I arrived in Beijing some years ago with a brand new passport and hadn't even heard of a travel money belt.
In my ignorance I stored my passport (and my money) in my daypack, which I carelessly wore on my back.
As I tried to buy a pastry, I noticed my daypack was wide open - and empty! I had been robbed - by a small group of Russian-speaking young men, it would appear. And I never even noticed.
No more. From that day onward (and after a stern scolding from my embassy), my papers would go straight into my 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. You should be prepared to have everything stolen - though you probably won't.
So how do you protect your documents?
The one single item I could no longer do without is a travel money belt, also known as a money pouch. It isn't really a belt at all (although these do exist, usually for men, in leather and with a zipper) but rather a pouch that is worn around the waist.
It's actually a hidden money belt, worn under your clothes, where no one but yourself can see it.
Which is the best travel money belt for you?
Let me give you a tour of what I would consider the perfect money belt: 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). 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 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 really hard to access when you're wearing a backpack with your hip strap on.
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, neck wallet, and 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. Going out at night? My latest must-have is a stylish money pouch by Sholdit. Have a look at those before you decide.
However you choose to carry it, I tend to divide up my money inside my money belt into days. I use small plastic see-through bags so each day, I take one small bag out and use that for the day's spending.
It keeps my travel money belt organized, so I don't feel rushed when I need to get into it. And it also helps me budget.
I also make sure I have enough money for the day in my pocket, which makes it unnecessary to dip into my belt in front of anyone as I scrabble for a few bills.
If you're partial to wearing belts, you could always get one of those zippered belts in which to store some cash and hold up your pants at the same time. Obviously it doesn't take passports, and you may have to fold up your money several times which in some countries is a no-no. Also if a currency is weak you'll never be able to stuff all that worthless paper into your belt.
None of this works for you? Can't stand the thought of any kind of travel money belt?
Here's the grandaddy of them all: the photographer's vest. With all its pockets, it would take a thief an hour to find anything of value (it'll take you that long too). Just don't take it off and leave it on the back of a chair...
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