Travel Security & Safety

One of the biggest questions I get from parents (sometimes students, but usually parents) is if I recommend a money belt or something for kids to keep their belongings safe.

Here are some tips I usually give:

We are generally not traveling to areas riddled with crime. Travelers often are worried a lot about crime, but just as there is crime abroad, there is crime in our hometowns. Don’t assume you’re going to a dangerous area, but also know that wherever you are, you should be aware of your surroundings, and be smart about your personal safety and your belongings. Of course, if you’re going to a very crowded area, or a very economically-depressed (ie “third world”) area, you may want to take more precautions.

Keeping Your Passport Safe

Your passport is the #1 most important thing you have with you when traveling abroad. Some experts advise leaving your passport in the hotel safe. And odds are if you do a home stay, it is safe in the family house.
Call me paranoid, but I personally prefer to have my passport with me at all times. Some would say it’s foolish, after all, if someone snatches my purse or whatever, I would be stuck without it. As a savvy (in my opinion) traveler, I focus on keeping myself safe, and in public spaces, making myself as unlikely a victim as possible. And, I guess, taking my chances beyond that.

Image from Upgradedpoints.com

Keeping Your Money Safe

Yeah, money and credit cards are #2 to protect. There are a few generally simple things everyone can do to minimize the chances of being a victim.

Image at CNBC.com
  1. Don’t keep all your money in one place. Put a reasonable amount of money into your pocket or main wallet area, and hide the rest. Opening your wallet to pay for something while anyone around can see the stack of bills you’ve got just invites attention. And generally as a tourist, attention is not wanted.
  2. Don’t keep all your money, period. Or should I say, don’t HAVE all your money. In most places I’ve gone from Europe to Central America, ATMs are quite commonplace. Occasionally it’s taken a little trial and error to find one compatible with a certain bank card, but that is usually only the hassle of walking an extra block to a different bank. Pull out money as you need it. Often you’ll get a better exchange rate through the ATM than through a money conversion business or bank. And it’s much less of a hassle. (And many ATMs allow you to select “English” for the transaction if you’re worried about being able to make it work. Also, nothing stops you from choosing a language that isn’t English here to practice before you go.)
  3. Don’t keep money. Well, of course you’ll need SOME cash for small things, or shopping in rural areas and at open-air markets. But in many stores and restaurants, just like here, you can pay with a credit card. Just be aware of any foreign transaction fees that your card may charge. (FWIW, the Costco credit card from Citibank does not have foreign transaction fees, and is what I use while traveling.) Also, don’t forget to tell your card you’ll be out of the country so they don’t flag your purchases as suspicious!

Protective/Secure(r) Ways to Carry Your Stuff

  • Money Belt from Bison Designs (Amazon): This looks like an affordable way of hiding money with a pretty young and unisex style…since none of my students are probably going to wear a formal leather belt in the rainforest of Central America. There are several styles in this listing but if you search Amazon there are other listings too.
  • Travel Money Belt (Amazon): Okay, these aren’t so much a belt as they are a flat fanny pack pouch. The one linked here is like $10 but there are other colors/styles/sizes available as you search. The idea behind these is to store all your important stuff under your clothes, close to your belly (don’t wear it in back, you want it where you can see anyone messing with it).
  • Elastic Running Belt (Amazon): I purchased something like this when I did a 5k run. I wanted to keep my hands free without worrying about stuff falling out of my pockets. The one I bought was perfect for my car key, a little money and my ID, and my phone. Some of these are pretty small pouches (although mine is 100% stretchy), so if you’re looking to use it for travel, make sure your passport fits too!
  • Travel Neck Pouch (Amazon): These are possibly one of the least expensive things to purchase, if you purchase something for keeping your stuff. The neck strap (especially if it’s adjustable and leaves a little tail sticking up in back) is a dead giveaway that you’re using one of these, but that doesn’t mean anyone can get at it. So, less subtle than some of the others that can be more hidden under clothing, but probably about as secure as anything else.

What NOT to use to be secure:

There are a few less secure items that often show up in use by travelers. Of course your own awareness of your person & your surroundings will make more of an impact than anything!

Image: worldnomads.com
  • Fanny Pack–Fanny packs (“riñonera” in Spanish) offer very little protection for your items, and when faced with a criminal who is even slightly savvy, easily unhooked and removed from you before you know what is happening.
  • Backpack on your Back–Yeah, backpacks are useful. And worn on the back unless you want to look like a bit of a weirdo. But a backpack is typically not a very secure way of transporting your belongings. You can’t see it, and often can’t feel if someone gently helps themselves to the contents. Valuables, if carried in a backpack should be kept under other items, hard to see/grab, and if possible, somehow secured down. There are some backpacks that offer more protection. I just ordered one like the image below, and will let you all know how that works. The zipper is actually on the back surface, so cannot be accessed while worn.
Oscaurt Anti-Theft travel backpack (Amazon.com)