Six Top Tips for Keeping Your Valuables Safe While Travelling

Keeping valuables safe when travelling

It’s carnival! Crowds are everywhere, the air is pulsing, the samba is thumping and the drinks are flowing. You put your hand in your pocket to grab your brand new phone for a picture, only to discover that it’s gone. Vanished. All your photos, that hilarious chain of messages with friends back home, your incredible high score on Candy Crush, all lost forever. You’re devastated.

It’s a horrible feeling, and one that I’m all too familiar with after first hand experience at Barranquilla Carnival in Colombia last year. Thankfully, we had decent travel insurance – a total must when it comes to travel – but that didn’t bring back all the photos, or make up for the hours lost locating and navigating a poorly run Colombian police station. Thankfully, I learnt from that early mistake, along with a few others, and now I like to think that I’m a fairly savvy traveller. So, here are a few of my top tips for keeping your valuables safe while travelling so that you don’t have to contact your insurance company, waste time dealing with foreign police reports, or spend countless hours racking up a new high score…

Pack safely

There are a few excellent, albeit slightly geeky, travel products out there which can really help you protect your valuables whilst on the road:

  • A money belt, a sexy little body-hugging number in a super slim size designed to be worn beneath clothing, which I highly recommend as a superb alternative to a wallet in your back pocket. Some, like the Go Travel Money Belt, even include an RFID blocking layer to prevent illegal scans of your cards & passport, so shop around for the best belt for you.
  • A slash-proof bag, like my amazing Anti-Theft Backpack from Travelon (read the review), which has a builkeeping valuables safe when travelling t in wire mesh inside the fabric, preventing thieves from cutting the side of your bag to sneak out valuables (something a friend of mine experienced at Barranquilla Carnival), plus the zips lock to stop the bag being slyly unzipped. You can also buy anti-theft bag straps, camera bags and handbags to do the same job.
  • A portable safe, like the one from PacSafe which I’ve also reviewed, is another great suggestion – particularly if you’re travelling with a lot of tech (something I have to, as a travel blogger). Essentially, it’s a large, slash-proof bag with a super strong cable-tie sealing the top, which is secured by a sturdy padlock to an immovable object like a post – particularly handy for tying round a hostel bed post (between two bars – beds do lift up!), so that you can leave your valuables in their own little travel safe. The Pacsafe Travelsafe comes in 5, 12 and 20L sizes and is ideal for travellers with lots of expensive gadgets.

Camouflage your stuff

Bought a beautiful new backpack and filled it with a ton of expensive travel gadgets designed to get you through any situation, anywhere in the world? I know, and so do potential thieves: a brand-new backpack screams new stuff, potentially expensive, all owned by a new (and therefore not-so-savvy) traveller who might be easier to rob. A less valuable and battered bag is a good deterrent to opportunistic thieves on the lookout for things worth taking.

Further camouflage your stuff by hiding any valuables within said ugly old bag: keep them right in the middle of all your stuff, preferably surrounded by dirty laundry and other worthless junk, rather than in side-pockets, and store things like laptops and tablets inside ordinary looking carrier bags or dry-sacs. I also prefer to leave my newer, more expensive, ‘good’ laptop at home and travel instead with my older, smaller and more scuffed up Chromebook – valuables that look less valuable are also less of a target!

Speaking of Chromebooks, there are some amazing recommendations in this fab round up of the best travel laptops. All great choices for travellers!

Keep valuables out of sight

Especially on buses! Another tip we learnt the hard way: on a night bus in Bolivia, Sam took his tablet out of his backpack for a while before we went to sleep with the bags tucked safely out of sight beneath our feet. In the mokeeping valuables safe when travelling rning, the bus was half empty, and the tablet was gone – along with a few other valuables. If you flash a tablet or laptop around on public transport and don’t properly secure it, there’s a pretty high chance it could go missing. The same goes for cameras, mobile phones and large amounts of cash in taxis or out and about in cities. Don’t advertise that you have anything worth stealing, and you greatly reduce the chances of anyone bothering to steal it!

Utilise the hostel lockers

So, you’ve met everyone in your dorm room, and they seem like a nice bunch? You’ve bonded over beer pong or swapped recommendations for the best hikes/sights/bars/surfing sweet-spots, and now you’re firm Facebook friends (for at least the next two weeks, anyway)? Don’t let a little friendly familiarity cloud your judgement – sadly, you can’t completely trust a group of strangers with your stuff. Not only that, but many dorms don’t lock, so there’s also everyone else in the hostel, not to mention staff or even complete strangers off the street, to worry about. Always seek out hostels with lockers (most provide these, anyway), and bring your own lock – to protect your valuables while you are asleep/exploring/drunk. I prefer a sturdy Combination Padlock (but make sure the code isn’t easily guessable), but if you have a key lock make sure to hide the key at all times – and don’t let anyone see where you hide it!

Spread out your stuff

Carry more than one ATM card on your trip, keeping them safely separate at all times, and split your cash between two or three different hiding places. After days of careful research and rate comparison, I ordered a prepaid travel currency card for my five month South America trip smugly knowing that I’d beaten my bank’s costly overseas withdrawal fees. Four weeks into the trip, we left the card in an ATM. We’d only taken one copy with us, and over the next few months we racked up an enormous tally of fees using my bank card to withdraw all our cash. Very annoying: but just imagine if we’d left the bank cards at home as originally planned. Most pre-paid cards offer the option of a free second copy, so take the second card with you as a back-up and keep it very safe at all times. If the worst happens and your wallet is lost, stolen or destroyed, you can switch to your back up card and cash easily and breathe a huge sigh of relief.

Don’t forget the insurance

No matter how savvy you are, or how much preparation you do, sadly disasters and accidents do happen. You could drop your phone in the ocean, the airline could lose your bag somewhere on your third transfer to South East Asia, or some ingenious thieves could just find their way into your backpack when you’ve accidentally drugged yourself with cough syrup and fallen asleep on a bus (true story). If a disaster does happen, you need to know that you’re protected. So don’t scrimp on the travel insurance! Shop around using comparison sites like Money Supermarket and find the perfect cover for your trip, and don’t cut corners: if it’s £20 less for one policy but the excess is £100, you’ll lose out ultimately if anything does go wrong.

Many bank accounts, like the Silver Added Value Account from TSB, include travel insurance along with world-wide mobile phone insurance, which can really help reduce your policy costs and give you total peace of mind whilst travelling!

I’m not trying to say that the world is a terrible place and that travelling is filled with constant dangers. As long as you’re alert and safety-conscious, you should be fine. Make sure that you have the best insurance for your trip, be careful, but – most importantly – enjoy!

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six tips for keeping valuables safe when travelling

About Emily Luxton

An award-winning writer and travel blogger on a mission to explore the world through deeper, more intelligent travel. Seeking out adventure, cultural exchanges, food experiences and more as she attempts to get to know the world. Lover of the great outdoors, sunsets, good food, and the odd bit of luxury!

33 Comments

  1. I love the idea of a prepaid travel currency card. I definitely need to check that out. I haaaate carrying a lot of cash, but it beats the costly bank fees, even though I do carry my cards for emergencies. I like to stash my funds in various spots around my hotel room, not completely limited to a safe. I’ve even stashed funds in make up compacts.

    • Very handy tip – when I have a lot of cash with me I always stash it all over the place. Often in socks! I try to keep it out of my luggage, too, as if that gets lost/stolen I want to have all my cards and cash safe 🙂

  2. Liked these tips a lot! We also try to carry as little money on us as possible, and have different credit cards instead. I fully agree with you that being cautious is not being paranoid, one has to keep his belongings safe when traveling, since it is much more difficult to replace them during a trip than at home.

    • Thank you! It’s definitely not paranoia – I actually like to assume the best in everybody and never think anything bad will happen. But it’s important to be prepared in case things to go wrong – especially having spare cards. You can’t get a replacement card sent out of the country by most banks, and even if you ask a friend or family member to forward it on for you the post abroad can be very unreliable (as I discovered in Peru)!

  3. Great tips, the backpack looks great and comfortable! Good to know about bags being cut or straps being cut, I’ve never experienced anything like that. Safe travels, roar loud!

    • Thank you! Luckily when my friend’s bag was slashed, the only thing she had in it was her glasses case so that was the only thing she lost. But, it could have been a lot worse! It’s definitely a common method in very touristy areas, especially crowded events (like carnival) so it’s worth investing in a slashproof bag 🙂

  4. I love the pacsafe and slash proof bag one thing il consider to look into 🙂

  5. One way of keeping safe while on the road is to stay in groups – you can really save a lot of money doing that, as well.

    • I agree! Travelling with others can be a good way to keep safe – especially when everyone keeps an eye out for each other. But that’s not to say solo travel is less safe – I think you just need to be a little more vigilant!

    • Yes!! For my birthday in PR, The 3 of shared a hotel room, just over $100/person, us dollars, 3 nights. It was a boutique hotel too!!

  6. Definitely on the insurance, it almost always seems to pay off with a damaged computer or lost baggage or whatever – stuff just happens. I’m bad about the key lock, though, I’ll usually just drop the key in my shoes or something while I’m asleep and that’s SUCH an obvious place if a dormmate was looking to take something. Luckily, it has happened yet.

    • I know, I’m often inclined to put it in my shoes too. These days I just use a combination lock to avoid the whole key issue – since losing keys appears to be one of my many talents 😉

      I suppose as long as no one sees where you put your key, it’s probably safe!

  7. Really great tips, Emily! It is so easy to think that nothing bad will happen to us when we travel but unfortunately the reality is that lots can happen – including getting your stuff swiped from right under your nose! Awesome tips to remember 🙂

  8. Some great tips here, all common sense really but we so often don’t consider them all properly when caught up in the excitement of travelling do we. We’re fortunate to have travel insurance through work, and even more fortunate to never have needed to use it, but it’s good to have peace of mind. We once used pacsafes when we were backpackers but I felt far more conspicuous than if we’d just had batter old rucksacks, and we never used them again. It was funny (or maybe worrying) at the airport in Guatemala though, the security couldn’t be bothered to find out how to unlock the pacsafes so our kit just went through without being checked!

    • Thanks Heather! You’re so right – it’s all about common sense. As long as you employ that you should have few problems when travelling!!

      What kind of Pacsafes do you mean – are you talking about the big net things that go over the outside of luggage. I’ve seen those before and thought they did look a bit conspicuous – they kind of advertise the fact that you have something in your bag you don’t want stolen, and of course they can’t stop someone making off with the whole bag. My little daypack has the wire mesh inside the fabric, so it’s not conspicuous at all, in fact you can’t tell it’s not just a normal bacpack 🙂

  9. lesvoyagesdumonde

    Great tips! My biggest fear, especially traveling alone, revolves around that of my valuables and items in general. I will have to start camouflaging my stuff (something I hadn’t previously thought of)!

  10. Great tips. These are very important and handy!

  11. Very, very helpful tips you got here! Thank you! I agree with you completely especially on the Travel insurance.

  12. Love your tips, I always carry a money belt and spread my money. I like old clothes as well, so that I do not look rich! Although my camera is quite big and speaks for itself!

  13. Great tips and ones that can be useful even when taking short trips but will come in very useful on our RTW. It’s hard getting a balance between taking all the things you need and then worrying about them half the time. Splitting your valuables and especially your cards and money up is one of the most useful. We also keep photo copies of passports and visas to help us if those go missing.

    • Another excellent tip! I scanned mine in and emailed them to myself so that I have them on file anywhere I go – paper copies are too easy for me to forget/lose/destroy!

  14. I’ve always wondered about these tips. For example slash proof bags seems rather extreme to me. I wonder whether I’m just being naive because I’ve been lucky, or practical.

    • It depends on where you’re going as well I think. Crowded events and tourist hotspots do get targeted, for example I saw first hand a bag-slash incident at Barranquilla Carnival, and I know there are reported incidences in Las Ramblas, Barcelona quite a lot. It does seem extreme, but since bag slashing and strap cutting does happen in places, having that bag gives me peace of mind.

      Most of the other tips are just common sense and being practical, I think. Do you have any tips of your own for travelling safely?

  15. Great tips Emily! I have also experienced bags being slashed and the thieves putting a carrier bag underneath to catch all the stolen goods. I did not know about the slash resistant bags though, I will read your review in a minute!
    I travelled to Rio on my own to experience carnival. I felt vulnerable on Copacabana beach sunbathing alone and so I positioned myself quite close to the police gazebo. I was not there long before a police officer came over and recommended that I dig a hole in the sand, put my belongings in it, fill it with sand and place my beach towel on top! It certainly meant I could nip into the ocean to cool off without the worry of my belongings disappearing.
    I also like to take photocopies of all my documents, cards, etc in case they are stolen and of course have several lists of useful telephone numbers (bank etc) in case I need to cancel my credit cards.
    Thanks for sharing Emily, great tips

    • Ah that’s another great tip about the beach – I always do that! You can get towels now which have a hidden zip pocket – a great idea. I rarely take much to the beach now though, especially if I’m alone, just enough cash for lunch or to get home. Usually when I’m alone I’ll leave my camera and phone at home so I don’t have to worry about them!

      The slash-proof bags are absolutely brilliant. I have a slash-proof strap for my camera bag too, it’s such a load of my mind.

  16. This is a great post! There’s a lot of stuff I’ve never even thought of like slash-proof bags… I didn’t even really consider that the risk of someone doing that was so high to warrant it! I am usually a bit guilty of hostel-trust-naivety though, this post has reminded me to be a bit more vigilant on upcoming trips.

    A piece of advice I would suggest though is if anyone ever gets or is travelling with someone who’s gotten a rental car. The boot of a Fiat panda can be opened with just about anything, it doesn’t need to be forced…
    The Spanish policeman who investigated the theft of my rucksack demonstrated this with his station locker key. They’re usually the cheapest rental cars, but it really is scary how easily someone can just open it up and casually walk away with your belongings!

    • Thanks so much! I’m really glad this post could help!

      Slash-proof bags aren’t always necessary but they can put your mind at ease, especially at busy events like carnivals/festivals. A few people I know have had their handbags slashed and things stolen. Unfortunately there are some people out there who take advantage of the popularity of certain events and places so it pays to be careful. Althoguh I’m probably a little over cautious!

      That’s such a handy tip about the rental cars. I’d never known that so it’s really good to know. Probably worth paying extra for a better car I think!

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