That little girl who came up to you in Rome looked so sweet and innocent -- until you realized that she was just distracting you while her father picked your pocket! Unfortunately, this type of petty crime is all too common around the world, especially in popular tourist areas. Whether they're fumbling through guidebooks or gawking at new sights, tourists are often unaware of their surroundings, making them easy prey for thieves. Luckily, a little bit of common sense and preparation can go a long way toward keeping this from happening to you. The following tips will help you keep your money safe when you travel.
Where to Keep Your Valuables
The most important rule of the road is to make sure you keep your money, credit and debit cards, and passport in a money pouch at all times while you're in transit. We don't recommend carrying anything valuable in a purse, which is too easily snatched, or a backpack, which can be opened without your noticing. Even a wallet kept in your front pocket can be taken by an experienced pickpocket.
We recommend wearing a money pouch that can be concealed under your clothing. Some pouches attach to your belt, while others are worn around the neck, waist or calf. These are particularly important if you're sleeping on a train, standing on a crowded subway or staying in a hotel that is not very secure. Choose one that is comfortable and practical for where you're traveling. You can buy money pouches at Magellans.com or other travel stores.
Money pouches are certainly not the only way to avoid theft. There are key chains, belts and cases, all of which are available for less than $40.
Aren't your valuables secure if you leave them in your hotel safe? Not necessarily. Hotel safes are not particularly difficult to break into (see the video below), and many hotels don't accept liability for the loss of any items put into them.
Try not to carry all of your valuables in the same place. If you're traveling with a companion, make sure each of you has some cash and a credit card on hand in case you're split up or one of you is robbed. If you're alone, keep a backup credit or debit card in a separate pouch from the one you'll be using most often. Some travelers carry a dummy wallet stuffed with an expired credit card and a few bills to toss on the ground as a diversion when confronted by thieves.
While most valuables should be safely hidden away, you may want to keep a small amount of local currency in a separate pocket or pouch where it's easily accessible; that way you're not flashing your cash each time you want to make a purchase.
Another good tip is to make two copies of your passport, driver's license, credit cards, ATM cards and any other important documents you might be carrying. Leave one copy at home with someone you can reach in an emergency. Keep the other set with you in a safe place separate from the originals. Another option is to take a photo of your documents and keep them on your smartphone (which should, of course, be password-protected).
Safety at the ATM
Since your ATM card is a direct link to your financial savings, guard it at least as carefully as you would cash or other valuables. Visa offers these tips for ATM safety:
- Make sure that no one waiting behind you can see you entering your PIN number.
- Be sure to take your ATM receipt with you.
- Be aware of your surroundings. If the machine is poorly lit or in a hidden area, use another location.
- Don't count your cash or rummage through your personal items while standing at the ATM.
- If you are using an indoor ATM that requires your card to open the door, avoid letting anyone come in with you that you do not know.
- When using a drive-through ATM, lock your car doors. When walking up, never leave your car running or unlocked.
- If you lose your ATM card, immediately contact the financial institution that issued it.
More Money Safety Tips from Our Readers
"I cannot stress enough how important it is to always have your papers, cards and money as close to your body as possible. There are several different kinds of small items one can purchase in which to place these valuable items so that they are near to you at all times. The only type of thing you should carry in your daypack is your guidebook, maps, snacks and any other item you might need for the day but could live without should it be taken." -- Host Bonjour
"I always wear a money belt around my waist under my clothes when I travel. I have learned to safety-pin it on also, as I had the clasp fail on one and the belt fall off. Luckily for me, my son spotted it right away and picked it up." -- sunnyflies
"When on vacation I carry my money and other valuables inside my bra cup. It's the safest way I know -- I even do it at home in the local shopping mall. Usually I don't have pockets and don't like dragging a handbag around." -- linda 617
"My girlfriend and I each use the kind of zippered pouch that hangs inside the pants, from a belt loop, or secured with a safety pin inside the waist seam in her case when she's not wearing a belt. It's easy to yank up and out when needed, and to stuff it back down, no need to go for a private corner somewhere. My girlfriend also has a kid's zippered little plastic wallet on a chain for coins and subway tickets, etc. I have a real wallet on a chain but only for minor sums of cash and business cards, etc; my credit cards and airline tix and passport are in the hanging pouch. Works even with shorts in summer." -- ongmont
"A friend successfully evaded a mugging by doing the following: He had a few dollars in a throwaway wallet. When approached by a mugger, he tossed the wallet, screamed 'Take it, just don't hurt me' and ran in the opposite direction while the mugger concentrated on the wallet." -- Pickles47
Finally, keep in mind that these days it's not enough to protect your physical belongings. Don't miss 11 Ways to Prevent Identity Theft While Traveling.
How do you keep your money safe when you travel?
--updated by Sarah Schlichter