Tips for Keeping Your Valuables Safe While Traveling

By  | 

I was once a young naive traveler who often let my guard down while traveling. I didn’t want to be bothered with worrying about my things getting stolen. These days I travel with a lot more expensive electronics than I did in my younger years, so my level of comfort has changed.

Let me tell you a little story. I once knew a girl who had been traveling all over Western Europe by herself. Towards the end of her trip she got sick with the flu. While feeling miserable during a train ride from Prague to Amsterdam, she found a cabin all to herself, put on her headphones, and fell asleep to the melodic sounds coming from her ipod.

She felt safe inside her cabin since nobody else was there to steal her things. She was very smart to bring a money belt on this trip, but after the first couple weeks of travel, she decided it was unnecessary. In the midst of feeling tired and sick, she left her money belt in her backpack, which was right next to her while she was sleeping.

The next morning she awoke in Amsterdam feeling groggy and extremely sick. While exiting the train, she reached into her money belt to grab a few Euros to buy a croissant.

“What the hell?!” Where is the 250 Euro I had in here?”

After running the events of the previous night on the train through her head, she recalled waking up a few times to German men in uniforms opening the cabin doors, pointing flashlights into the cabin, then closing the doors. “They are just security checking on things,” she thought.

Well, they sure did check on things. They also helped themselves to 250 Euros from the girl’s backpack. They were nice enough to leave her passport and ATM card. Thank god for that!!

Okay, so if you hadn’t already figured it out, that story was about my younger self. I’m a little ashamed that I actually let that happen and that I wasn’t more careful. In order to help out other travelers, I’ve put together a short list of tips for keeping your belongings safe.

Tips For Keeping Your Belongings Safe While Traveling:

  • While Sleeping on a train, bus, crowded hostel room, or any other public place, always keep your money, passport, credit cards and camera memory cards on you. Preferably in a money belt. Most likely you will wake up if somebody tries reaches down your pants while you are sleeping. At least I hope so.
  • Always keep your valuables (ie. camera, laptop, or anything else you don’t want stolen) with you. Don’t put them under the bus or give them to a taxi/van driver offering to put your bags in the trunk. I always keep my bag on my lap.
  • If I’m sleeping on a train or in a public place, I use a lock or PacSafe for my small backpack and lock it to something secure or sleep with my arms around it. (Oh, and I would suggest not listening to your headphones while sleeping in a public place.) Check out our Pac Safe Camera Bag Protector Review.
  • The best option that I have personally found for carrying my money and passport while walking around town is a money belt that goes around my waist. (I put these items in a Ziploc bag inside the money belt or your passport may get ruined from sweat.) I can fit it under shorts, skirts, pants and most dresses. We also have a water wallet to carry our money and hotel key while surfing or other times we know we will be getting wet.
  • When booking a hotel or hostel, make sure it has good reviews when it comes to security and they offer a locker or in-room safe.
  • Don’t get wasted and walk around alone in unfamiliar territory. (Which is something I also did in Amsterdam, but luckily nothing bad happened.)

Scams to Look Our For While Traveling:

  • Be on the look out for anybody who is offering to help you with your bags at a train or bus station. We once had a guy who didn’t seem to work at the station, but was offering to help people with translating the announcements and informing them when their train had arrived.

    When our train arrived he followed us to our cabin and offered to put our bags on the top shelf for us. I refused to hand over my small bag. I later realized he was probably going through people’s bags as he was putting them up top because you couldn’t see from outside the cabin.

  • South America and other parts of the world have their fair share of scammers looking to steal your money and valuables. Swindlers can create elaborate plans to trick you into letting down your guard and steal your belongings before you even know what hit you.

    A friend of ours got his money and passport stolen while trying to leave Argentina. The scam involved three people. The first part of the plan was to put a white cream on the back of our friend’s shirt without him knowing. Then an older lady informed him there was something on his shirt and offered him a tissue to wipe it off.

    He took off his backpack in order to reach the back of his shirt. When he turned around, he saw a man running away with his bag and he wasn’t able to catch up with him quick enough to eliminate losing his passport, money and camera. He was then forced to stay in the country and endure the long and expensive process of getting another passport.

  • Be aware of your surroundings at all times. If something seems out of the ordinary, just keep walking and don’t take off your bag for anything.

I’m not saying the world is a horrible place or that you should be scared to travel. As long as you are careful while traveling and stay aware of your surroundings, especially in transit, you will be fine and able to enjoy your travels. These are just a few tips and stories that might help you avoid the same mistakes others have made. Ninety to ninety five percent of the time you don’t need to worry and you will encounter genuinely friendly people.

Do you have any tips for keeping valuables safe while traveling?

Christy Woodrow is a travel photographer and professional blogger based in San Diego. She has been traveling around the world with her partner in crime, Scott, since 2006. Join them in their quest to find off-the-beaten-path destinations by signing up for weekly emails and following her on .

    • http://www.moneyfortraveling.com John’s Travel Jobs

      when i travel i always put my cash, passport and ID under my pillow. yes, you’re right. be careful of those people who offers help in trains or buses. my friend trusted a man who helped her put her luggage on the bus from the airport in Bergen. when she came down of the bus to get her luggage, it was missing and she never recovered it.

    • Keeleytaylor54

      christy-  i’ve got around that no bra problem quite easily! i carefully put the money (notes) into a plastic bank bag then put it down the front of my knickers, very very safe i can tell you! i tend to wear dresses most of the time any way so this is a really convenient and safe way to hide your cash!  it’s that safe i usually keep it down there anyway regardless of what i’m wearing! if you need to access it then simply go to the toilet!  easy peasy!!!   give it a go!   good luck.         keeley  x

      • http://www.ordinarytraveler.com/ Ordinary Traveler

        Thanks for the tip! :)

    • http://www.suitcasescribbles.com Vanessa

      Pacsafe products are great, pricey but I love their camera bag.

    • http://twitter.com/#!/bluegreentweets Joel Tillman

      I know it sounds silly but if you have a place for a few days the safest place to leave whatever you don’t need that day is inside the room. I usually bring just cash with me whenever I go out. 

      It sounds dangerous but I have never stayed at a place I never felt shady staying and have never used the safe in the room. Yet, in all my years traveling I have never had a single item go missing out of the room I was staying in. 

      Has anyone else? 

      • http://www.ordinarytraveler.com/ Ordinary Traveler

        Hmm.. I haven’t, but I usually bring the important things with me or put them in the safe. I’m curious what others have to say about this too.

        • http://twitter.com/#!/bluegreentweets Joel Tillman

          The safe is always a good idea, even if for piece of mind :p

    • http://www.americancharterbus.com/ bus charters Los Angeles

      It is great to read stories of traveling experiences, good and bad, which translates to tips and words of wisdom. It’s true that the world is not a horrible place at all but it is always better to be safe and secure with all your valuables and pertinent documents with you, than be sorry for yourself because you weren’t careful.

    • http://www.milfordplaza.com/ milford plaza hotels

      Nice Article. I really happy to read this article. Such a great story. I really impressed with your post.

    • http://travelinksites.com/ Will Peach

      Tonnes of great tips here. You’re so right about the helpful people at train stations thing. Just last summer in Italy I got hit by this scam when at Milan station. Some dude offered to help me out and then asked me for a fee! Cheeky b*stard…

      The wandering around drunk thing is a good point to. That’s Southeast Asia’s number one source of bag snatching and everything else.

    • http://www.maninvanlondon.co.uk/ Van Man London

      Traveling should be exiting time for everyone and it doesn’t matter where you traveling. Sometimes people become careless and invisible while traveling and it can lead to problem. People should be extra conscious and take care of everything that they bring with them. And all the above tips are also very efficient for travelers.

    • Philly

      Did anyone hear about the news lockers there coming out with? They’ll be in most major cities starting next year. You basically rent a locker for a day, they are supposed to be located in different parts of the city so you don’t have to carry around shopping bags, coats, etc. alls you do is swipe your card punch in your own security code and you own the locker for as long as you need it.

      It will take the burden off of carrying around heavy items while you are touring a city. I think they’ll be extremely helpful because I like to do a lot of shopping when im abroad!

    • laura @ spicybuddha.com

      Awesome blog post…I’ve just started traveling through Southeast Asia a few weeks ago.  As a first-time traveller, it’s a big learning experience!  Definitely agree with taking all of your money, passports, camera stuff with you at all times.  How long have you been travelling for?  

      • http://www.ordinarytraveler.com/ Ordinary Traveler

        Southeast Asia is so much fun. I hope you are having the time of your life! We have been traveling most of our lives, just not non-stop. :) We like to come back to San Diego and regroup and spend time with friends and family before we head back out on the road.