A frequently asked question of travel experts 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.
Definition of 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 also 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 while traveling. 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 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. Nobody would think to ever look inside the belt for money, where you've stashed it and then zipped it closed, even pickpockets and thieves.
This form of money belt is definitely the best option for keeping your money safe. 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.
About Money Pouches
Money pouches are usually dubbed money belts, but they're quite different from the ones that actually look like belts. 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 it will often feel annoying against your crotch.
Check out EagleCreek's selection of money pouches if you want to pick one up; these are some of the best-rated money pouches on the market.
Within the last few years, pickpocket-proof clothing has shown up on the market, offering a discreet way to keep your money safe while you're on the move. The advantage of these pieces over money pouches is 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. But it can be difficult to find one of these pieces that fit well and doesn't have a big, obvious, and uncomfortable pocket.
Clever Travel Companion is a place to look for pickpocket-proof clothing. It has a wide range of clothes, from underwear to T-shirts to vests.
Conventional wisdom says that one of the best ways to stay safe when you're traveling is to behave exactly how you would at home and not looking like you're on vacation. 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 you're 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?
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, money pouches are really uncomfortable to wear under your clothes.
South America is one of the least safe places for tourists to visit, and they are commonly robbed. It's been reported by those who were held up on the street that the first thing the attacker did was lift up their shirt and search for a money belt. You'd likely be OK 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?
One strategy is to keep the majority of your cash stowed away in a secret pocket in your backpack or luggage or locked in a safe in your room and don't head out to explore with more than $100 in cash if that much. Keep that cash folded up in your pocket. If you do get robbed, it's not a big loss that will ruin your trip. You also can keep as little cash as possible and use debit and credit cards whenever you can so you never are in possession of much actual money.
If you are really worried about being in a particular location, like Latin America, you can keep money and a credit card in your shoe and have a decoy wallet in your pocket with a couple of dollars and a canceled credit card. That's an extreme measure but will give you peace of mind in a risky location.
This article has been edited and updated by Lauren Juliff.