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Is a Travel Money Belt the Best Way to Protect Your Cash?

Updated 2 September 2017 — Some years ago I arrived in Beijing with a brand new passport. Back then I had no idea what a travel money belt was.

In my ignorance I stored my passport (and my money) in my daypack, which I confidently slung across my back.

As I entered a pastry shop I noticed my daypack was wide open - and empty! I had been robbed - probably by a small group of European young men who had been walking behind me for several blocks. I didn't notice a thing.

Never again. From that day onward (and after a stern scolding from my embassy), my papers would go straight into my stash belt.

travel money beltPay attention (behind you!) Roger Price via CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

What is the best way to carry cash when traveling? Your valuables and your travel money belt

The best advice I can give you about your valuables on the road is this: don't take any with you!

That's right. The road is no place for anything you aren't prepared to lose. Though it probably won't happen, you should be prepared to have everything stolen - and you'll be ready.

So how do you protect your documents and cash?

The single most important item I owned in my years of backpacking around the world was my moneybelt, also known as a hidden money pouch, safety wallet or even a body wallet. It isn't really a belt at all (although these do exist, usually for men, in leather and with a zipper) but rather, a slim envelope-like pouch worn around your waist.

It's actually a hidden money belt, worn under your clothes, where no one but yourself can see it.

Comparison chart: the best money belt for women

Model

Image

Details

I have several money belts and this one just might be my favorite. First, because of the comfort - the material is soft and doesn't seem to make me sweat at all, even in the tropics, where I wore it several times a day. In the rainy season, just in case, I wrap my passport in a plastic Ziplock bag (I do that with all my money belts, except for the waterproof ones). Also available on eBags

Now this is one I haven't tried. It looks identical to the DLX above but is made of silk rather than nylon. It gets equally great ratings and I wonder whether it isn't simply... softer. When my DLX wears out (not happening!) I'll try the silk version to compare. If you know the difference, please let tell me in the comments below. Also available on eBags

This is a nice belt if you want something a bit lighter than the Eagle Creek model. The only problem is that because it's lightweight, it may not be as durable as a heavier belt - but I haven't tested it so I don't know for sure. Two friends have this model - one swears by it, the other says she sweats when she wears it. But I do like the idea of the little portable RFID sleeves for passport and credit cards.

Mostly made for running but if you prefer this king of evenly hugging belt, a passport will fit, but snugly. My waistline wouldn't work with this model but I can see how a slimmer version of myself would love to wear this belt. If you've tried this, leave me a comment below!

This is a lovely money belt and I got it because I like the color (mine is gray). I'll be wearing it on a long trip coming up and will come back here and update how it fared. But it looks awfully good, and I appreciate the RFID.

I'm so curious about this belt! I love the look and it seems incredibly comfortable. I do think it would work better on someone slimmer than me but the temptation lingers... everything fits, according to the reviews, passport included.

This money belt won't let in any water and its mesh back also prevents excessive sweating or heat. If you plan to be on a boat or near water, you might consider something like this, far more waterproof than your standard money belt.

This isn't really a money belt - it's more of a small bum bag worn on your waist outside your clothes, which is why I don't recommend it for security. However, if you ARE looking for a bum bag, at least this one is cute. Also available on eBags

Image

Details

I have several money belts and this one just might be my favorite. First, because of the comfort - the material is soft and doesn't seem to make me sweat at all, even in the tropics, where I wore it several times a day. In the rainy season, just in case, I wrap my passport in a plastic Ziplock bag (I do that with all my money belts, except for the waterproof ones). Also available on eBags

Image

Details

Now this is one I haven't tried. It looks identical to the DLX above but is made of silk rather than nylon. It gets equally great ratings and I wonder whether it isn't simply... softer. When my DLX wears out (not happening!) I'll try the silk version to compare. If you know the difference, please let tell me in the comments below. Also available on eBags

Image

Details

This is a nice belt if you want something a bit lighter than the Eagle Creek model. The only problem is that because it's lightweight, it may not be as durable as a heavier belt - but I haven't tested it so I don't know for sure. Two friends have this model - one swears by it, the other says she sweats when she wears it. But I do like the idea of the little portable RFID sleeves for passport and credit cards.

Image

Details

Mostly made for running but if you prefer this king of evenly hugging belt, a passport will fit, but snugly. My waistline wouldn't work with this model but I can see how a slimmer version of myself would love to wear this belt. If you've tried this, leave me a comment below!

Image

Details

This is a lovely money belt and I got it because I like the color (mine is gray). I'll be wearing it on a long trip coming up and will come back here and update how it fared. But it looks awfully good, and I appreciate the RFID.

Image

Details

I'm so curious about this belt! I love the look and it seems incredibly comfortable. I do think it would work better on someone slimmer than me but the temptation lingers... everything fits, according to the reviews, passport included.

Image

Details

This money belt won't let in any water and its mesh back also prevents excessive sweating or heat. If you plan to be on a boat or near water, you might consider something like this, far more waterproof than your standard money belt.

Image

Details

This isn't really a money belt - it's more of a small bum bag worn on your waist outside your clothes, which is why I don't recommend it for security. However, if you ARE looking for a bum bag, at least this one is cute. Also available on eBags

There are two more money belts worth a mention - but in my opinion, not worth a buy.

The first is a traditional or leather money belt, mostly used by men, an actual belt with a zipper on the inside. If you usually wear belts you can try it but I don't recommend it because it's tighter than the standard money belt, thicker, and in hot climates you may regret it (and it won't take a passport). However, if you want to divide up your money into several hiding places, it can be useful. Be aware that you'll have to fold your money tightly and believe it or not, some countries will not accept anything other than crisp, flat new bills. You'll need belt loops, and it doesn't work with skirts and many shorts. It might chafe if your backpack's hip belt rubs against it. I'd leave this one to the guys...

The second is the high-fashion designer money belt, the one I would recommend the least. It screams 'I'm rich, mug me!' and is designed to be seen, not hidden under your clothes. That defeats the purpose.

The pros and cons of using a money belt for travel

So yes, I use money belts for travelling and no, they're not for everyone. Here are both sides of the coin.

Pros of using a money belt

✅  It's out of sight, so harder for thieves to access
✅  It keeps your money, passport and credit cards safer than in your pocket or in most anti-theft bags
✅  It prevents such common theft as grab and run
✅  It can be comfortable (though not for everyone) and when it is, you can just forget about it
✅  It's an inexpensive way to keep your things safe
✅  It's light and doesn't weigh you down
✅  Some are waterproof, and keeping your papers dry is essential (though you can also wrap your valuables in a small plastic bag
✅  The RFID function on some belts helps prevent identity theft
✅  A money belt is a cheap insurance policy - low-cost, simple yet effective

And the cons of a money belt

❌  Depending on which one you choose, they can be sweaty
❌  It's not easy to access, especially if you need your money in a hurry (which is why you should always keep some cash separately)
❌  It can look bulky if you fill it up to much
❌  You have limited space - great for little things but anything larger than a phone - and I don't recommend that - makes it too big for comfort
❌  Some people consider the money belt old-fashioned and would rather have something a bit modern
❌  It can be downright uncomfortable if your silhouette is less than lithe - I'm a bit overweight and some days a money belt just doesn't cut it

Alternatives to a hidden money belt - can you think of better places to hide money when traveling?

If you're still not convinced about money belts, no fears. There are plenty of other options, and here are just a few:

  • A cross-shoulder anti-theft purse: these often have many of the advantages (and the disadvantages) of money belts. I have two different versions - colors, actually - of the Pacsafe Citisafe 200. If I decide not to wear a money belt, this is my go to carrier of choice.
  • Another alternative are clothes with zipped pockets, for example the Clothing Arts pants for women, which I have and love.
  • You could leave your valuables in the hotel safe - NOT the room safe, but the safe at reception, which is a lot safer.
  • You might prefer a scarf or Sholdit pouch - one with a zipper that conveniently hides your valuables but looks great on you.
  • You can always fall back on the venerable safety pin! That's right - just pin a little cloth pouch on the inside of your clothes. I don't like this because I've been stabbed by a pin and it's painful. But if your pins are better behaved you might find this useful.
  • Or use a bra stash.

Whatever you decide, your pocket or backpack or daypack are NOT the place to keep your wealth.

How to choose the best money belt for travel

Not every belt is made for everyone, and each one of us is built differently - and travels differently. So before you buy, here are some factors you should consider in your search for the best travel money belt.

  • How long will you wear it each day? If you only wear it for a few hours, you can afford to get a little sweaty but if you plan on wearing it all day, that's a different story.

  • What's the weather like? Hot, humid climates might mean chafing, whereas cold might require layers - and how do you dig into your money belt when you've wearing four items of clothing?

  • What size are you? Money belts are fine for women who have relatively flat stomachs but as one who does not, I can only wear certain types of belt.

  • How comfortable do you want to be? You might be willing to put up with a bit of discomfort to keep your things safe, but if there's a constant rub on some part of the belt, you won't be wearing it.

  • What do you plan to carry in it? If it's your passport, some bills and a few cards, you'll want a standard belt. But if you want to carry more, you might consider a travel bag but if you want to carry less, one of the more streamlined belts might just do the trick. If you're carrying several credit cards, you'll probably want some RFID technology to keep thieves from absconding with your identity.

  • What kind of clothes do you wear? If you're used to tight-fitting tops, the contours of your money belt will be perfectly visible - and not that safe. You might prefer one of the newer running belts.

  • How long should it last? If you're only going to use your belt for a quick trip to Florence, that's one thing. But if you plan to wear it across Africa for a year, you'll need an altogether different level of quality.

My best money belt for international travel

If I were to describe my perfect money belt, this is what it would look like:

It is a lightweight cotton and synthetic mix, with a moisture-proof back (if you can't find one, just wrap all your valuables into a ziplock bag before putting them inside your belt). Some of the newest models have an anti-microbial back to prevent the growth of bacteria that cause odor or mildew.

A waist money belt breathes because of the cotton, and dries quickly because of the nylon. It has a wide and adjustable elastic waistband, which I consider most important for comfort. It has a few flat zippers, the heads of which may be covered with velcro. There is a main pouch for your passport and cards, and one or two smaller pouches for other cards and papers.

It is relatively easy to access and usually large enough to hold a passport and other valuables. As long as you wear it low, it should be easy to disguise the fact that you're wearing it. Halfway up your midriff means it will show.

There are some down sides: it can be hot, sweaty and annoying, especially if you are (as I am) someone who could afford to lose a few pounds. It's also hard to access when you're wearing a backpack with your hip strap on. But it beats getting robbed.

And a piece of advice - don't buy a flimsy one with poor buckles and zippers - it's not the kind of thing you can pick up that easily unless you're at an airport and once it's broken, it's gone.

If you don't like anything around your waist, there are other options such as the ankle or leg wallet, the neck wallet, and as I mentioned above, the bra purse. And there are new things coming out on the market like underwear with built-in pockets called Clever Travel Companion and a lightweight fitted waistband called Dovetail Travel in Peace, both of which can also carry your papers and money but neither of which I've tried.

Going out at night? My latest must-have is a stylish money pouch. Have a look at those if you want safety PLUS fashion.

10 Money Belt Safety Tips 

  1. Never open your travel money belt in public. If you must delve into your money belt, go to the ladies room or other private place.
  2. And now, a lesson on how to wear your money belt: do NOT wear your money belt outside your clothes - yes, I've seen this. It's like putting a strobe light on your cash and yelling "Free money, come and get it!" It's a hidden money belt - it's meant to be worn under clothes. 
  3. Don't keep all your money in your money belt. Carry enough cash for the day in your pocket so you don't have to keep dipping into your secret stash. If you lose it, it won't be the end of the world and you won't have to dig into your stash every time you buy some water. Consider carrying an old decoy purse you can hand over if it ever becomes necessary.
  4. If a money belt is uncomfortable, try a bra purseneck wallet or ankle stash. As long as it's hidden, anywhere is fine.
  5. Always wear your money belt - especially when you sleep near other people, in hostel dorms or on public transport. Don't leave it 'safely' in your backpack overnight. Keep your belt within sight in the shower (but keep it away from the water unless it's waterproof).
  6. Always put your money into your travel money belt before you leave the bank or post office.
  7. Your money belt is for money, cards, important phone numbers and passport. Any jewelry or other valuables should be left at home (except for a photocopy of your papers, which should be placed in your backpack).
  8. And its follow-up: Don't keep photocopies of your important papers in your money belt IF YOUR PAPERS ARE IN THERE TOO. If you should lose it, you'll also lose your vital information. Alwayskeep them separate.
  9. Don't take your money belt off and stow it in your day pack if you get tired of wearing it. Yes - some people do that! (Guilty... and learned the hard way.)
  10. Beware of crowds. The likeliest places to be pickpocketed are those with plenty of people - buses, subways, festivals, concerts... any situation with crowds.

Simple caution usually works better than anything else. A money belt will keep your money safer than a bag or backpack, but nothing is 100% safe and the more attentive you are, the safer your stuff will be. If you lose something, your travel insurance may cover it in part - but it won't replace the cash someone else is busy spending.

None of this works for you? Can't stand the thought of any kind of travel money belt or pouch?

Here's the grandaddy of them all: the photographer's vest; I often wear this one. With all its pockets, it would take a thief an hour to find anything of value (it might take you that long too). Just don't take it off and leave it on the back of a chair... (Yes, Penny, I'm talking to you!)

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