“No Mother, Yes Mother, I Will Mother” – This was my all-in-one, does-it-all response to her maternal words of warning before embarking on a recent trip to South America.
In truth I had already thought everything through: I didn’t need her advice on my once-in-a-lifetime adventure holiday or her thoughts on which money belt to buy or her review of current travel gear!
Travelling solo in any far-flung destination requires a degree of caution, but the likes of La Paz and Lima perhaps require that little bit more. And I was doing the planning.
One of the first things that crossed my mind before leaving this ‘green and pleasant’ (and comparably safe) land of England was where I’d stash away my money when venturing into some of the more hard-up neighbourhoods of the New World (Yes, I’m THAT paranoid). I wasn’t going to let some trickster pull a fast one on me.
It’s all well and good going places with an open mind, but that doesn’t mean you should go with an open wallet (slash purse).
So, I did my research, included a money belt review, and came to a decision on which is the best. And here are the findings of my meticulous, painstaking investigations...
The Undercover™ Hidden Pocket (The one that hangs from your belt into your pants) – Eagle Creek
After three months in South America I can safely say that this one’s the best of those I tried. It has a loop that attaches to your belt, allowing it to hang down inside the waistband of your jeans, trousers or shorts. It consists of a simple square pouch with internal net dividers and, like many money belts today, it has a moisture-wicking, breathable back panel to keep you sweat-free.
Pros: The Hidden Pocket was large enough to store away my iPhone, passport, camera cards and currency. All of those valuables remain pretty well hidden too – a potential pick-pocket would have to reach right down into you know where if they wanted get hold of my things (that’s not a euphemism).
Before leaving home I’d heard that some muggers are wise to the money belts that drop below the waistline, and so they often make you drop your trousers. The Hidden Pocket drops WITH your trousers, so there’s some peace of mind should you fall prey.
Cons: With my iPhone, passport and dosh all stashed inside it, the Hidden Pocket was quite bulky and probably noticeable. And if you don’t get a few funny looks from that bulge in your trousers, you’ll certainly get some when you reach down into them to get a tenner out for some chips.
The Undercover™ Leg Wallet (The one that straps around your ankle) – Eagle Creek
Yes, the people at Eagle Creek seem to be the specialists in the money belt department (perhaps someone had a bad experience?). This one consists of a large pocket with two openings and a moisture-wicking, breathable back panel. Stretchy elastic straps mean it’ll fit around just about any ankle size.
Pros: I loved the idea of the Leg Wallet, and so did all of those who I showed it to on my backpacking adventure holidays (only trusted people, obviously). Everyone seemed to be impressed. And the reason is because they had never seen anything like it. Which means those nasty muggers would probably have never seen anything like it. It’s unlikely then that they would frisk your ankles – leaving your cash and valuables safe and sound.
Cons: The biggest con is that you can’t wear shorts (or skirts), which, in the heat of the Atacama Desert or the rainforested regions of Paraguay, is hardly ideal. And, although the Leg Wallet was spacious enough to fit my iPhone, passport, credit cards and money, having all those things around your ankle can be noticeable (especially with tight trousers), not to mention uncomfortable.
The Money Belt (The one that looks like a normal belt)
There are several brands that offer this one. Basically it looks like an ordinary belt, except on the reverse side it has a zip that opens a long (but very narrow) pouch where you can store notes. This was the last of the three that I tested out for myself.
Pros: Undoubtedly the biggest pro is its secrecy. A pick-pocket is NEVER going to get his/her filthy hands on your dough, and a mugger isn’t likely to ask for your belt. It’s also far more comfortable than any other money belt, because it’s just the same as wearing an ordinary belt of the leather or canvas variety.
Cons: Unfortunately, you won’t be able to stash your phone, camera, passport or cards in it. In fact, you can probably only store about a hundred quid’s worth of rolled up currency in it (depending on where in the world you are, of course).
The Conventional Money Belt (The one that everybody knows about)
There are dozens of standard money belts that you can buy, and pretty much all of them are the same. They all strap around your waist, they all feature large, spacious pocket(s), and they are very often made from a moisture-wicking, breathable material.
Pros: There’s a reason why this is the most popular money belt on the market –it’s spacious, comfortable, and does the job in hiding away your valuables.
Cons: The reason I did not opt for the conventional money belt is because I’d heard from more than one source that muggers know all about them and in fact expressly target them. It certainly makes things easier for them if they know exactly where to look.
Of course it all depends on where you’re heading. In most places a money belt of this variety would suffice. Me being paranoid and unreasonably so, I (perhaps judgementally) decided that the poverty-stricken enclaves of La Victoria (Lima) and La Boca (Buenos Aires) were worth a bit more security.
The Neck Wallet (The one that...well...hangs around your neck)
Probably the second most popular type of money belt, these consist of one or two small pockets that hang from a length of soft material that goes around your neck. They usually feature a moisture-wicking backing material.
Pros: Like the conventional money belt, the Neck Wallet is comfortable and practical. The best thing is that it’s probably the only one that isn’t difficult to access when you need a beer in hurry.
Cons: And just like that same conventional money belt, it’s relatively well-known in criminal circles. Plus, the lanyard that goes around your neck is often visible and can be cut before you can do anything about it.
The Bra Pouch (The one for ladies) – Eagle Creek
This one’s only for the better of our breed, so I obviously I haven’t experimented with it (and nor do I intend to). But I can see just from looking at it that it’s a pretty clever place for hiding away your money (though possibly uncomfortable?). Also, what you can fit in it depends largely on how big your pouch is, which I guess depends on how big your...
And that brings this high-brow analysis to a close. I can tell you that the three months in South America went down without a hitch, and I can definitely tell you that I was way too paranoid about it.
That said, with my possessions stuffed neatly away in my money belts, I felt as calm as Michael Palin in a Cambridge bookshop on a Thursday afternoon.