Are Money Belts Really Necessary?

by  Mike Barish | May 2, 2012
Money belt
Money belt / axelbueckert/iStock

The cream color conjured up memories of the 1980s. It looked like the brassieres that my grandmother wore when I was a kid (unfortunately, I remember seeing them hanging in the bathroom). It fit very snuggly around my torso. When I finally unhooked the clasp, I noticed that I had indentations in my skin from the elastic band and sweat had collected where the belt made the most intimate contact with my body. I’d spent a day in Quito, Ecuador wearing a money belt and felt like I should have complemented it with a pair of control top pantyhose.

Money belts have been around for decades, and travelers have relied on them to thwart pickpockets all around the world. Are these people – and in Quito, I was one of them – being smart or paranoid?  Petty crime happens almost everywhere. Certain cities, such as Rome, Paris, and Buenos Aires, have developed reputations for being rife with pickpockets. These thieves prey on tourists, especially those who announce to the world that they’re visitors by carrying large bags, donning souvenir shirts, and taking pictures of famous landmarks. Stop paying attention for just a moment and you could find that your wallet is no longer in your pocket.

Of course, money belts aren’t the only solution. Common sense goes a long way toward keeping your belongings from becoming someone else’s booty. I typically leave the majority of my wallet’s contents at home when I travel. I bring along my ATM card, one credit card, and some cash. I always carry a smaller travel wallet with me so that it’s less conspicuous. I don’t want to flash my belly to everyone at the market in order to access my cash, so I keep it in my front pocket and stash a little extra money back at the hotel.

For some travelers, however, peace of mind comes only from the knowledge that their money is closer to their bodies than two teenagers are allowed to be to each other at a school dance. So many people share this mindset that the choices of money belts now range from the basic, matronly model that I sported in South America to luxurious leather accessories that are so expensive, you’ll have little cash leftover to store inside of them. There are even bras and boxer shorts that conceal your belongings, if you want to combine your money belt with your undergarments.

Regardless of their style, these money belts are all built with the same purpose in mind: keeping someone else’s grubby mitts off of your cash. However, in these crazy technological times, pickpockets often take a backseat to savvier identity thieves. The evolution of criminals has created a need for more secure money belts – at least in the minds of people who swear by money belts.

That brings us to the latest advancement in wearable security: money belts that prevent thieves from scanning your credits cards and passports. There are no specially-lined money belts that prevent your documents from being accessed by criminals. They’re like foil hats for your identification.

Ultimately, is all of this security necessary? I know people who have had been pickpocketed, mugged, and violently separated from their purses. It’s unfortunate and traumatizing. Knock on wood, it’s never happened to me.

It’s impossible to say whether my money belt actually thwarted any would-be thieves. It’s possible that I was never even targeted. What is undeniable, however, is that nylon pressed against flesh creates sweat. I’ll take my chances with my pockets if it means keeping myself dry and comfortable.

What are your thoughts on money belts? How do you keep your cash and belongings secure when you travel? Share your stories in the comments.

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