Some years ago I arrived in Beijing with a brand new passport, thrilled that its number was easy enough to memorize.
In my carefree ignorance I stored my passport (and my money) in my daypack, which I confidently slung across my back like a DIY money belt… until I entered a pastry shop and noticed my daypack was wide open – and empty!
After a stern scolding from my embassy, I went out and purchased the best travel money belt money could buy. This article is the result: it lays out everything you need to know about keeping your money safe when you travel.
The best advice I can give you about your valuables on the road is this: don’t take any with you!
That’s right. Travel is no place for anything you aren’t prepared to lose, because it could happen. But some things can’t be left at home.
So how do you protect your ID documents and cash?
What is a money belt?
After my Beijing debacle, I learned my lesson and when I traveled across Africa overland, the single most important item I owned was my waist money belt, also known as a hidden travel money pouch, cash belt, passport belt, safety wallet or even a hidden waist 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 flat around your waist.
It’s actually a hidden money belt for travel, worn under your clothes, where no one but yourself can see it.
Comparison chart: where to buy a money belt and what to choose
|Eagle Creek Undercover Moneybelt DLX||11.4 x 5.1 x 0.2 in / 28.9 x 12.9 x 0.5 cm||I have several women's money belts and this one is among my favorites. 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).||Buy Now!|
|Eagle Creek Travel Gear Silk Undercover Money Belt||11.5 x 5.5 x 3 in / 29.2 x 13.9 x 7.6 cm||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||Buy Now!|
|Alpha Keeper Money Belt for Travel with RFID Blocking Sleeves||10.1 x 5 x 0.1 in / 25.6 x 12.7 x 0.2 cm||For a fashionable money belt, and a good bet if you want something a bit lighter than the Eagle Creek model. I worried that because it's lightweight, it might not be as durable as a heavier belt - but this hasn't been the case. I've worn it once during the rainy season in West Africa and it never got clammy. My valuables stayed safe and this was the first time I tried the little portable RFID sleeves for credit cards - a nice addition. This belongs to the range you would call a slim or thin money belt.||Buy Now!|
|Venture 4th RFID Money Belt||11.8 x 5.9 x 0.4 in / 29.9 x 14.9 x 1 cm||This is another excellent hidden money belt for travel - it's roomy, has plenty of RFID sleeves, it's breathable because of the mesh back, and has a comfortable strap. There is also a version without the RFID sleeves but... I'd rather be safer. I'd say it is hugely similar to the above model - the Alpha Keeper - but larger. Between the two, in my opinion, your choice will be one of size.||Buy Now!|
|Eazy Mate Fashion Running Belt||6 in / 15.2 cm wide / S M L XL||I'm so curious about this stretch money belt! I love the look and it seems like one of the most comfortable money belts, sort of a travel waist band. I do think it would work better on someone slimmer than me but the temptation lingers... everything fits, according to the reviews, passport included. Plus, as a flat money belt it could hide well under looser shirts.||Buy Now!|
|Aqua Quest AquaRoo Money Belt||13.82 x 5.91 x 0.98 / inches||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. I'd go to the beach or kayak with it but I wouldn't dive with it.||Buy Now!|
Money belt reviews: my top 3
Why do women need a money belt for travel?
So yes, I use money belts for travel and no, they’re not for everyone. Here are both sides of the coin.
Pros of using a money belt
✅ No matter what anyone says, this is still the best way to keep your valuables safe
✅ 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 – and it keeps everything in a single place
✅ A ladies money belt prevents such common theft as grab and run
✅ Those who find it comfortable can just forget they’re wearing it
✅ It’s an inexpensive way to keep your things safe
✅ A female money belt is 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
❌ Some people consider the traveling money belt old-fashioned and would rather have something a bit more modern
❌ Depending on which one you choose, they can be damp and smelly if you were them for a long time in the heat
❌ It’s not always easy to access, especially if you need your money in a hurry (which is why you should always keep a little bit of cash separately)
❌ It can look bulky if you fill it up too 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
❌ It’s not really a secret because thieves tend to know where to look. That said, they may know where it is but are going to have a hard time getting to it!
❌ It can be downright uncomfortable if your silhouette is less than lithe – I’m a bit overweight and I have to choose my belts carefully (the ones I recommend above all provide a great fit but some other brands may have thin straps that can cut into your skin)
Keep reading to find out just what to look for in a money belt.
What to look for in the best money belt for international 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.
The money belts on this page are all excellent, in different ways, and I can’t recommend one over the other. What I can do is outline some of the characteristics of what would go into making the perfect money belt.
The best travel money pouches or belts are made of a mix of lightweight cotton and synthetics, 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.
If you only wear your travellers money belt 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.
Most belts have a main pouch for your passport and cards, and one or two smaller pouches for other cards and papers.
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.
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. Remember, hot, humid climates might mean chafing.
Consider a lightweight money belt if you worry about carrying something noticeable around your waist.
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. Let’s be clear, though: thieves know when you’re wearing a money belt. Mostly, the risk of being caught is too high for them so they move on to easier pickings (like bum bags).
If you happen to be traveling with a backpack, your money belt will be almost inaccessible to pickpockets.
If you’re carrying several credit cards, you’ll probably want some RFID technology to keep thieves from absconding with your identity. RFID keeps electronic devices from being able to read the smart chip on your cards – your credit cards, for example. It may not be foolproof and it doesn’t work 100% of the time, but it helps and I’m happier with this protection than without it.
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. Look for a slim money belt that is light and flat. I’m also not aware of any plus-size money belt. I’ve seen a few advertised but upon research, the pouch itself was large and that to my mind does not constitute a money belt adapted to a larger size woman.
Beware that a small money belt does not necessarily mean its circumference is small – it may simply mean that the travel waist pouch part – the container for your valuables – is smaller than average. That’s fine, but you do need to be able to fit your necessities into it (your passport, credit cards, possibly keys)…
What do you plan to carry in it? If it’s your passport, some bills and a few cards, you’ll be fine with a money belt. If you want to carry more, consider a travel bag.
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 perhaps a bit tempting. You might prefer one of the newer flat running belts, like the Eazy Mate.
What you’re really looking for is a discreet travel pouch that sits well against your body, not something that grabs the eye and catches a thief’s attention.
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.
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 outside an airport and once it’s broken, it’s gone.
Types of money belts
A few more items seem to fall under the category of best money belts (at least for some!) and so they are worth a mention – but in my opinion, not appropriate for general travel.
- I’ve often had requests about a women’s leather money belt, but I haven’t had much luck. This item, which is an actual belt with a zipper on the inside, is traditionally made for men but that shouldn’t stop you from wearing one if you like wearing belts (I lost my waistline many years ago!) I tend not to recommend tight belts because they’re not as comfortable for travel and also, to use these belts, 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…
- I also haven’t had too much luck with cute money belts, because my primary concern here is safety, not fashion. I really couldn’t recommend you wear a high-fashion designer money belt. It screams ‘I’m rich, mug me!’ and is designed to be seen, not hidden under your clothes. That defeats the purpose.
- One that falls in-between is the waterproof money belt, which is mostly meant for water sports – some customers report using them for swimming and snorkeling, with great results. (If you’re simply looking for something water resistant, I’ve included one above, in the comparison table.) And while I’m sure this item works perfectly, I’m a chicken, and simply wouldn’t have the courage to take my iPhone under the water!
Money belt alternatives: can you think of better places to hide money when traveling?
If you’re still not convinced about money belts for women, no fears. There are plenty of alternatives to a money belt of the traditional kind. Here are just a few.
Cross-body anti-theft purse
This may well be my favorite alternative. If I don’t wear some kind of traveling belt, I’ll be wearing one of these immensely practical bags. My favorite is the Pacsafe series, and I have FIVE of them in various sizes and shapes. They lock well, are incredibly hard to get into for thieves, and are comfortable to wear. Find out about anti-theft purses here.
Travel pants with zippered pockets
This is another favorite of mine, especially if I’m in more natural and less urban surroundings, for example on a photo safari or hiking in a national park, where the last thing you want is a bag over your shoulder. If for some reason you don’t want to wear a money belt when hiking, these Clothing Arts pants for Women (which I have and love) are comfortable, they look good and are in my opinion the best anti-theft pants around.
Hidden travel pouch or infinity scarf
This is THE solution if you’re going out, want to keep your hands free, and only need a secret stash compartment no one will suspect, a sort of women’s money pouch that looks like a scarf. Wait – it IS a scarf! I love these scarves with a zippered pocket and have three in varying colors and materials. You can’t stuff them full because they’ll pull on your neck but you can easily fit in a few bills, credit cards and your passport – and then forget all about them. Find out more about the perfect secret pocket scarf here.
Money travel vest
This, I’ll admit, is one of my favorite bits of travel kit. It’s a lightweight vest (here’s the one I have) that comes with tons of pockets. That makes it nearly impossible for a pickpocket to find what s/he is looking for, especially if you place your valuables into one of the particularly well-hidden inside pockets. It also happens to look really nice one. One word of warning: they size small, so order a size larger than you usually would! And one more thing – if you’re flying on a discount airline that won’t let you bring an extra bag on the plane, just stuff the pockets. It’s like a stylish money bag – except you’re wearing it.
Even more money belt options
If you’re still not satisfied with these choices, don’t worry – there are plenty more options to conceal your money. Here are a few more ideas.
- 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.
- You can use a bra stash, which is a small secret pouch you can attach to your bra. These tend to be smallish and can comfortably contain a few credit cards, a bill or two, but little more.
- Another option is the travel neck wallet, which is roomier than a bra pouch and hangs around your neck. The best travel neck wallet will allow you to carry your passport and a few other valuables without being noticed. All you do is slip it under your blouse, which makes it both accessible and hidden.
- Two other options friends of mine have tried and liked are the lacy leg wallet and the ankle wallet. I think their names are self-explanatory and you should take a look at them if you tend to cover your legs when you travel. I don’t find them particularly useful but that’s because I always have the feeling they’re about to slip down or off – and that wards off the peace of mind you’re supposed to gain from the extra security. But go make up your own mind because some people swear by them.
- There’s always something new coming out, 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.
Whatever you decide, your pocket or backpack or daypack are NOT the place to keep your wealth.
10 MONEY BELT SAFETY TIPS
- 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.
- And again, a lesson on how to wear a 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 pouch or belt – an under clothing money belt.
- Another piece of advice on how to hide cash while traveling: don’t keep all your money in your money belt. Carry enough cash for the day in your bag 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.
- If a money belt is uncomfortable, try a bra purse, neck wallet or ankle stash. As long as it’s hidden, anywhere is fine.
- 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 you choose one of the best waterproof money belts).
- Always put your money into your travel money belt before you leave the bank or post office.
- 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 or suitcase).
- And its follow-up: Don’t keep photocopies of your important papers in your money belt IF THE ORIGINALS ARE IN THERE TOO. If you should lose your belt, you’ll also lose your vital information. Always keep them separate.
- 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!
- Beware of crowds. The likeliest places to be pickpocketed are those with plenty of people – buses, subways, festivals, concerts… any situation with crowds. (Speaking from experience here!)
Simple caution usually works better than anything else.
Investing in the best money belt for travel will give you peace of mind, 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.