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Your Travel Money Belt Can Save Your Life
OK, maybe not your life, but your belongings and peace of mind

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.

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. 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?

  • Velcro money belt: this one uses velcro rather than a zipper. An advantage is that anyone opening the velcro will alert you because of the noise.
  • Nylon money belt: these are lightweight, dry quickly, but in the heat they can chafe and make you sweaty.
  • Silk money belt: this is a more upmarket version of the homemade money belt - just use silk rather than cotton or polyester for a smoother, more luxurious feel.
  • Waterproof money belt: most of these are regular money belts with an inside waterproof pocket. A few are fully waterproof and made of plastic - you can even take them into the shower.
  • travel money belt pickpockets
    Don't be a victim!
    Danny Howard via Flickr CC
  • Designer money belt: this is the least recommended - it screams 'I'm rich, mug me!' and is designed to be seen, not hidden under your clothes. That defeats the purpose.
  • Banana belt: this isn't really a money belt - it's more of a small bag worn around the waist, big, bulky and ugly. I can't imagine why anyone would think this is a safe way to carry your money.
  • Traditional or leather money belt: this is the original belt with a zipper on the inside, the one mostly worn by men. If you usually wear belts you can try it but I don't recommend it because it's tighter than the traditional versions and in hot climates you may regret it. I also don't really recommend this as 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 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. Leave this one to the guys.
  • 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.
Google Logo
This is probably not how you would get pickpocketed...
Paul Lowry via Flickr CC

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.

11 Money Belt Safety Tips 

  1. Never open your travel money belt in public.
  2. 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.
  3. If you must delve into your money belt, go to the ladies room or other private place.
  4. If a money belt is uncomfortable, try a neck wallet or ankle stash. As long as it's hidden, anywhere is fine.
  5. Always wear your money pouch - especially when you sleep near other people, in hostel dorms or on public transport. Don't leave it 'safely' in your backpack overnight.
  6. Keep your belt within sight in the shower (but keep it away from the water unless it's waterproof).
  7. Always put your money into your travel money belt before you leave the bank or post office.
  8. 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).
  9. And its follow-up: Don't keep photocopies of your important papers in your money belt. If you should lose it, you'll also lose your vital information.
  10. Don't take your money belt off and stow it in your day pack. Yes - some people do that!
  11. And finally, be aware of your surroundings. Simple caution usually works better than anything else!

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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