That annoying travel essential: The moneybelt

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The classic waist-style moneybelt


Waist belt (I prefer the silk kind; it's a bit pricier but far less bulky than the basic model.)
A moneybelt you wear around your neck Neck pouch (also available in silk)
Belt-loop-style moneybelt Belt-loop type Partner
A moneybelt you strap to your leg Ankle pocket Partner
Picture a fanny pack (Brits: picture a bum bag). Now picture Wiley E. Coyote running over it with a steamroller. That's your standard moneybelt.

This portable safe is a flat pouch with a zippered compartment (the better ones have two compartments) that holds your passport, plane ticket/voucher, railpass, travelers checks, bank ATM cards and credit cards, emergency cash, backup info sheet (a photocopy of your passport and other important documents) , and anything else that would ruin your trip were you to lose it to pickpockets or bad luck.

You zipper all that stuff into your moneybelt, buckle it around your waist under your clothes, and ain't no pickpocket getting to your goodies.

Actually, I described the waist belt kind, but there are other flavors, including one that hangs around your neck like a tiny purse (unless you have six-pack abs, this tends to accentuate your belly with a big rectangle), one you strap to your ankle, and one that attaches to your belt by a loop and hangs down your pant leg (smaller, and awkward in that you have to reach waaay down your pants to get at it). You can see all of them pictured over on the left.

There are also various silly little models, including one that straps to your wrist (not large enough to hold a passport, hence pointless, to my mind, but some folks like them for carrying around a secret stash of cash and such), plus a sort that clips on to your bra and another—since the guys can't use that—that you wear like a gun holster (it's hawked as being designed for dudes in sports coats or suits, but we really know it's a James Bond fantasy job).

Splash Caddy waterproof moneybeltSurf Safe waterproof holderIf you're going anywhere where swimming might feature in your plans, I recommend carrying along a tiny waterproof moneybelt into which you can put your money, credit cards, and other moneybelt items, seal shut, and take with you into the water. There are two kinds. I've always loved the surf safe (pictured at left), a hard plastic case on a lanyard, but sadly it is too small to fit a passport—just cash, credit cards, and like-sized IDs—so I usually end up taking a flat, felxible Splash Caddy pouch, which works like a waterproof moneybelt (pictured above to the right).

Leather travel belt with hidden zipperIn addition to your moneybelt for carrying your passport, documents, and credit cards, you might also want to wear a traditional leather belt that just so happens to have a hidden zipper on the inside—perfect for hiding some emergency cash, traveler's checks, and an extra copy of that backup info sheet (a photocopy of your passport and other important documents); just fold the bills and such into thirds the long way, layer them, and they'll all fit.

Proper Use and Care of Your Moneybelt

No matter which kind you get, always, always, always wear your moneybelt underneath your clothes, as nature intended it. Sure, they're a pain to get into as you must either reach down your shirt or down the front of your pants every time you want to pay a big restaurant bill, hit the ATM, or check into a hotel.

But keeping this sucker tucked away is the only way it'll work. It’s not that your stuff is "hidden" this way—every thief in Europe knows about Americans and their moneybelts—it's just inaccessible.

Fir extra security, when you hit the bathroom just before bed, re-strap your moneybelt around your upper thigh rather than your waist. It's not unheard of for light-fingered thieves to gently unzip your pants to get at your moneybelt —incredibly creepy, but true. This way, at least your valuables are extra secure. (I do the same on overnight train rides.)

I see countless travelers wearing the waist style on top of their pants like the world's flattest fannypack, or the neck kind bouncing around on their belly like a tiny purse. You can even see through the thin nylon fabric of the things to their passport, traveler's checks, and folded up wad of emergency $20s. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Exposed like this, moneybelts actually make your most precious documents even less safe than they would be if you simply stuffed them in your pockets, the tops sticking out, with convenient little loops attached so pickpocket can more easily relieve you of them.

I tend to go up these people on the street and scold them, so please don't do it yourself. Nothing spoils your day like a deranged and testy travel writer accosting you on a Roman bus and yelling at you about your moneybelt habits.

Incidentally, please leave at home all unnecessary wallet items—library card, gas station credit cards, your membership in the "cheese of the month club" that's good for 10% off on gouda, etc. There's no reason to carry them around the streets of Rome, Paris, and London. While we're on the subject, leave at home all keys but your main house key—that you keep tucked away in your bag somewhere safe.


This article was last updated in March 2008. All information was accurate at the time. | | |
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