Travelling poses a variety of increased risks, including theft and loss of your belongings – especially cash. And unfortunately, tourists tend to be targets for pickpockets and other thieves, so it pays to be judicious about how you carry cash. I’ve asked a panel of professional travellers to help me answer this month’s reader question:
How do you carry cash and stay safe when you travel? Do you just keep it in your wallet? I’ve heard of people stuffing it in their socks and all kinds of strange stuff. Does anybody use money belts any more? – Javier
Here are 14 ways to manage and carry cash while travelling, used by professional travellers around the world.
Pockets and Hidden Pouches
Tim Leffel has travelled and lived around the world and authored multiple travel books including The World’s Cheapest Destinations. As the editor of Practical Travel Gear, Tim has tested a lot of travel gear; he swears by hidden pouches and clothing with secure pockets. His favourites include the Eagle Creek Undercover Hidden Pocket, and Pickpocket Proof Pants from Clothing Arts. “The Eagle Creek money carrier hooks to my belt and goes inside my pants. I’ve used one for 20 years now; I had one on my very first trip around the world”.
I’ve also used an underclothes pouch for years, which I keep some emergency cash in, as well as a USB stick on which I store encrypted copies of my ID and other crucial bits of information I would need if I lost everything. (I call this my trusty USB stick trick).
Money belts may seem passe, but I recently discovered the Stash Belt; it stores not only extra cash, but it also has a pocket for my trusty USB stick. It’s a fashionable and high-quality belt, made by a Canadian company in socially responsible enterprise with artisans in Kenya.
Undercover Leg Wallet
Similar to Tim, Gregory Hubbs (editor-in-chief of TransitionsAbroad.com and world traveler for 50+ years) also likes Eagle Creek products to hide his cash, and uses their Undercover Leg Wallet, especially when wearing shorts in hot climates.
Fend off Pickpockets With Tight Pants
When Gregory isn’t battling the heat, he has a quirky tactic to fend off pickpockets: “I generally wear jeans so tight that if anyone wants to pickpocket me their hand will get stuck…seriously, my solution is not high-tech but has worked for over 35 years of adult travel with no money taken or lost thus far.”
Keep it in Your Shoes
Gregory also wraps some cash in plastic wrap and stores it in the bottoms of his socks and shoes. “Money is also kept in my backpack,” says Gregory, in a smart attempt to diversify his stash.
Diversifying where you keep your cash is an excellent tactic to ensure that even if you lose or have money stolen from one location, you still have something in reserve. It’s very common among professional travellers; read on for a few of their tricks.
Diversification (on Your Body)
Janice Waugh is known as Solo Traveler, and her blog offers tips, safety advice, and travel stories for solo travellers. “When I go out in the evening I don’t carry a purse but stash a credit card and some bills in my bra and have some accessible cash in a pocket. I always keep cash in more than one place,” says Janice.
Diversification (Between People)
Ali Garland also diversifies where money is kept – between she and her husband. “I try not to carry a lot of cash when I travel, but what I do have gets split up between me and my husband. He keeps his wallet in his front pocket so it’s harder for a pickpocket to get to, and mine is in my purse or camera bag, worn across my chest so it’s harder to steal.” Ali shows people how to travel, pack light, and fight their travel-related fears at Travel Made Simple.
Emergency Stash in Luggage
Ali also likes to keep a stash of cash in her luggage. “I keep a small stash of either euros or US dollars buried in my luggage so if I do happen to get mugged while I’m out, I have some cash I can convert to local currency.”
Ali isn’t the only one who does this: Ayngelina Brogan agrees: “No matter where I travel I always keep a $20 US bill hidden somewhere in my luggage. Most countries will either accept or change US money and $20 is often enough to get out of a jam if I’m having problems accessing money.” Ayngelina left an amazing job, boyfriend, apartment and friends to find inspiration in Latin America. On Bacon is Magic she shares the people and places behind the meals she enjoys around the world.
Ayngelina also stashes credit cards carefully: “If I’m traveling in South America I rarely use my credit card so I keep it in my first aid kit box. I figure if someone robs me they won’t take the cheap plastic box and I will still have access to cash.”
Have Different Bank Accounts for Reliable Access to Cash
“When I travel I have debit cards from two banks; I have been in villages before where I can access money from one international bank but not the other. Splitting money into two accounts ensures that I’m never left without access to funds if I need them,” says Ayngelina.
Like Ayngelina, I’ve also found that in some places one card works but another one doesn’t; it’s good to have at least one alternative card, be it a debit card or credit card, that allows you to withdraw cash.
Limit Bank Account Balances
With regards to managing and protecting your cash, don’t keep too much cash in your bank account. Keep your travel savings in a separate high-interest account that can’t be accessed via ATM, transferring only the money you need to your bank account as needed. This limits your liability if your debit card is compromised.
Another form of protection against a compromised debit card is to set a low daily withdrawal limit so a wayward thief can’t withdraw too much cash before you realize your card is gone.
Don’t Carry More Than You Can Afford to Lose
John Lewis of Aqualife Adventures has traveled from Australia to the Caribbean as a scuba instructor, underwater videographer/photographer and adventure travel leader. “Never carry more cash than you can afford to lose,” says John. He also keeps his cash in an inside pocket that is difficult for pickpockets to access.
Never Flash Cash
A big wad of cash can make you into a target. John agrees: “Never flash your cash when paying for anything. Be aware of your surroundings and who you are speaking with at all times. Beggars (and children) can be lookouts for flush tourists and target you for accomplices.”
Keep Small Bills in an Accessible Pocket
One way to avoid flashing all your cash is to keep a few small bills in an accessible pocket (and hide the rest of your cash somewhere else). That way, while wandering through a market, even if you’re being watched, the only source of cash you’re seen to access in public is limited.
Smaller bills are also better for negotiating in markets, and local vendors rarely have change for large bills.
Upgrade Your Bank Account, and Withdraw Smaller Amounts of Cash
Mariellen Ward has lived in Tokyo and Delhi, and has traveled extensively in Asia. She has criss-crossed India several times, where cash is still king, credit cards are not always accepted, and travellers cheques are unheard of. “Before I leave Canada, I upgrade my personal chequing account at my bank to include free international withdrawals — which are normally at least $5 each. I can take rupee notes out of one of the many bank machines in India whenever needed, without the worry of racking up extra charges. This way, I can carry smaller amounts, which feels safer to me.” Mariellen’s travel stories and tips can be found at Breathedreamgo.com.
Pete and Dalene Heck from HeckticTravels.com, who have been travelling non-stop since 2009, also carry only small amounts of cash (for tipping and other minor expenses), preferring instead to use their credit cards when possible. (See also: Tips for Travelling With Credit Cards)
Bonus Tip: Monitor Credit Card Activity Through Email Notifications
Given that Pete and Dalene rely more heavily on credit cards, it’s important to pay attention to security: “We get email notifications for every transaction that is authorized on our credit or debit card. We can monitor any activity on the cards and it was extremely useful when our credit cards were compromised in New York City. We were able to contact the security team immediately to have it dealt with.”
How do you carry cash while travelling?
cash carrying tips, travel