Traveling can sometimes make you feel – and actually be – quite exposed. Large cities come with quite a few opportunities to loose or get your valuables stolen. Whereas loosing a wallet where you live can be very annoying, lossing it on holiday or business trip abroad can be a whole different story, and can sometimes result in missing a flight or struggling to pay for basic things like acomodation and food.
In this article, we will look at all the options that exist for concealing and protecting you valuables: from cash, wallets and travel documents to to small electronics like pocket cameras or smartphones.
How to hide your cash when traveling
When I was in Johannesburg in 2017, I stayed at a hostel in Braamfontein not far from Park Station, with pretty rough areas around it like Hillbrow or Downtown. When I took a first cab, the south african driver (who I later realized overcharged me by a factor of 10 ) warned me – in his own words – against the Zimbabwean neighborhood a few blocks from my hostel.
Being the only white around in downtown, I knew I standed out visually and could potentially be targeted quicker. With that in mind, when I was outside, I left all my valuables in the hostel room, and only took some walk around money and put some of it in my pants pocket, and the rest in the front pocket of my shirt. I didn’t even take my wallet or phone.
But what if you need to have your phone, credit card and other things with you? Here is where some ideas, gear or special clothing pieces might come handy.
There simplest way to conceal cash and credit cards is to have it spread around your body in multiple (preferably concealed) locations. There are also many trousers, jackets, boots, sweaters, hats or belts designed to give a varying degree of concealment. Let’s look at a few of these clothing options and other principles of keeping your valuables safe.
Money belt with hidden cash pocket
Wallets can get lost, pockets can be searched, jackets stolen, pockets cut with knives (happened to a classmate in high school about an hour after we arrived to Vienna during a school trip). But you are unlikely to loose your belt, and it is the last place someone would even think of looking at for valuables.
The best option for storing cash or other narrow and flexible valuables is the money belt. The space inside the concealed pocket in the belt is limited – but as an emergency cash reserve, it is still possible to easily stash a few 100s of dollars worth of currency. If everything else gets lost, or stolen, there is still enough to pay for transport, a few nights in a hotel and possibly a plane ticket home.
Never loose access to your money – remembering your credit card details
One passive means of protecting oneself against getting separated from your cash and credit cards is to learn the number of your main credit/debit card by heart. It will probably not be very helpful in an immediate emergency like a mugging or a lost wallet, but there are many important things that can be booked online.
Being able to get acomodation can make a big difference, and in most countries, hotels can be booked online with credit cards. The same goes for plane tickets, in case a quick return home becomes necessary. While insurance can provide assistance, it can take time before you can contact anyone, and before they can arrange things for you. The idea here is independence.
When giving up valuables becomes the best defense
There are situations, just like the one that happened to my roommate in Johannesburg, where your best defense is surrender. He was walking down the street with his girlfriend and a group of three men with knives approached him and asked him to give up for everything he had. As they had previously agreed upon, his girlfriend ran away and hid. As for himself, in this potentially life threatening situation, he made the right choice of giving up all his valuables: wallet and phone. The downside was that he was now without any identification, money or credit card. On the other hand, he was alive and unscathed.
So, if it is impossible to run, or you have friends or family with you, the best option is to remain as calm as possible, stand your ground not to give off a weak vibe, and calmly hand over everything that the robbers ask for. Depending on the situation, you might be able to ask for you identification back, but it shouldn’t be a priority whatsoever. The first priority is to get away from the situation as quick as possible and get to a safe place.
The philosophy of traveling with valuables
We all have a feel for where and when it is more likely we might encounter pickpockets. We all know it is not wise to flash large sums of money in the street, or other valuable items such as cameras, smartphones or jewelry.
We also all have some sort of system for periodically checking that everything is where it’s supposed to be, like the “pocket tap” or as I imagine, a “quick purse scan”.
When it comes to showing valuables, it boils down to using best judgement. When I was in Johannesburg, I didn’t take out my camera once in the city. The only few pictures I took were with my phone.
Hopefully these experiences I went through will help make the best out of your next trip!
Let me know below if you have had any sketchy or dangerous situations while traveling, how it turned out, and whether any gear or habit of yours helped you get out of the situation.
Til next time!