In This Post: How to secure your valuables when you’re out and about exploring, when you’re in transit (with all your bags) or when you find yourself in a not-so-safe place where you are SO obviously a tourist.
When traveling there is, of course, always a risk of being robbed or of simply losing track of your important items. This can happen anywhere, but it’s often of most concern when on the road because you stick out, you’re moving around a lot, or you’re taking rogue transit methods.
While I try to explore with as few possessions as possible on my person, sometimes carrying the basics like money, a map (aka your cellphone), passport or a camera is necessary. And thus, here are some tips for securing items if/when you must take them out with you!
How to Secure Your Valuables On Your Person
Know When To Be Extra Careful
The first step is being aware of your surroundings, and identifying when you are most at risk. The following are places you should generally be on alert:
- Big Cities: No surprises here, some part of most any city in the world requires caution.
- Deserted Areas: It’s easier for someone to threaten or rob you if you’re on a deserted street than a busy area (there you can yell for help, others can intervene, etc.).
- Conversely, Very Busy Areas: Think plazas, subways, crowded places. With tons of people around, a casual “bump” (aka robbery) will go unnoticed.
- When You’re Clearly Visiting: Even if you aren’t doing “touristy” things like snapping photos every 20 seconds in a souvenir tee, sometimes you’re clearly an outsider (oh hi people with blonde hair in Asia) and that makes you more of a target.
- Major Tourist Attractions: While these provide safety in numbers, they’re also a pickpocket’s playground with multitudes of potential victims in one place — and distracted ones at that.
Select & Protect Your Bag/Backpack/Purse Carefully
Don’t Bring A Bag
This is my #1 recommendation if you’re in an area of high concern. Leave most items behind secured in your hostel. If a would-be robber has a choice between someone with a purse or camera on their shoulder or maybe something in their pocket, who will they choose?
If you must bring a bag, do the following:
- Bring a cross body purse, keeping the zipper towards your body. It’s harder to snatch and can be kept in front of you.
- Walk with your bag on the “inside,” in between you and your travel companion rather than towards the sidewalk/road. This prevents people walking by from easily grabbing it.
- Wear backpacks to the front, or move them to the front in risky/crowded areas (IE subway). This will prevent someone from grabbing items from your pack unbeknownst to you.
- Keep an eye on your stuff. If you’re on a bus, don’t put a bag with your wallet/computer/valuable items up on the top rack and go to sleep. Seriously, just use common sense.
Observe The Locals
When I’m unsure about of a certain area is safe, when for example I get excited and wander off my planned path or get wildly lost (basically every day occurrences), I take a cue from others. What are the locals doing with their bags? Are they walking with them in back, in front? Are they holding smartphones on the street or no? Their behavior will tell you everything you need to know.
If others are exercising caution you should absolutely do so as well.
Mimic their behavior and stay alert if they are — especially if you stand our or are maybe wearing that tourist tee you couldn’t resist buying. If no one else on the street is using their phone, do not pull yours out. If everyone is wearing their backpacks in front on a certain subway, do the same.
Sneakily Hide Items On Your Person
There are many ways to hide things on your body. EVEN if you are wearing a tank top and shorts. EVEN if you have no bag with you whatsoever. You can always put it in your underwear…
[For The Girls] Use Your Sports Bra
Seriously, a lot can fit in there. Your passport, for example. Shove it in there. Cash can go in there, and even cell phones (no really – we tried it). This also works and is even more inconspicuous with shirts/dresses/bathing suits with removable padding. The items will stay safe and invisible…things only become slightly awkward when you need to get something out.
Keep “Emergency Money” In Your Underwear
Gross? Kind of. Weird? Definitely. Unnecessary? Maybe. But if you’re in a risky area or are just a super paranoid person, keeping a small amount of cash in your underwear ensures you can still travel back to your hotel even if something happens to your bag or wallet.
DO NOT Bring Your Passport
I repeat, do NOT bring your passport. Ever. For any reason. Well for any reason other than a legitimate one like going to an airport or renewing a visa.
Use Gear To Hide Stuff On Your Person
Still not sure how to secure your valuables while traveling? Here are a few unexpected gear items that help with stashing your stuff on your body as you go.
A what? I never heard of this before either, but a friend recommended it to me. I bought it because it was kind of cute (ugh) and I like headbands, but it proved its utility by day 3. So what is it? It’s like a bandanna, but made of a single piece of cloth. The packaging advertises myriad uses (18 of them), but I additionally found it wildly useful for carrying and hiding things.
Hiding Camera: In Rio we were convinced we were going to be immediately mugged and/or die due to dramatic warnings and stories from others. It actually t turned out to feel totally fine, but in this paranoid state we wanted to take as few valuables out with us as possible. This lead me to do the strange behavior of putting the multiclava on as a headband and sticking my camera inside in the back part hidden under my hair. It looked as though I had nothing with me at all, I was able to bring my camera without stress, and it stayed absolutely secure all day.
Hiding Money/Credit Cards: Same concept here. This can be done as a hairband, or also with the multiclava wrapped twice around your wrist.
Extreme Maneuver: Put it around your body and hide your passport or whatever in it. It will stay VERY tight on your body, won’t fall out, and can be worn under clothes without detection – kinda like a money belt but less bulky. It’s a bit constricting I will admit, but safety > comfort. This was a good plan when sleeping on a night bus. A more normal thing to do, however, would be to just wear a shirt/jacket with an inside zip pocket…
I discovered this one by accident, when my sister was taking too long in a store. It’s a tiny wallet, nothing fancy, but this brand is super-durable, small, and comes in cool colors (obviously important…). I repeatedly put it in my bra and it was completely invisible, plus my money and cards stayed secure. It can also be stashed in pants pockets or anywhere else.
Don’t feel like shoving cash into your sweaty undies or wrapping a headband around your waist? Fear not, there are some other slightly less intense things you can do…
Decoy Wallet: Carry a “decoy wallet” with a bit of cash and things you can part with. If you’re robbed, hand this guy over while keeping possession of the important stuff.
Pocket Cash: Same concept as above. If robbed, hand this over rather than everything you have.
Split Money Up: If you must carry a lot of cash or items, for example when you’re in transit with all your bags, split it up – either on your person (some in pocket, some in bag) or among people if you’re not alone (each take some). If one person or bag is compromised, you won’t lose it all.
Use Your Sock: Tried and true method of hiding things, verified by many a traveler, although nearly not as creative as my recommendations above.