People that are new to travel continually ask: should you get a money belt for traveling abroad? The short answer is “No”, and here’s why…
It doesn’t increase your safety
I’m not sure how other people in the world behave, but in America we are very conscious of our personal space. Everywhere 1 meter around us is basically off-limits to strangers, and we get anxious when someone comes into our “bubble”. This is actually a great thing for traveling!
When we travel, we are voluntarily putting ourselves in potentially dangerous situations:
- Foreign country
- Don’t speak the language
- Not familiar with surroundings
- No one knows exactly where we are
- Inept police
- It’s obvious we are foreigners
How does a money belt solve these problems? It doesn’t. Keeping a healthy suspicion up around strangers will not only protect your wallet, but also your life.
Do you really think the guy mugging you believes you don’t have money?
The mugger knows you came from halfway across the world to stay here for a week or two. You’re of a different ethnicity, dress differently, and speak another language. You have an iPhone and designer clothing. You flew across the planet and are coming out of a trendy bar that the mugger can’t even afford to enter. And you really think that this guy is going to believe that you have no money?
All you’re doing is pissing off the guy with a gun. Here’s a tip: don’t piss of a guy with a gun.
Think of it as an investment. You’re giving him $200 so you can keep living for a few more decades. It’s so worth it, I’d make sure to give him all the change I had as well.
The mugger is a professional, you’re an amateur
The mugger has done this before. Do you really think that they’ve never encountered these belts? “Darn! Another tourist who only had $5 on him! I guess I should stay in university, because crime doesn’t pay.” Fuck no. The very definition of mugging is forcibly taking something from another person against their will. This is their job.
What about pickpockets?
Why are you letting strangers within 1 meter of you? If you are in a subway type of situation that forces close proximity, why aren’t you paying attention to everyone around you? Pickpockets need you to be distracted before they can work. If you’re alert in your surroundings, you don’t get targeted. Period.
We saw a pickpocket working on a subway in Spain. This woman was very short, under 5 foot, with a coat in one arm. In a crowded subway, it was very easy to lose track of this person. Two women were with their purses hanging over their backs were talking to each other. The pickpocket noticed the purses were open and the women not paying attention. She put the coat over the purse so others couldn’t see she was rummaging around in there. One of the other passengers who wasn’t completely oblivious tapped the woman on the arm to notice the pickpocket. Everyone backed away in a circle from the would-be thief, who got off on the next stop.
Don’t let people get close to you. It’s not like you’re missing out on surprise hugs that strangers will give.
Credit cards are extremely safe from fraud
Fraud prevention on credit cards is astoundingly good. Two weeks after we got back from Thailand, we get a call from the credit card company:
Hi, I’m with Wells Fargo and just checking up on something. Are you in Germany right now?
OK, it seems there’s been a large transaction at a convenience store and we’ve shut down the card. Someone must have gotten the information off of it. We’ll send you a new one right away. You won’t be charged for their purchase.
Other times when we try to book through a foreign website, our phone will ring within a minute of the transaction. It’s the bank wondering if it’s a fraudulent purchase and they want to confirm it.
Not only are the banks really good at catching fraud, you’re not liable if someone does rack up fraudulent charges on it! Give it to the robber with a smile, and cancel the card as you walk away. This is why “express kidnappings” have become popular in some areas of South America. An express kidnapping is when they force you to make a withdrawal from an ATM and/or try to ransom you. What exactly is the money belt going to do in this situation again?
Note: debit cards do not have this kind of protection. You may still want to travel with a debit card to avoid cash advance fees from ATM’s, but rarely have it on your person and don’t keep a lot of money in that account. To avoid potential losses, limit the daily maximum withdrawal limits on your cards.
Small amounts of cash are all you need
Most things and activities that you do aren’t going to be overly expensive. Thus, you won’t need a lot of cash on your person. Even if you do have more cash on you than you’d prefer, this will generally be a short-lived situation. For example, you have a pile of cash on you to pay the entry fee for an attraction or tour. But since most of these things are during the day, it’s a pretty small risk that you’ll be robbed on the 20 minute ride or walk to the tour. That’s fine.
Most tour companies in this day and age get much of their business through TripAdvisor. They’ll ask for reviews if you had a good time and brag about their ranking. This means that they need to have an online presence, which means they probably have a way to pay online. Even the smallest shop can use PayPal to do transactions. Since you’ll be booking your tours online, this further reduces the need for a lot of cash on-hand.
Awareness trumps any tools you could buy
By limiting the amount of cash you carry, limiting the daily withdrawal limits, and primarily carrying a credit card, you’re already well protected against big financial loss. The goal in a mugging is to get out of the situation intact. Calmly do what you’re told and the situation should pass quickly. Pickpockets won’t target someone who is aware of what is going on around them.
A healthy suspicion of other people works far better than a money belt ever could. It’s free, and best of all: it keeps you safe.