Although effective when used prudently, money belts aren’t the only way of hiding valuables on your person whilst backpacking. There are a number of other ways you can do so should you either chose not to use a money belt or simply don’t want to fork out for one...
The list is by no means exhaustive, but in this article we share a few of the more common places you can stash your stash.
Here are a few suggestions and pointers on where to start:-
In socks/shoes/underwear – A few folded notes slid right down between your ankle bone and the sock with do the job for shorter periods of time although this may not be ideal if you are doing a lot of walking. If, like me, you always wear white socks with your brown leather sandals then this is always an option…
Even better in my opinion though is to put a bit of cash and a card into a small Ziploc bag and pop that down the front of your undercrackers (as long as they are not too loose or holey!) – if you get mugged, it’s more likely that you’ll lose your shoes (and therefore your cash) than your undies. Some backpackers have told me that they also do the same thing but inside their bra, so that’s another option for the girls.
In trouser waistband – cut a small slit vertically on the inside of your trouser waistband (only just big enough to get your thumb into) and push a smallish roll of notes inside it. Just remember to remove any cash before you wash your favourite backpacking pants.
In a hidden pocket in trousers – This is a bit of a backpacker favourite, and for good reason. Now, there are many ways to go about this and it can be pretty effective, especially if you are a little creative with where you put the pocket. If you’re not sure how to make a cheap hidden pocket, there’s a neat little guide here.
If you are patted down, however, even a hidden pocket may be found if it’s behind an existing pocket, so consider putting it elsewhere. A credit card sized pocket can easily be sewn into the bottom of the inside of a trouser leg and can go completely unnoticed. I’ve carried a spare card and a small fold of notes like this for years and so far, touch wood, it’s never been detected – even by airport staff during searches. The only risk here though is actually breaking the card yourself, as I did once. One night, whilst undressing after a bit of a heavy one in Arizona, I drunkenly ‘trod’ my trousers off and accidentally stepped on the card in the process. I heard a little snapping noise in the dark that evening but only realised the gravity of the situation the following morning – so beware!
This kind of pocket can be secured at the top with a little Velcro (one strip on the inside of the trouser leg and one on the piece of pocket material). Even if you don’t use it for a spare card then it’s still a great place to stash money (again, in a Ziploc bag). If your trousers wear out then simply cut the pocket off and ask a sew-sew to put it back in your replacement pants or do it yourself. It’ll probably only cost a couple of bucks for someone else to sew in and may end up saving you a lot more.
There are plenty of other options, too. For example, someone recently left a comment on the hidden money belt article sharing with us how they hide money actually inside a hand made, copper tube necklace. Obviously it’d have to be pretty innocuous and seem of little value so not to entice or encourage thieves, but it is most definitely another option.
Even without hidden pockets and other hidey-holes, there are other tips that may help to limit damage if you were to get robbed.
Fake wallet – keep some of your more valuable backpacking possessions in an obscure pocket (easier to do if you have cargo pants etc with plenty of pockets) and have an obvious one with a cheapo ‘fake wallet’ with a few dollars in it. If you were to get robbed then, even if its only a slim chance, it may throw your assailants of the scent – ie they may well think they have got what they came for. You could even go as far as giving an Oscar winning display of panic, chucking it on the floor - away from both you and them – and getting the hell out of there quick time. It may sound a little over the top, but it’s another option nonetheless
Carry only what you need – If it’s safer to stash things at your guesthouse/hostel than on you then do that. Sometimes it will be safer, other times it won’t. Again you have to evaluate the risk. Also, if you do draw a chunk of money out, try to do it on the way back to your guesthouse as opposed to just before you go exploring for the day – you never know how many pairs of eyes may see you make the trip to the ATM.
Split your valuables – If you do have to carry valuables on you whilst backpacking, have them in at least two places. Again, it works on the same principle as the fake wallet. If someone finds one half decent stash of money then they may think they’ve got what they came for. You could end up losing some things, but maybe not everything. It can be a little risky, of course, as if both lots are found they may delve deeper thinking that there must be more money hidden. It’s something only you can assess at the time.
Use pockets with fasteners – You’re more likely to lose valuables to stealthy opportunists such as pickpockets than you are to direct confrontation – so don’t make it easy for them. If you have pockets with zippers, buttons or Velcro, for instance, get into the habit of using those instead of open pockets – and get into the habit of re-securing them afterwards. When I get a new pair of pants, I want them to have good, secure pockets. I even try them out (sad, I know…). But the fiddlier they are to open, the more secure they will be!
Of course, prevention is always better than cure. If you take all reasonable steps to avoid getting into a situation where you could be parted from your money (such as by learning about the area you are backpacking through, staying alert, not overtly display signs of wealth such as cameras, or unnecessarily exploring new areas after dark etc), then you can drastically reduce the likelihood of having to deal with this kind of scenario in the first place.