How to travel safely with cash is one of the most important challenges all travelers must master. Despite an increasingly card-friendly world, where digital currencies are ever-more widely accepted even in places they weren’t before, there are still many very good reasons to carry cash when you travel. Carrying cash, and keeping it on your person, has important benefits cards cannot accomplish. For example:
- Depending on the country or region, small shops, taxis, or public transport cannot be paid for with cards
- Cash can be used even in the event of a power outage or computer problem
- Depending on your bank, you may encounter daily limits or security authorizations which temporarily lock your card and prevent you from using it
- Cash is usually the best, and sometimes the only, way to give tips, buy items from street vendors, show appreciation for buskers or innumerable other small transactions.
- Cash is a good way to track and manage budgets and make sure you don’t overspend
For these reasons, it’s always a good idea to have at least some cash on you when you travel.
However, traveling with cash also poses additional risks. Some thieves and hustlers specifically target travelers because they expect that they will be carrying cash, and wallets and purses can accidentally be misplaced or lost to snatchers and pickpockets. Unlike digital currency, when cash is gone, it is gone, and being far from home without money can be an unpleasant situation.
If you are traveling with cash, here are some ways how to travel safely with cash.
Use a Money Belt
A money belt is a belt with a concealed pouch where you can carry cash and/or your most important documents, like your passport. Some money belts are literally belts, with zippered compartments on the inside, which look exactly like traditional belts on the outside, and are worn just like any other belt. Some money belts are waist bands with pockets attached, that are designed to go around your waist but under your clothes. Fitted properly and worn properly, they are difficult to see, and a secure way to keep your most essential items on you at all times.
Money belts are more discrete than fanny packs, and keep your money close without drawing the attention of thieves and pickpockets. Also, a pickpocket will find it difficult to discretely rummage around inside your clothes to steal your money without your knowledge. However, in some countries, thieves will hold up tourists and search them for a money belt, because they have become such popular and widely known travel accessories.
Divide Your Money
The downside of a money belt is many tourists begin rummaging around in their clothes when they need to pay for something. Not only is it physically inconvenient, but it lets everyone around you know that you are wearing a money belt. Traveling safely with cash, money belt or not, means dividing your money and concealing the presence of a money belt.
For example, if you have several days’ worth of cash with you, keep most of it in your hotel safe and don’t take it with you when you leave. Keep a larger amount (say, $100) in a money belt, or in a shoe, or other discrete place on your person. And keep $20 in your wallet, purse, or pocketbook as normal, to pay for your smaller transactions as they occur. If you need to take money from your belt and put it in your wallet, do so in a restroom or other private place where no one can see.
Note on hotel safes: If there is a safe in your hotel room, test it by opening it, closing it, locking it, and unlocking it again before you put anything of value inside. Try a few different ways to open it without unlocking it; some travelers have found, to their dismay, their hotel safe can easily be opened even when locked, and a defective hotel safe can be a huge problem. If your hotel room does not have a safe, do not leave large amounts of cash in your room. While most hotel staff are honorable people who would not steal from you, it can and does happen. And most hotels do not protect guests from theft.
There are many advantages to dividing your money:
- Keeping most of your money in a safe helps you stay on a daily budget and not overspend
- It keeps small amounts of cash quick and handy for tips, postcards, bus fare, etc., without requiring slow and embarrassing rummaging around in a money belt
- It keeps your money belt discrete, so people don’t know you are wearing it
- If you open your wallet and people can see inside, it doesn’t look like you are carrying large amounts of cash, which makes you less of a target
- It gives you a convenient place to put and use small change which you may need over the course of the day
- Dividing your money also reduces your risk. If you are pick-pocketed or ripped off, there is a greater chance they will get some, but not all, of your cash
Use a Decoy Wallet to Hide Cash While Travelling
Use a decoy wallet. If you are in a particularly crime-prone place, it’s smart to carry a decoy wallet or pocketbook. If anyone tries to rob you, give them the decoy, and they may leave without getting your real cash supply, which is still secured somewhere else safely on your person.
If you are going to create a decoy wallet, make it persuasive. Don’t just get a cheap wallet and put a couple bucks cash in it. Add one or two old, cancelled credit cards, or expired gift cards, a few business cards, a condom… make sure it looks like a “real” wallet on quick inspection, or you won’t fool your thief.
Cash is still the universal language, where ever you may go, but it’s important to keep it safe and keep yourself safe while you travel. Follow these tips to protect yourself and prevent travel disasters.
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