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Despite the fact that I’ve spent almost nine years of my life as a full-time traveler, I’ve only experienced theft one time. To be honest with you, it was due to my own carelessness.
In my experience, theft when you travel is rare, but it can happen. Find out what I did wrong and how to keep your belongings safe and secure with my tried and true tips on how to avoid theft while traveling!
This is a belt similar to the one shown in the above image.
How to Avoid Theft while Traveling
When you’re visiting a major city, whether in South America or Europe or the United States, there’s always a risk you may be pickpocketed.
I’ve been lucky because in almost nine years of full-time travel, I have only had something stolen once, and it was my fault because I left $500 in cash on the unlocked exterior pocket of my backpack.
It happened at a hostel I was staying at and it was a actually fellow traveler, not a local, who stole the money. It was especially disappointing because it was the last week of my around-the-world trip and it was all the money I had left to my name at that point.
However, I definitely learned a valuable lesson. Over the years, I’ve picked up a few tricks of the trade for avoiding theft.
Here are my top 10 tips on avoiding theft while traveling:
- Use Luggage with Lockable Zippers
- Use Anti-Theft Accessories
- Have a Safety Routine When Arriving at the Airport
- Store Your Passport in Locked Luggage
- Avoid Taking Your Passport When Sightseeing
- Look for Purses with Concealed Pockets
- Use a Bra Stash to Store Extra Money and Cards
- Keep Enough Money for the Day in Your Wallet
- Don’t Carry All Credit Cards in Your Wallet
- Travel with Two Wallets
1. Use Luggage with Lockable Zippers
I highly recommend using luggage with a zipper that you can secure with a lock. After having money stolen that one time, I now only travel with a lockable backpack or suitcase.
I remember staying at a hostel in Borneo, and when I returned to my room after a few hours of exploring I could tell by the look of my belongings that people had moved things around. I panicked because I had money, my passport, and electronics inside my backpack.
Luckily, because it was locked, nothing was stolen. However, if my backpack had been top loading without a lockable zipper, I’m sure my stuff would have been stolen.
Read my complete Osprey Ozone 46 review!
2. Use Anti-Theft Accessories
Aside from having a lockable suitcase or lockable backpack in your room, I keep my immediate money and valuables safe by keeping them on me.
While I don’t recommend traveling with extremely valuable and irreplaceable items, if you do, keep it with you at all times, just to be safe. While it doesn’t happen often, even if you have a lock, someone could steal the whole bag.
When carrying valuables on you, don’t toss them in your purse or in a pocket. I recommend using an anti-theft device. I’ve tried a lot over the years, and I’ve found two main anti-theft devices I like to use to protect my items.
One of them is a money belt. Some people don’t like the feeling of a money belt because it presses on your stomach and it can create a strange looking pouch. Plus, if it’s hot and humid, the fabric of a money belt pressed against your skin can feel uncomfortable. If you don’t like the feeling or look of a money pouch, try a neck pouch instead.
Along with a money belt, I like to use a bra stash to store credit cards and cash. However, I never keep my passport in this. You’ll find out why in tips 4 through 7!
Watch my video on TPSY TV for a few of my most recommended anti-theft products.
Items featured in video (in order as shown):
Here’s the best money belts and anti-theft accessories for travel!
3. Have a Safety Routine When Arriving at the Airport
At the airport when I first arrive at my destination, I go straight to the ATM machine and pull money out. Even though the fees are usually a little more expensive, it’s so convenient to have cash on hand right when you arrive, especially if you plan to take public transportation to your hotel.
Next, I go to the restroom and use a private stall to organize my personal belongings. I’ll put my passport in my money belt or whatever anti-theft accessory I’m using, as well as some of the money I pulled out at the ATM. I’ll put the rest of the money in my wallet or another anti-theft device.
In my pocket or purse, I only keep a little big of cash – usually just enough to pay for a taxi or transportation to get to my accommodation.
4. Store Your Passport in Locked Luggage
The absolute last thing you ever want to lose is your passport, so it’s important you keep it safe. Once I’m at my hotel room, I feel that the safest place to keep my passport is in my suitcase or in my backpack. Or, if the hotel has a safe, I’ll keep my passport and my laptop or whatever else I have inside the safe.
But if the hotel or hostel does not doesn’t have a safe, I keep it in my locked bag. For the most part, this is a better alternative to carrying it around with you when you are sightseeing.
Read our top tips for women staying in hostels!
5. Avoid Taking Your Passport When Sightseeing
There will be times when you cannot help but have your passport on you. For example, maybe you just checked out of your hotel and are heading to the airport.
During these instances, make sure that your passport is hidden underneath your clothing.
For more tips, please read how to keep your passport safe while traveling!
6. Look for Purses with Concealed Pockets
For times when I have to take my passport with me, I like to keep it in my personal bag and hide it at the very bottom. I usually take my Rebecca Minkoff Julian backpack, which has a little pocket on the backside of it where I store my passport.
I love the pocket on this backpack because if someone were to open my bag, they wouldn’t necessarily know that there is a hidden back pocket where my passport is. Whichever bag you prefer, make sure to use one with a safe and secure pocket if you’re walking around and sightseeing with your passport.
Read more about the best anti-theft travel bags for women!
7. Use a Bra Stash to Store Money and Cards
Earlier, I mentioned that I store some of my money in a money belt and the rest of it in a bra stash when I’m walking around sightseeing. There are a few different types of bras stashes available, including some good ones from Pacsafe, Travelon, and Eagle Creek.
For me, a bra stash is one of my all-time essentials, and it’s something I always travel with even if I don’t bring a money belt.
One strategy I use when I go to the ATM is to pull money out and pretend to put it in my purse. This serves as a safety precaution because if someone was watching, they would think I was putting the cash into my purse when I’m not. Instead, I put it inside my jean pocket or pass it to my husband. Once we’re in a store, we’ll quickly distribute where the money is going to go.
The bulk of the money I keep on hand goes in my bra stash, as it’s not bulky and it’s something I can travel with on me all the time as opposed to having a money belt on me. My credit card also goes in my bra stash.
There are a couple of ways you can wear a bra stash. You can either put it in the middle of your bra or on the side, but I think it’s more comfortable to carry it on my side.
Buy a bra stash here!
8. Keep Enough Money for the Day in Your Wallet
As I shared earlier, I keep the bulk of my money in my bra stash. However, there’s one important detail to this: I keep what I need for the day in my pocket, purse, wallet, or wherever I’m going to store my money. This way, I don’t have to dig into my bra or money belt awkwardly or uncomfortably every single time I need to access money.
I see this happen a lot. Travelers will get their money belt out and dig through everything so they can find what they need. This isn’t very safe as now everyone knows how much money you have and where you store it.
It’s important to be discreet, hide it, and then only keep just what you need on you for the day and have it easily accessible in your wallet.
Find out why cross body purses are the best travel shoulder bags!
9. Don’t Carry All Your Money in Your Wallet
I always recommend distributing your money in different bags and suitcases if you are traveling with someone else. Split where you store your money, passports, and valuables. This can be in your bra stash, your wallet, a money belt, and your locked luggage back in your hotel room.
In my experience, this is especially important when you are walking away from the ATM. A friend of mine was in Italy and when he went to the ATM, he took out over 300 Euros and put all of it in his wallet. Somebody must have been watching because not too long after, his wallet was stolen and he lost all of his cash.
This is why I like to do my “fake wallet” move, where I pretend to put money in one place when I actually store it somewhere else.
10. Travel with Two Wallets
Along with a “fake wallet” move, I recommend traveling with two wallets. Put a few bills in one wallet and a larger amount of money in the other wallet. My husband and I did this in Central America. In case we were ever robbed, we could hand over the wallet with the least amount of money in it and keep the other wallet.
Luckily, I’ve never actually been in that situation, but it’s a nice preventative measure. For example, during our Central America trip, we would leave what I call an “offering.” At a hostel, we’d leave one wallet with a $20 bill and a fake credit card underneath the pillow. In theory, most theft is opportunistic, so thieves grab and go.
If someone were to come into our hostel room, they would find our “hidden stash” underneath the pillow, grab the wallet, and leave feeling satisfied that they had struck gold. They’d then be less likely to go through our suitcases and backpacks with our valuables.
This actually worked during this trip! We did this in a hostel in Guatemala and Antigua. When we came back after a day of sightseeing, the wallet was gone but everything else was left in the room undisturbed. Thankfully, we only lost $20 and a fake credit card.
Travelon Anti Theft Cross Body Bag – best seller!
11. Bonus Tip: Use an Anti-theft Purse
I’m a big fan of anti-theft bags. These are different than a standard bag. An anti-theft bag is a purse, backpack, or luggage with built-in safety features. It’s designed to help you avoid becoming a victim of theft at home or abroad.
Since pickpockets tend to target busy tourist areas in large cities all over the world, some female travelers feel safer with an anti-theft purse instead of a regular purse.
Whether you choose to use anti-theft travel bags for women or regular purses, always follow these precautions:
- Choose a crossbody purse and always wear the strap across your body. Don’t wear the strap hung over one shoulder.
- Have your bag positioned towards the front, not against your back side.
- Hold your purse close to you when in crowded areas or on public transportation.
- Avoid walking next to the street where your travel purse could be yanked from your arm by a motorbike or vehicle.
- Look up scams and thefts in your travel destination. For example, search topics like “Bali scams” or “tourist theft risks in London”.
Found out the top five anti-theft purses here!
Watch the video above for more tips on how to keep your stuff safe while traveling.
While it’s important to take anti-theft precautions, don’t feel paranoid when traveling. The world isn’t as scary of a place as it may seem sometimes. Have a good time and maintain awareness of your surroundings!
What are your tips on how to avoid theft while traveling? Share in the comments below!
For more anti-theft travel tips, please read:
- Money Belts and Anti-theft Accessories
- Best Anti-theft Bags for Women
- 6 Tools to Protect You From Pickpockets
- How To Keep Your Passport Safe While Traveling
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