One of my most frequently asked questions has to do with keeping your money safe on the road, and specifically: should you buy a money belt for your trip? Travelers either love them or you hate them, but there's no denying they're one of the best ways to keep your cash stashed when you're on the move.
Read on to find out more about whether money belts are right for you.
What is a Money Belt?
Money belts are exactly what they sound like: a belt with a concealed pouch where you can store your money.
The theory is that you'll keep your money safe from pickpockets if it's hidden away from sight. Not only that, but hiding your money away in belts can bring you peace of mind.
Here's where it gets a little complicated: there are actually several different types of money belts.
The first type looks exactly like a regular belt, but there is a small pocket behind the belt that you can use to store your money. Turn the belt inside out and open a zippered compartment, stash your cash, zip up, thread the belt through your loops and stroll the streets in safety. The second is more of a cloth pouch that you fasten around your hips and tuck into your pants.
You can use money belts to store your money, passport, and document copies on your person. Although thieves know all about these belts, it's extremely unlikely that they're going to try to undress you to get at your stashed cash if you've got it zipped into a physical belt.
The cloth pouches are a different story.
What Do Money Belts Look Like?
Regular money belts look just like normal belts and come in a few styles - dressy, casual, leather, canvas -- whatever you need to fit in with your outfit. If you're a backpacker, the canvas style may work best for you. Along the inside of the belt, there'll be a small slit where you can fold up money and place it inside.
Nobody would think to ever look there! Even pickpockets and thieves.
This form of money belt is definitely the best option for keeping your money safe, as they're discreet and comfortable. If you normally wear belts at home, even better! You won't have to change your normal clothing style whenever you hit the road.
If you're looking to get your hands on one, here's an excellent one by EagleCreek.
What About Money Pouches?
Money pouches are usually dubbed money belts, but they're quite different to the ones described above. They're a pouch that you secure around your waist or neck and you can't see them if you're wearing baggy clothes. If you're small, you'll likely struggle to find a comfortable fit -- the pouch has to be quite large to fit your passport and money, so will often feel annoying against your crotch.
Once again, check out EagleCreek's selection of money pouches if you want to pick yourself one up, as they are some of the best-rated money pouches on the market.
And What About Pickpocket-Proof Clothing?
Within the last few years, pickpocket-proof clothing has emerged on the market, offering a discreet way to keep your money safe while you're on the move. The advantage of these over money pouches are that pickpockets and thieves don't usually expect anybody to be wearing them, so they don't usually think to check to see if you have a pocket on the inside of your t-shirt.
Honestly, I've tried a few different items from different companies and I've yet to find anything that fits well and doesn't have a big, obvious, and uncomfortable pocket.
If you'd like to try out some pickpocket-proof clothing, I'd recommend trying Clever Travel Companion first. I wasn't a fan, but they're still the best option I've come across. They have a wide range of clothes, from underwear to t-shirts to vest tops.
I often say that one of the best ways to stay safe when you're traveling is to behave exactly how you would at home.
That means wearing jeans and a t-shirt instead of travel-specific clothing, not carrying a guidebook around with you, and doing your best to look confident, even when lost. If you don't look like the locals, this will at least give the impression that you know what you're doing and know how the city works.
And if you look like you're lost and confused, you immediately become a target for scammers and pick-pockets.
Money belts? They shatter the illusion that you're not a tourist.
As soon as you start rummaging around in one, it shows that you're not confident and you're not from around there. It shows that you're paranoid and nervous about where you are, which immediately pegs you as a tourist. Do you think the locals or expats wear money belts as they walk around, too?
While we're on the subject of disadvantages, a huge one is that it looks like you're rummaging around in your underwear every time you want to pay for something. Oh, and also? They're actually really uncomfortable to wear under your clothes.
South America is one of the least safe places for tourists to visit and the amount of friends who haven't been robbed while traveling the continent are definitely in the minority.
Those that have been held up on the street? The first thing the attacker did was lift up their shirt and search for a money belt. You'd likely be okay with a belt rather than a pouch, but know that the attackers are well-aware that such things exist. They're no longer a secret way to conceal cash -- instead, they're the first place people look when they're looking to rob you.
So, what should you do instead?
I keep the majority of my cash stowed away in a secret pocket in my backpack and rarely head out to explore with more than $100 in cash (unless i know that I'll need more than that). I keep that cash folded up in my pocket, because that's what I do at home. If I'm unfortunate enough to be robbed, I won't have enough money on me for it to negatively impact my trip, so that alone gives me peace of mind while wandering around.
If I were to travel in Latin America and was feeling nervous about being robbed, I'd keep my money in my shoe and have a decoy wallet in my pocket with a couple of dollars and a cancelled credit card.
This article has been edited and updated by Lauren Juliff.