How to Keep Your Money Safe While Traveling

pickpocketing a tourist

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I firmly believe that traveling is often as safe as living in your home city, but being in a foreign place can open you up to some misadventures. Not understanding the language, frequently getting lost, and experiencing culture shock can all add up to distract you from the sneaky local with his hand around your purse. 

Fortunately, there are plenty of things you can do to lower your risk of getting mugged while traveling -- here's what we recommend.

Carry Spare US Dollars

Even if the countries you're traveling through don't accept US dollars, you should absolutely still carry some with you as a backup. US dollars are widely accepted and easily changed into local currencies, no matter where you are in the world. I recommend carrying a spare $200 and keeping it in multiple places in your backpack. 

I place $50 in the bottom of my main backpack, $50 in my daypack, $50 in my purse, and keep $50 in my shoe when I'm out exploring. That way, if I get mugged or have my backpack stolen, I'll have enough money to get a night's accommodation in a hostel, some food, and a frantic phone call to my bank and family. 

Buy a Dummy Wallet

If you're going to be heading to a particular region of the world where pickpocketing can be a real problem for travelers, such as South America, consider purchasing a dummy wallet before you leave.

If you're then approached by somebody and asked to hand over your wallet, give them the fake one filled with a couple of dollars and a few of those sample credit cards, expired debit cards, and gift cards you often receive in the mail. Having a dummy wallet can really save your finances, as few thieves have time to go through your wallet to check it's real. 

Consider Clothing with Concealed Pockets

I don't recommend traveling with a money belt because they're uncomfortable, start to smell after too many days in humid climates absorbing your sweat, and make it look like you're rummaging around in your underwear every time you need to pay for something. Plus, several of my friends who have been victims of muggings in South America had their attacker look for a money belt as their first port of call. Theives know all about money belts and it's often their first destination when they're preying on an inexperienced tourist. 

Money belts aren't your only option when it comes to keeping your money safe. Now, you can buy underwear with pockets in, can store money in a pocket in the side of a bra, and can purchase shirts and vest tops with concealed pockets. These options are all great for long transport days, especially if you're going to be traveling overnight. You'll have your money safely concealed on your person and will be unlikely to sleep through a robbery if the thief is pulling money out of your bra! This isn't yet something that muggers are aware of, so you'll likely be fine if you're pulled over on a street in Brazil and asked for everything you have. 

If you're still determined to travel with a money belt or opt to travel with concealed pocket-clothing, remember that when you're paying for an item and reaching into a concealed pocket you're advertising exactly where you keep your money to any possible thieves who could be watching. I therefore recommend checking your surroundings before advertising you have something valuable you want to hide and if possible, doing so while facing a wall and away from a crowd. 

Don't Carry Everything at Once

I recommend withdrawing as much money from an ATM as it, or your bank, will allow to minimize fees while traveling, but you don't want to be carrying all of that cash around with you at all times. When you head out exploring for the day take only what you expect you'll spend, plus a little bit extra in case of emergencies. That way, if you were to be mugged you'll only lose $20 instead of the $250 you got out of the ATM a few days ago. 

Additionally, I recommend traveling with more than one debit/credit card and keeping them in separate places. If you debit card is stolen by someone while traveling, you'll still have another to withdraw money from until you get your other one replaced. 

Take Photos of Your Debit Cards Before You Leave

I highly recommend taking photos of all of your important documents before you leave to travel and then emailing copies of them to yourself. Make sure to snap a photo of all of your debit/credit cards, any visas in your passport, and your passport itself. That way, if you happen to have everything stolen, as long as you can find Internet access, you can find out what your card number is and pay for accommodation and transport online as an emergency. 

Let Your Bank Know Where You're Going to be Traveling To

Before you leave, make sure to give your bank a call with information on where you're going to be traveling to and your travel dates. That way, they'll be far more likely to block your card for genuine attempts at identity theft, rather than for you hopping over to Cambodia and trying to withdraw cash.

Try to Use ATMs Inside Banks

In order to stay as safe as possible, try to use only ATMs that are inside a bank. It's reasonably common to come across an ATM in the middle of a tourist spot that have skimmers added to catch you out. If you use an ATM inside a bank, it's far less likely to have been tampered with. In Mozambique, the banks have guards with enormous rifles standing outside each ATM to ensure you'll be safe while withdrawing money. 

Pay For Bigger Purchases With Your Cards

If you're going to be buying an expensive souvenir, it's best to use a credit card to do so. That way, if your souvenir is stolen, you can call your credit card company and they'll likely refund the money to your card. 

Use the Safe in Your Guesthouse

You can never be too careful! While you're out exploring, make sure to put all of your money and valuables into your hotel safe to keep them away from any tempted fingers. If your hostel or hotel doesn't have a safe, look to conceal your valuables in a place where the staff won't look, such as a bathroom cabinet or underneath the mattress of your bed. 

Research Exchange Rates Before You Arrive

If you happen to be heading out on a multi-country trip, it can be frustrating to have to constantly look up exchange rates, but it's well worth doing just before you arrive in a new place. There are plenty of shady money changers out there, who prey on tourists who haven't yet learned what the exchange rate is, giving you a terrible rate. 

This is also smart for ensuring you don't get ripped off. Taxis are notorious for charging extortionate rates at airports because tourists often aren't aware of what the prices should be. Remain informed with a quick search when you arrive in an airport, using their free Wi-Fi. It takes two minutes but can save you a lot of money and heartache later on. 

Consider Picking Up a Prepaid Credit Card

If you travel with a prepaid credit card, it's less of a concern if it happens to be stolen. If you never transfer more than around $200 to the card, it won't be a great loss of money if it's stolen. 

Be Cautious at Airport Security 

It's rare, but it can happen. When passing through airport security, make sure to put your bags on the conveyor belt just as you're about to pass through the security scanner. This means you'll be waiting for your bag when it arrives at the other end, minimizing the chance of someone else grabbing it.