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10 Smart Ways to Carry Money While Traveling

Here are 10 tips for carrying money safely and elegantly when you travel.

Carrying money on vacation is a balancing act between safety and utility. Making money difficult to access deters thieves, but when it comes time to pay for something, you still want to be able to get to it without stripping off clothes or playing hide-and-seek with a bag’s hidden pockets. With that in mind, here are 10 tips that will help you carry money safely and elegantly while traveling.

Divide Money

woman is holding a wallet

Even if you disregard all other advice about carrying money, take this tip to heart: Whenever possible, divvy up your travel cash and even credit cards into multiple safe spots. If you have all your money in one place, it only takes one incident for a thief to totally wipe you out.

When possible, leave all the cards and cash you won’t need immediately in a secure location in your hotel or vacation rental. And when you’re out and about, keep some of your money attached to your person (see below for ideas about how to wear money securely), and some in a bag you carry. If you’re smart about how you distribute your funds, you’ll still have enough money to get to a police station or back to your hotel in the event your bag gets lost or snatched.

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Favor On-Body Storage

Eagle creek undercover hidden pocket

Under-clothing storage accessories have come a long way since neck pouches and money belts came onto the scene. Though those classics are still effective, newer options include bra stashes, as well as long johns, underwear, and undershirts with built-in pockets for safe storage. On-body storage accessories are particularly useful if you’re sleeping somewhere that doesn’t have a secure place for cash and other valuables.

Note that on-body storage isn’t a good wallet alternative, since fishing around under your clothes for money advertises where you’re hiding the goods.

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Keep Small Bills Handy

Purse with money on old rustic wooden table

Changing or withdrawing large amounts of money minimizes the fees you’ll pay to get local currency, but it also means you’ll be traveling with far more cash—and larger bills—than you’d likely have on you at home. In addition to dividing your money, it’s also wise to make smaller denominations of currency easily accessible. That way, you won’t pull out the local equivalent of a $100 bill while attempting to buy a 30-cent souvenir. You also won’t have to reach down into your jeans to get more money from an under-clothing money pouch.

Make money preparation part of your morning routine: As you’re packing your bag, make sure you’ve got a variety of small bills and coins at the ready for purchases such as food, souvenirs, and attraction entry fees. Squirrel away larger bills in your under-clothing money pouch, or tuck them into a secure part of your wallet or bag.

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Carry an Anti-Theft Bag

Travelon anti-theft urban incognito backpack

If garbage-bag commercials have taught us anything, it’s that some bags are tougher than others. The same goes for travel purses, backpacks, and bags—some, designed specifically for travel, have features such as cut-proof, steel-cable-reinforced shoulder straps; slash-proof fabric; and locking zippers.

Since elements like these slow down thieves, anti-theft bags can do a decent job deterring opportunistic pickpockets. Anti-theft bags are available online from Arden Cove, Pacsafe, Travelon, and other retailers. Consider your purchase an investment that might save you some money.

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Trim Your Wallet

slim wallet

Are you going to need your library card when you’re 6,000 miles from your local branch? Probably not. Before you leave, take the time to go through your wallet and take out everything except the necessities (a primary credit card and a backup, an identification card, an insurance card, etc.). Not only will it help you travel lighter, but if your wallet does get lost or stolen, you’ll have fewer items to replace.

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Use a Dummy Wallet

If you’re traveling in a place known for pickpockets or muggings, consider getting a cheap wallet that looks real enough to use as a decoy that you can keep in your pocket or bag. Pad the wallet with some small bills and make it look more real by slipping in one or two of those sample credit cards you get with offers in the mail.

A dummy wallet can stop pickpockets before they get to your real wallet. And in the scary and unlikely case of an actual mugging, it also gives you something to throw and run, buying you time to escape with your safety and your actual wallet.

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Buy a Travel Wallet

Travelambo front pocket minimalist leather slim wallet

In addition to a dummy wallet, you might also consider a wallet that you reserve specifically for travel. There’s one simple reason for this: If you’re the type of person whose day-to-day wallet is packed with cards—gym memberships, prepaid coffee cards, frequent-buyer punch cards, and the like—the card pockets are likely to be stretched out and won’t be able to securely hold just an item or two. By keeping a travel-only wallet at the ready, your cards will have snug pockets that they can’t slip out of accidentally. It’s also a great place to store wallet items that you only use when you travel—for instance, SmarterTravel’s on-the-go guide to air passenger rights.

As an added bonus, you won’t have to unpack and repack your day-to-day wallet; you can simply transfer what you need for your trip to your travel version.

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Adapt to the Local Money Culture

Being prepared to pay your way on vacation means different things depending on where you are. In a cash economy, you’ll need to make sure to have a variety of bills and coins on hand at all times, but your credit cards will likely just collect dust.

However, in much of Europe and parts of Asia, where automation is common and chip-and-PIN credit card technology is standard, having a compatible credit card will come in very handy, especially if you find yourself at an unattended gas station late at night or a train station after hours. Also keep in mind that in some countries, U.S. dollars are an official or unofficial secondary currency, so it’s wise to keep a few greenbacks at the ready.

Use Money Alternatives

london oyster car turnstyle

In high-traffic settings such as metro stations and close quarters like bus lines, it’s nice to be able to forgo cash or credit card transactions and rely instead on a multi-use ticket or other cash alternative. If you’re in a city where the public transportation system offers multi-use cards (for instance, London’s Oyster card or San Francisco’s Clipper card) or where you can buy a bunch of tickets at once for a discounted price, then take advantage. You’ll reduce your chances of losing your wallet simply by retrieving and stowing it fewer times.

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Stow Valuables Securely

hotel safe closet

Sometimes the best way to carry money is not to carry it at all. Hotels’ in-room safes are generally pretty secure, and if you’ve got an item (or a wad of cash) you’re particularly nervous about, check to see if the hotel has a safe-deposit box behind the desk. If you do use a hotel lockbox of any sort, remember to retrieve your items when you leave. In the rush to pack up and depart, out of sight can easily mean out of mind—until you’re on your way to the airport. If you’re a forgetful type, leave a colorful note on top of your suitcase.

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Traveling? Consider Some Favorite Carry-On Options

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2016. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

By Christine Sarkis

There's a 95 percent chance Senior Editor Christine Sarkis is thinking about travel right now. Follow her on Instagram @postcartography and Twitter @ChristineSarkis.

Christine Sarkis is an SATW-award-winning journalist and executive editor at SmarterTravel. Her stories have also appeared on USA Today, Conde Nast Traveler, Huffington Post, and Business Insider. Her advice has been featured in dozens of print and online publications including The New York Times, Conde Nast Traveler, and People magazine. She has also shared travel tips on television and radio shows including Good Morning America, Marketplace, and Here & Now. Her work has been published in the anthologies Spain from a Backpack and The Best Women's Travel Writing 2008. She is currently working on a travel memoir.

The Handy Item I Always Pack: The Trtl Pillow. It's easy to pack and comfortable, and makes it so I can actually sleep on flights.

Ultimate Bucket List Experience: Seeing the Aurora Borealis from the comfort of somewhere warm, like a glass igloo or hot spring.

Travel Motto: Curiosity is an amazing compass.

Aisle, Window, or Middle Seat: Aisle all the way.

Email Christine Sarkis at editor@smartertravel.com.

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