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Do I Really Need to Travel With a Money Belt?

To some money belts are peace of mind, but to others they are a totally unnecessary annoyance. I wore the classic Eagle Creek Security Belt on my first backpacking trip through Europe and man did I grow to hate that thing. Sure it was great to have all my valuables hidden from sight, but oh how I couldn’t stand the stench of it at the end of the day. It smelled just like my arm did after a month in a cast and no amount of sink cleaning could get it smelling fresh again.
For those unfamiliar with the joys of money belts, they are slim pouches worn around your waist just large enough to accommodate your passport, credit cards, Eurorail pass, and other valuable documents. The belt wraps around your waist and typically fastens in the back so the pouch is accessible from the front. The belt is nicely concealed under your top unless you’re wearing a belly shirt or uber tight tank.

Pros of Using a Money Belt When Traveling

  1. Secure – It’s nice to have your valuables close to you body where you can feel them. It would be near impossible, unless you were passed out in a snow bank, for someone to rob you without you knowing.
  2. Hidden From Sight – Your valuable documents, cash, and credit cards are completely hidden from sight.
  3. Distribute the Wealth – When traveling, it is a pretty good idea to distribute your cash, credit cards, and copies of your passport in different locations so in case one of your stash spots gets stolen you don’t lose everything. The money belt is just one more place to stow your goods.

Cons of Using a Money Belt When Traveling

  1. Look Like a Tourist – You pretty much look like a tool when you have to pull up your shirt and dig in your belly to pay the street vendor for your pomme frites.
  2. Incompatible With Certain Outfits – Dresses, tight tanks, and halter tops don’t really work with a money belt.
  3. Sweaty, Sweat, Sweatness – They can be pretty uncomfortable especially in sticky hot climates, plus they can make your cash and papers soggy as heck too.
  4. Not so Secret – Sure it would be pretty difficult for someone to steal that money belt off you, but it can still happen. Many backpackers stash all their valuables in the belt thinking they’re totally invincible with their cleverly concealed belt. Thing is they’re not so secret and thieves know you’re carrying them.

Money Belt Alternatives

Personally I like to be comfortable and I think there are just as effective ways to protect your belongings.

  1. Travel With Confidence – I am convinced you can get away with carrying a purse if you act like a local. If you try to blend in, which means no maps, cameras, or fanny packs, and try hard not to look like a tourist you should pretty well be left alone.
  2. Be Aware of Your Surroundings – When I travel, I often store my important documents in a small purse like the REI Travel Day Bag, which I keep in front of me at all times (overhead, around one shoulder and tucked under the opposite arm). I keep aware of my surroundings and aware of my purse at all times and I’ve never had the slightest of problems.
  3. Clothing with Discrete Pockets – Plenty of clothing companies make items with hidden internal pockets. Stash your cash in a zippered front shirt pocket and your credit card in an internal vest pocket and I doubt you will have any trouble. Scottevest makes travel clothing with more pockets than you can count. The only way a thief could rob you of all your belongings is to take your pants and the shirt off your back.

How about you? Money belt yay or nay?
[Photo courtesy of Richard Faulder]