Packing Part 7: passport & money

You’ve just crawled off an overnight bus, tired, disoriented. You walk over to driver who’s busy tossing bags out of the luggage lockers under the bus. There’s lots pushing and shoving, people grabbing their belongings. The pile dwindles as you stand back and shake the bus cobwebs off and take a few sips from your water bottle.

Once the backpacking hoards move away, it slowly dawns on you that there are no bags left to claim…!

You’re screwed! Trip of a lifetime is stopped dead in its tracks. You get ready to call home collect and camp out at the Western Union office.

Wait! All is not lost. You do have more than just the clothes on your back and a half empty water bottle. Safely tucked away in your money belt is your passport and, most important, your money. Trip saved! It takes a day or two, and less money than you thought, to buy a new backpack, replace your belongings and to get back on the road.

Moral of this travel story?

You can lose all your luggage and still keep traveling as long as you still have your passport and some money. Packing and carrying them securely should be every traveler’s #1 priority when on the road.

Money belt or neck wallet?

A money belt is easier to conceal as long as you don’t wear tight clothing. A neck wallet, is a little more obvious because the string around your neck is easily exposed. I find the neck wallet tends to swing around a bit too much making it more difficult to hide, even under a baggy shirt. A money belt should be worn below your waistband, and not taken off or opened in public! Wearing a money belt can take some getting used to. Make sure your pants or shorts aren’t too snug and that your shirt covers any obvious bulge.

Some hostels and guest houses will have a safe at the front desk or in their back office for keeping valuables like passports and money. Whether or not you take advantage of this is up to you, but do case things out first. Often, the hostel safe is just kept closed, and not really locked because the staff can’t be bothered lock and unlock it all day long. If the safe is easily accessible to anyone walking by, you might want to reconsider. If you leave any money, try and get a receipt and place the money in a sealed envelope. Personally, I don’t leave my passport anywhere, even in a safe. I’d rather the inconvenience of keeping with me at all times.

Cherish it and keep it close! A passport is the most difficult thing to replace when traveling abroad. Not impossible, but replacing a lost or stolen passport can take days or even weeks of jumping through bureaucratic hoops and cost a bundle putting a big dent in your travel time and budget. A concealed money-belt is the safest place for your passport. Place it in a zip top or waterproof bag first. This will protect it from moisture, dirt and sweat. It’s not unheard of for a border official to deny entry to a traveler with a tattered, damp and illegible passport.

Aside from border crossings, applying for visas, checking into your hostel and possibly changing money, you should not have to produce your passport that often. Keeping it in a difficult to access place will not be an issue.

Before you leave, make sure your passport is valid for at least 6 months beyond the time you’re planning to be away. If not, look into getting a new one. Request extra pages for your new passport if you’re planning on traveling through many countries. Count on needing at least 2 full blank pages for each country’s visa, entry and departure stamps.

“Spread the wealth!” and make sure you don’t keep all of your money in one place. As the story at the beginning of this article proves, keeping a fair portion of your travel funds on your person while in transit can make all the difference if you loose your bags. Then again, if you’re robbed, most thieves know all about money belts, concealed or not. Have some backup money stashed away in a few places just in case. The following are just a few money hidings ideas:

Sew some secret pockets on the inside of your pants or shorts. Some travel pants come with these already built-in. If you’re traveling to a developing country, save some cash by getting a local seamstress to do the work

Place some cash under a shoe insole. Keep the money dry and clean by wrapping the bills in plastic.

Keep a couple of travelers cheques or some cash somewhere in your main pack. It’s easy to sew a pouch into the bottom of our backpack. You can also use it to keep copies of important documents.

Bras with the little pouches for extra padding are great for hiding money. Take out the extra padding first though! 😉

Your undies are a pretty safe place as well. Feeling cheeky? Use a condom as a plastic bag to protect the money.

Transform an empty mint tin, makeup compact, vitamin bottle into a small money safe and pack it with your toiletries. I find the little 3 condom boxes are the perfect size to stash a few folded bills.

Find a way to keep track of all your hidden money, especially if you’re forgetful. Make a small note of all your hiding spots in your travel journal and make it slightly cryptic just in case someone reads it, like 40P for $40 in your pack. You don’t want to be finding foreign bills in the bottom of your pack years after your trip. By the way, any one know where I can exchange Greek Drachmas now?

Cash, credit or travelers cheques? What with ATM’s available in many places, even 3rd world countries, you can easily get by with just your debit card. Being able to make more frequent, smaller withdrawals is safer than carrying large amounts of cash. Having a few travelers cheques for emergencies and a credit card or two is a good idea. ATM’s in some countries only accept 4 digit pin numbers, so drop by your bank before you leave to change yours if necessary.

Like with your cash, it’s a good idea to keep your ATM card and credit cards hidden in your money belt. Take them out ahead of time in the privacy of your room before going out if you plan to use them.

Travelers cheques should be treated just like cash, make copies of each one and keep the copies someplace hidden and separate from the originals. I find travelers cheques are the perfect hideaway backup money. They’re less tempting to snoopy thieves and you can get reimbursed if they’re stolen or go missing.

Contact your bank and credit card companies before you leave. Your bank is liable to cancel your cards if strange foreign transactions start appearing in your accounts without warning. Most credit card companies will take note of the countries you plan to visit and dates you’ll be away. While you have them on the line, get information on what kind of fees and commissions they charge for overseas transactions and withdrawals. Transactions fees can quickly eat into your travel budget, especially if you’re counting on making small, frequent withdrawals.

It’s nice to have a bit of local currency before arriving in a new country, but it might not always be possible. Euros and US dollars, UK pound and even Canadian dollars are widely accepted around the world. Most of the time, you’ll get a far better exchange rate locally than in your home country. Border crossings and airports in most countries are crawling with money exchange booths. It’s easy to get enough local currency for transport into town or your first few days of expenses.

How should you carry and manage your daily pocket money? I’m a big fan of having only one days worth of pocket money easily accessible. Before you go out, take out just enough money to get you through the day and keep it either in a zipped or button down shirt or pant pocket or use a travel wallet. Avoid flashing large amounts of cash around, it’ll only invite trouble and tempt any thief in the vicinity. Like with your hidden funds, “spread the wealth” and use a few different pockets which should minimize your loses if you’re pockets are picked. This is a good way to keep tabs on your spending. You’ll quickly reassess your budget if you’re burning through all your cash by noon each day!
Important travel documents…

Last, but not least, replacing a lost passport, credit card or travelers cheques is a lot easier if you have copies of the originals. Make at least 2 photocopies of all your important travel documents before leaving home. Leave one complete set with someone who can be easily contacted and trusted to fax or email copies to you in case of emergency. The other set of copies should be carried with you, or rather separately from the originals, in secure hiding place in your backpack or day bag. Have a trustworthy travel companion? Give them a set of your copied documents to keep in their backpack.

By important documents, I mean photocopies of your passport (including pages with valid visa stamps), airline itinerary, credit cards (not the signature side), ATM card, travel insurance documents & policy, traveler’s cheques, driver’s license and birth certificate (if you’re carrying the originals). Copies of important contact information for family back home, embassy information in the countries you’re visiting should also be included in your backup. Do be on the safe side, use a black marker to conceal some of the numbers of your credit cards and ATM card (that you can easily commit to memory) just in case the documents end up in the wrong hands.

Some travelers make digital scans of these paper copies and store them in their web based email account (Hotmail, Yahoo, Gmail, etc.). If you go this route, set up a new email account. You regular account can easily get hacked while you’re traveling and you wouldn’t want thieves to get a hold of things like credit card numbers. If you’re really technologically savvy, encrypt the documents before emailing them to yourself.

Got any tips or stories about keeping your travel documents and money safe and sound while on the road? Drop us a line below!

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