This wearable safe for keeping your passport, credit cards, and spare cash secure is the one indispensable accessory every traveler loves to hate
Picture a fanny pack (Brits: picture a bum bag). Now picture Wiley E. Coyote running over it with a steamroller. That's your 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, bank ATM cards and credit cards, B&B vouchers, emergency cash, spare copy of your backup info sheet, and anything else that would ruin your trip were you to lose it to pickpockets or bad luck.
You zipper all that stuff in there, buckle it around your waist under your clothes, and ain't no pickpocket getting to your goodies.
The different kinds of moneybelt
Up above, I described the classic, waist belt kind of moneybelt, 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), and one that attaches to your belt by a loop and hangs down your pant leg (also small, and awkward in that you have to reach waaay down your pants to get at it).
There are also various silly little models, including those that strap to your ankle 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 to your bra (again, too small for passports).
Also, if you're going anywhere where swimming might feature in your plans, I recommend carrying along a waterproof moneybelt into which you can put your moneybelt items, seal shut, and take with you into the water.
Actual "money belts"—Leather belts with a secret zippered pocket
In 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 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—wide British pounds may have to be done into quarters—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 moneybelt—it's just that it keeps your valuable documents inaccessible to them.
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, credit cards, 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 London bus and yelling at you about your moneybelt habits.
Do not carry what you do not need
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 London.
While we're on the subject, leave at home all keys but your main house key—that you keep tucked away in your main bag, somewhere safe.
- REI.com - Since 1938, one of the best all-around outdoors, camping, and adventure travel outfitter, with just about everything you need, whether you're a novice or a hard-core enthusiast. Lots of high-tech clothing designed for heavy-duty wear, tear, travel, and sport, plus everything from packs to personal mosquito nets to biodegradable detergent—and of course, all the basic gear for camping, hiking, mountaineering, mountain biking, skiing, canoeing and kayaking. It's actually run as a co-op, so if you become a member ($15 to join for life), you get 8% cash back on your purchases at the store at the end of the year (10% back if you use the no-fee, free credit card they give you, which also generates 1% back on non-REI purchases). They also have a special clearance-sale section.Partner
- Travelsmith.com - One of the best catalogues out there for travelers (not so much outdoorsy stuff), with high-quality clothing and luggage (and some gadgets) carefully selected or adapted to be perfect for traveling—durable, versatile, wrinkle-resistant, lots of hidden pockets, and sometimes even stylish. My wardrobe's full of stuff with their label on it—though in recent years, they seem to have become increasingly concerned with offering more and more fashion clothing than their old focus on true travel gear. Sad. Also, I should note that some women (my mom and my wife, to be precise) report that the women's clothing is a bit more hit-or-miss—usually excellent, but sometime a big let-down in terms of quality or looks.
- eBags.com - The name really says it all, doesn't it? This is the single best online outlet to compare every concievable type of bag, suitcase, pack, purse, backpack, shoulder bag, duffel, and every other conceivable form of carrying-your-stuff travel container out there—along with related accessories. Good prices, too.Partner
- LLBean.com - This Maine camping clothier and catalogue legend was selling flannel shirts long before Seattle produced its first garage band, and decades before J. Crew and Banana Republic co-opted the outdoorsy look and made it Yuppie. Their travel specialty gear is, as with most of their stock, head and shoulders above anyone else for durability, quality, and utility (if not always style). Best of all: "We guarantee all items for the useful life of the product." That statement is what has hooked people on this storied outfitter since it sold its first pair of boots in 1912. (Its original bricks-and-mortar store in Freeport, Maine became such a site of pilgrimage for vacationing fans of its catalog that it single handedly created the town's now world-famous outlet store industry.)
- Magellans.com - Clothing, luggage, and lots of travel gadgets—some exceedingly useful, others merely ridiculous exercises in technology (seriously, who needs a portable oxygen mask, or a silver case that automatically dispenses credit cards?). Their prices could be lower, but they do carry some prime merchandise difficult to find elsewhere and Magellan's really is the place to go when you're seeking some obscure but useful travel gadget (and I don't mean the collapsible Lexan wine glasses).
- Amazon.com - An obvious one, but a good resource to remember. Everybody's favorite one-stop shopping site on the Internet carries just about anything you could think of.Partner
On overnight train rides (and in hostels and other shared accommodations), I tend to excuse myself to the bathroom just before bed to brush my teeth (with bottled water, of course; you can't drink the water on trains), and while there re-strap my moneybelt around my upper thigh rather than my 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.