Money and backpacking: How to keep your money safe while traveling?

Money and backpacking: How to keep your money safe while traveling?

After working 3 part-time jobs you finally managed to save up enough money for your backpacking dream trip. But I’m sure no one told you that making money was the easy part…. How to hold on to your money will be your biggest challenge and especially when traveling solo. The practical tips below helped me to keep my cash safe during my travels and also prepared me in case one of my bags got stolen. Fortunately this never happened and I hope these ten simple tips will also help you to travel safe and worry-free!

Lock your bag with a simple clip

I pride myself in having sort of invented this, although I’m sure more people use it. I  always lock the zipper of my small cross-over bag with a simple open-close key clip. It’s an extremely simple measure, but it will make it more difficult to quickly unzip your bag and steal your wallet. I especially felt safer in crowded streets, busses etc.

P.s. I hate money belts! I tried them several times, but I find them uncomfortable and bulky. I prefer normal bags. Curious to hear your experiences though.

Backpacking money safety tips

Keep some small change in your pockets

I also always kept some small change (the equivalent of about 5 USD) in my pocket or in the front compartment of my bag. This way I didn’t need to take out my tempting cash-filled wallet every time I bought a bottle of water.

Have your emergency numbers with you

Have your emergency numbers printed out and keep them in your bags and in your email box.

Boat Laos

Take some US dollars with you

USD always come in handy at border crossings or you can simply use them to exchange for local currency (know your currency rates!)

Don’t keep your eggs in one basket

Keep money in separate places. In my case I traveled with a daypack, a small cross-over shoulder bag and a backpack. I had the biggest amount of cash in the shoulder bag (which I carried on me at all times. Sometimes even while sleeping!) and small amounts of cash (like 50 USD) in each of the other bags. I also carried copies of my passport in each bag.

Entering Cambodia

Hide money in a lipstick

Leaving your backpack behind with money in it may feel uncomfortable. Housekeeping and fellow travelers have easy access to it while you’re out exploring. Therefore, hide the money in something unusual such as an empty lipstick or in a small Kleenex tissue pack. 

Bring different types of plastic 

It depends on the local bank which cards you will be able to use. Make sure to bring different types of plastic such as Maestro, Mastercard and VISA and hide them separately in case one or more of your bags get stolen.

Have enough money in your bank account

Another tip: have enough money in your bank account, but not too much in case the bad guys gets hold of your card (and in some nasty ‘forcing-you-to-withdraw-money’ scam on you). It’s better to transfer money from your savings account to your checking account every few weeks.

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Always keep an eye on your luggage

Even during stops of long-distance buses I often checked if there were people opening the luggage compartment. Also, in night trains: have your luggage as close to you as possible. I usually knotted one of the backpack ropes to a rack. It’s not theft proof, but it at least made it a bit more difficult for possible thieves (especially with my excellent knots). A better option would be to use pad locks though.

Don’t flash!

Don’t dress too richly and flashy. On my backpacking trips I didn’t wear jewelry, a watch or fancy-looking clothes. I also always brought as few things of value as possible. All things of value fitted in my small hand bag, so that was the item I cared about most and protected with my life. The less you carry with you, the less you have to worry about ;). This tip can also be found in this article about safety for adventurous solo backpackers .

I once almost got mugged in India. I was walking though the crowded Mumbai streets when I suddenly felt movement in my small backpack (on my back). It all went really quickly and before I realized I was being mugged, the ‘thieves’ had already disappeared in the crowds. I remember shouting ‘HEY!’ without any effect (of course). Fortunately, they had only unzipped my front compartment which held a plastic bag with anti-motion sickness tablets. Obviously, those were no use and they had dropped the bag on the street, so I ended up losing nothing. 

Have you ever been mugged? Do you have any other tips? And do you use a money belt?

Also read these 11 essential safety tips for solo travelers!

Become Master of Haggling with these tips! 

Meet 'travel mastermind' Manouk: a 29-year-old sassy girl from Rotterdam, the Netherlands. With BoB she inspires you to explore the world, meet the unexpected and follow your dreams. Happy travels!

22 COMMENTS

  1. Hey Manouk

    Great tips!! I’m also very anti-money belt. In my opinion, they mark you out as a worried tourist and make you more of a target. Plus they’re so hard to get into when you want money yourself!

    I always wear a bag with a long strap across my body and put my arm over it. This body posture doesn’t look protective or worried, but it also means no one could get into my bag without brushing my arm. I also keep some money and a spare card in my big backpack in case my smaller one is stolen, and if I’m using a smaller backpack I always do a version of what you said about clipping it together – I have a zipper pull on one zip and I loop it through the other. Takes me a few extra seconds to get into my bag, but makes it hard for anyone else to get quickly in and out too!

    I like your lipstick tube idea! I might try something like that next time. :-)

    Martina

    • Thanks Martina! Seems like we’re using the same safety measures :)! Excellent point about the body posture by the way. You don’t want to look too worried or protective, because that will attract the ‘thieves’. A confident ‘I-know-what-I’m-doing-attitude’ would better! And those few extra seconds may have avoid a lot of trouble. Who knows ;)!

  2. That lipstick tip is genius! I’ve haven’t been mugged, but I did catch pick-pockets trying to get into my purse in Madrid. I yelped involuntarily with surprise, which was enough to scare them and they ran off.

    My other tip wearing a cross-body bag/purse with a zipper when I’m out I keep the purse on the front of my body, and my put hand over it when I’m moving through crowds. Oh, and I’ve been known to bury money in the upholstery of hotel room furniture, but I wouldn’t recommend that! Even though no one found it, it was difficult for me to relocate, as well:)

    I do wear a money belt, but more for my passport when I’m in transit with all of my stuff. However, it has a way of pooching out that looks really ridiculous unless I wear a baggy shirt.

    • Haha yes! But I normally use a pack of Kleenex to be honest. I hid some bank notes within one of the tissues :) Haha burying money in furniture…? Love that! But beside not being to re-locate, there is also a risk in forgetting about it (–> I would probably forget). Yeah, I guess money belts could be useful for those sort of things :)

  3. Thanx for the tips!
    Within 3 days I’ll leave the Netherlands to travel to Myanmar, Thailand & Cambodia.
    So these come in handy :)

    • Hi Juul! You’re welcome. Glad you found it useful. It looks like ‘a lot’, but during my travels I never gave it much thought. Go with the flow, use common sense and you’ll be fine :) Have an amazing trip!!

    • Hey ya Paula! You mean a Pacsafe bag protector? I’ve never seen them during my travels, but they indeed look useful for in dorms and stuff :)! Thanks for the tip. Peace of mind is worth a lot ;)!

  4. Always good to read how other travellers protect their money and gear! I have something similar as your #1 tip, Manouk. One of my cross-over bags has a sort of fancy carabiner hook. If I lock in the eye of the zipper, it’s hardly impossible to open it quickly.

    I have a very small, foldable wallet, well, it’s more a pouch. It’s a free promotion thing, ugly, but I treasure it (that’s why I’ve been repairing and sewing it for already 3 times..). Because it is so small and foldable I can put it in my bra, in my pockets, even on my head under a cap! It contains my bankcard, a copy of my passport with emergency numbers on it and some information about me, and of course money. In South America I used to put that pouch in my bra (armpit area) so nobody could see it.

    I have more tips but it’s too much to write it all down here. Maybe I should write in a blog sometime :)

    • Hi Lia! The ‘hide-in-bra’ tip is a good one! Never tried it though, but pickpockets want get to it at least ;)! And yes, you should totally blog about it!! We can always use more tips!

  5. Well, these are very good tips to protect yourself against a typical pickpocketer, but don’t really work when you meet a serious criminal. I tried all of them (money belt, clip, hiding money everywhere, dollars and other currencies, various bank accounts), but once someone threatens you with a knife, like they did to me, it’s not enough. Sometimes I keep my cash in a bra too, but it doesn’t work well when it’s extremely hot. Staying safe while traveling is a difficult thing. Cheers and safe travels! :)

  6. Hi Justyna, these tips were indeed focussed on pickpockets. But you’re right, it won’t stop the real criminals and you just have to hope you don’t meet one of those on the road. You can only do so much. I know you got violently robbed which is awful and I’m glad you’re fine! Safe travels girl!!

  7. Great advice Manouk. I hate money belts too, although I did use mine for sleeping on buses in South America. The clip idea is great and money lipstick is definitely a good one. A friend of mine had a secret pocket in her normal belt- it wasn’t bulky and just a good place to hide big notes or emergency US dollars. Thanks for sharing!

  8. Hey these are great tips. :)

    I was wondering if there were any other tips for someone like myself who is taking quite a lot of money out at once (around the region of £750 Pound Sterling. I’m not keen on keeping it in my backpack in any hostel. I’d rather have it with me, but then, the whole don’t keep your eggs in one basket thing.

    Any suggestions?

    • Hey Nada! I’d definitely carry most of your money on you. However, never show that you carry large amounts of money with you. You could also try a money belt or a ‘bra silk pocket’ to hide your biggest notes. Hide like 50 GBP as a back-up money in your other bags (such as your backpack). That being said, if you have a reliable safe in the hostel, you could consider to leave some of your big notes there? I actually just bought a Pacsafe 5L safe. This may be also something consider if you spend a lot of time in hostels! I’m going to take my Pacsafe to Sri Lanka this april and I plan to write review after I got back :)! Anyway, hope this was useful!

  9. Has anybody actually had experience of things being stolen from their backpacks which are in lockers?

    I was going to take my own padlock to put on my bag and then on the outside locker also.

    I worry about taking all my cash out and about with me even if it is all different places on my body because I want to be able to relax whilst walking around not panicking about being mugged.

    I was just going to take small amounts of cash and a copy of my passport out and about with me in my bag and pockets and leave my card hidden in my bag?

    It’s so difficult to know what to do!

    But I do have to add i’m extremely clumsy and clearly unaware of my surroundings as I have had things stolen from me several times without me even noticing and that’s in the UK!!

    Sapphire x

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