pickpocketing) – don't take more with you than you're prepared to lose. I always keep a little cash and one credit card in my wallet when I'm out and about; the rest stays locked up in my room!

Some people even travel in large cities with a “dummy” wallet – i.e. a decoy wallet that can be handed over in the case of a robbery that maybe has a little cash and an expired ID inside it.

2. Make use of your hotel/hostel safe

Speaking of keeping things locked up in your room… Make use of your hotel safe or hostel locker for things like your passport and extra credit cards/cash. Is this a complete guarantee that your valuables will be safe? No, not really, but it's certainly better than carrying everything on you at once.

(And this definitely applies to your passport – there are *very* few destinations where you'll need to have your passport on your person at all times.)

Amanda in Hamn, Norway

But what if you're staying in an Airbnb rental or somewhere without a safe? Or what if you're traveling with electronics that are too large for a standard-size hotel safe? In these cases, consider picking up a portable safe from a company like Pacsafe. This “safe” doesn't take up much room in your luggage, and is therefore super handy for traveling. You can lock this safe around anything fixed or sturdy in your room (think pipe, sink, bed frame, etc.), and have some peace of mind that your valuables won't be easy to just pick up and walk off with.


(You'll also definitely need a good padlock or two, for your Pacsafe safe, a hostel dorm locker, or even just for locking your luggage when you're out of your room. I recommend these cable combination padlocks.)

3. Don't make yourself an easy target

Most instances of theft abroad are crimes of opportunity; tourists don't actually get violently robbed very often in most parts of the world. So one of your best defenses is to not make yourself an easy target.

And how do you make sure you're not an easy target? Here are a few tips:

  • Don't flash your valuables around, especially on public transportation.
  • Don't leave valuables sitting out in your hotel room or hostel common room.
  • Don't leave your things unattended on travel days.
  • Don't carry a bag that is easy for someone to grab off your shoulder.
  • And definitely don't take out a huge wad of cash in public.

Basically just don't make it easy for someone to rob you!

Solna Centrum metro station in Stockholm

4. Invest in a theft-proof bag

One of the easiest ways to make petty theft/pickpocking more difficult is to travel with a theft-proof bag (or two). My favorite company for anti-theft bags is Pacsafe. They make bags that are slash-proof, RFID-blocking, water-resistant, and just really sturdy, making them great for keeping your valuables safe when you're traveling.

I own more Pacsafe bags than I care to admit (seriously, guys, I think my current count is up to 6), but they' so good that I just can't stop buying them.

Hiking Trælanípa in the Faroe Islands

Me with one of my Pacsafe bags in the Faroe Islands

If you're looking to purchase a good theft-proof bag, I recommend a cross-body handbag for the ladies (this makes it much more difficult for someone to swipe your bag off your shoulder as you're walking around), and a small anti-theft backpack for the men.


(Or you can do what I do and basically buy one of everything! I have a go-to small cross-body handbag, a convertible backpack, a small daypack, and a camera backpack (actually two in different sizes) from Pacsafe, and I basically never travel anywhere without at least one of them!)

5. Keep things close on travel days

The days when I'm always the most nervous about theft are travel days – those days when you don't have a choice but to travel with all of your money and valuables at once, whether it's plane, train, or bus travel.

On these days, you definitely want to make sure to keep your most prized possessions as close to you as possible. I always have my laptop and camera in my Pacsafe backpack on days like these, and *never* put that bag under the bus or on a luggage rack on a train.

Amsterdam canal in the summer

Here's another tip: Don't put your valuables in a bike basket unless you can secure it in there!

In destinations where pickpocketing is common, I go one step further and put my passport, most of my money, and my most important credit card somewhere other than my purse. My current go-to is a hidden pocket scarf from Speakeasy Travel Supply – these scarves are not only fashionable, but also have a hidden pocket large enough for all those things I mentioned.

Other ways to keep the “important stuff” hidden on travel days are using a money belt, neck pouch, or other clothing with hidden pockets. (They even make hidden bra pockets for the ladies!)


(I don't, however, recommend using a money belt or neck pouch for your day-to-day sightseeing. If you're constantly digging down your shirt or into your belt for cash, that just lets everybody around you know exactly where you're hiding things.)

6. Have a back-up stash

If you follow the above tips, you'll be well on your way to protecting yourself and your stuff from theft. But there's no way to 100% prevent having something stolen when you travel. I always plan for the worst eventuality (i.e. having my entire purse or day bag stolen), and always travel with a back-up credit card and cash (usually $100 USD) – just in case.

I hide this back-up stash in my main luggage, usually in an inside pocket or compartment where it's not easily accessible.

Door in Barcelona's El Born neighborhood

If you really want to get creative, you could hide your back-up stash of money in an inventive spot, like in an old tube of chapstick, in between souvenir postcards, or mixed in with your makeup or toiletries. (I once even tucked money into a clean sanitary pad!)

I honestly think this is going a bit far since, as I've said, most theft happens when an easy opportunity presents itself. But go for it if it helps you feel more protected.

7. Don't skip travel insurance

And, at the end of the day, it's always smart to get a good travel insurance policy for those “just in case” situations. Travel insurance is vital for health issues and accidents/injury abroad, but in many cases can also help you out if your stuff gets stolen, too.

Different rules apply for different nationalities, but in most cases if you get a police report for a stolen item, your travel insurance can help you replace the item, or at least reimburse you for some of the value.

I personally use World Nomads for basic travel insurance – it's one of the most affordable options out there. You can read about what they cover here.

Pioneer Park in St. George, Utah

BONUS: Protect your data online with a VPN

While this post is dedicated to how to protect your possessions from theft while traveling, there's another thing you might want to protect when you're away from home: your identity and data online.

When you travel, you're probably connecting to all sorts of different wifi networks. Most of these are free and unsecure, meaning any info you're entering (passwords, payment information, address details, etc.) is not private and can be vulnerable.

If you want to protect your information online when you travel, the easiest thing to do is to get a VPN, or Virtual Private Network. The #1 reason to get a VPN is to encrypt your online activity and keep it safe from hackers and other nosy people. Using a VPN is pretty simple – you just start it up when you want to use it like any other application. You can use one on laptops, tablets, and smartphones alike, too, meaning you can easily keep all your browsing info private.


(An added bonus of using a VPN is that it can also help you get around destination-based firewalls and limitations; your VPN makes it look like you're logging on from a private network in whatever country you choose – I've used my VPN to watch Netflix abroad, or to access sites that might be blocked in certain countries.)

If you're interested in getting yourself a VPN, I recommend NordVPN, which is the top-rated VPN in 2018.

What are some things you do to keep your belongings safe when you travel?

 

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How to keep your money and valuables safe when you travel

 

25 Comments

  • Gotta have that VPN Amanda. No brainer for security, plus for accessing financial sites abroad without getting flagged. Plus, watch the US version of Netflix, for more shows 🙂

    Ryan

  • Brianna says:

    Great tips! I especially agree with keeping things close on travel days! Anything I would be devastated to lose stays with me at all time! I have also really loved my anti-theft purse. I can’t really say if it’s ever actually stopped a theft, but it does make me feel more comfortable just knowing that it’s more secure than your average purse.

    • Amanda says:

      I’m not sure if my bags have actually stopped theft, either, but not having to constantly stress about someone digging through my backpack without me knowing certainly helps me enjoy traveling a little more!

  • Roberta Mays says:

    Vpn is a must have especially when traveling, nothing is more important than keeping your data and all of your logs safe. And also so many useful features like streaming Netflix when it’s not available in the country you stay. There are many excellent VPN providers for an affordable price like Protonvpn and Nordvpn. My current choice is Nord as it is rated as one of the best in the market at a moment.

  • Dorita says:

    Basically I were travel pants with zippered pockets. I keep my small wallet in the front pocket. On travel days I put the passport in a side pocket. I have lost a backpack with an ipad and another time I lost a carry-on bag that had my phone in it. I now will not carry with me anything I don’t have with me on a normal day at home. Put then I dress for comfort with no idea what is fashionable.

  • amanda says:

    I have nordvpn for years now, and I am happy that you have it as well. It is a must-have if you are spending a lot of time abroad or even using public wifi. And it is so easy to use unbelievable. It is so lovely that tech these days are closer to a less advanced user.

    • Amanda says:

      Technology has come so far in such a short amount of time! It’s definitely made travel a lot more accessible for a lot of people.

  • Addy Brown says:

    Always keep your valuables (i.e. camera, laptop, or anything else you don’t want stolen) with you. Don’t put them under the bus or give them to a taxi/van driver offering to put your bags in the trunk. I always keep my bag on my lap.

    • Amanda says:

      Yes, that’s one of the tips in the post! I’m the same way – my most valuable things are always at-hand, especially on travel days.

  • Meinhard says:

    In my opinion locking your suitcase in the hotel room and keeping valuables in there while rooming around is the safest. Many hotel employees have keys for the safe (for emergency), and if someone wants to rob you they will and they can look in the safe without you realizing it. They can’t look through your stuff in a locked suitcase without you knowing.
    BTW your travel insurance recommendation is not for anyone over 70!
    (12 years of travel 3 months a year (on our own most the time) and about 58 countries did teach me or us some). Meinhard & Seija

    • Amanda says:

      In most cases its safe to use a hotel safe. Because, again, most petty theft is based on opportunity. But yes, if you’re able to lock your luggage, that works too!

  • Use a cross-body bag instead of a backpack. Nothing says “insecure tourist carrying important stuff” like a backpack carried in the front. And if it’s on your back, it’s easy to pick out of.
    You’re very unlikely to be mugged, but pickpocketing is more common, especially in crowded, touristy places. So the important thing is to have your valuables in front of you, where they can’t be easily accessed by others.
    Also, I like to travel with two credit cards (different accounts) and I have only one on me when I’m out and about. If my bag is stolen (which has never happened, in years of travel around the world, but still), then I have a backup means of payment while I put a stop on the stolen card.
    I recently posted about tips for traveling solo…

    • Amanda says:

      The theft-proof backpacks that Pacsafe makes are great – they are lockable and slash-proof, so you can still wear them safely on you back!

  • Such good tips! I always try to leave my passport in a safe or locked room. I think it’s so much safer in a locked space and not on my person where anyone could take it off me. And thank you for not just pushing those money belts or necklaces. IMHO, those are such a huge inconvenience to access your money and make you look like such a tourists – aka a target for pickpocketers. And definitely agree about stashing some cash, another bank/credit card and a copy of your passport somewhere else in your luggage.

  • Leo says:

    Thanks for your tips, Amanda. That is necessary, usually we don’t know where we are going (things we will face). The best is to be cleaver and watch out, of course enjoying the trip.

    • Amanda says:

      It’s impossible to predict what you might run into when you’re traveling, so it’s definitely smart to be prepared for those “just in case” situations.

  • ‘Nice one Amanda!

    I tend to mix some of my more precious items with either my sanitary pad bag or my dirty washing!

    When on the move, I have a cross-shoulder handbag with zips AND click buckles. If going on a long-haul trip, I also use a money bag which I clip AND pin onto the inside of my jeans, and only access if I’m in the bathroom!

  • It certainly is. Haw! Haw! Haw!

  • Brooke Parkes says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this tips. I’m on my way to my first ever solo travel to Europe and I really can appreciate any tips about safety.

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