Keeping Your Money Safe

by Nancy Bestor

Customers often ask us to recommend the “most important item” that they should take on vacation. Because we feel that security is of utmost importance, our number one must have is a money belt. Bob and I always travel with our passports, credit cards, and cash in some kind of money belt or security wallet. This protects us against theft and our own forgetfulness and gives us peace of mind that our essential items are secure.

Once in Italy with my sister, a group of gypsy children approached me with a map that they stuck in front of my face while they tried to reach into my bag underneath. I swatted them away (literally), but even if they had gotten into my bag, they could have only stolen my lipstick and my water bottle, as my cash and passport were in my money belt. Another time, in Costa Rica, I was walking the streets of San Jose with a small backpack. I felt something like a fly on my arm, and when I went to swat it (again with the swatting!), I realized someone had actually unzipped my bag. There was nothing of interest in there this time either, just a sweater and a Lonely Planet guidebook.

There have been plenty of other vacations where I have felt a little bit uncomfortable with my surroundings—maybe because it was very crowded, or I felt like some sketchy looking folks were paying a little bit too much attention to me. I’ve always been confident with the fact that my important, costly, and difficult to replace items were tucked away in my security wallet, underneath my clothing. They can take my backpack or bag because there’s nothing in there that isn’t replaceable (except maybe for that perfect shade of Clinique lipstick that is no longer in production).

My favorite security pouch is Eagle Creek’s Undercover Deluxe Neck Wallet. I wear it a little differently than most customers expect though. I don’t hang it around my neck straight down in front. Instead I wear it cross body underneath my blouse. This gets the strap off the back of my neck and the pouch off my stomach (which doesn’t need any more pouch, believe me). I size the strap so the pouch is right at my hip and tucked into my pants or skirt. When I need to get into it, I simply pull it out from my bottoms, with it still strapped around me, and get what I need, then I tuck it back into my skirt. Bob’s favorite is the Eagle Creek Undercover Hidden Pocket. The Hidden Pocket has a loop that a regular belt runs through and then the wallet is tucked down inside his pants. It always stays attached to his belt, and when he needs to get into it he pulls it out, gets what he needs and then tucks it back in.

We always keep enough money for the day in our front pocket or day bag. That way we’re not getting into our money belts every single time I demand a gelato (and I demand lots of gelato). But the bulk of our cash, credit cards and passports are always in our money belts. If we’ve got a safe in our room, we do sometimes leave our passports behind, but really, we keep our cash and credit cards with us at all times. I’m not paranoid, I just like to be cautious.

There are all kinds of money belts for all kinds of people. There are even money belts that block RFID signals from being scanned by techno-savvy crooks. You can choose from styles that go around your waist, around your neck, that hook to your bra or strap to your leg. You can choose silk money belts, nylon ones, and more.   It doesn’t matter the type you choose, what matters is that you keep your important belongings safe. And then you can relax and enjoy your vacation.

When Travel Plans Take an Unexpected Turn

dangerby Nancy Bestor

Sometimes life doesn’t go the way we plan. That goes for traveling too. You can plan things to the very last detail, and wham!, you get blindsided by something that you never saw coming. That’s what happened to us last week regarding our upcoming spring break vacation. Last May we booked four tickets to Lima, Peru, and then on to Cusco, with plans for a four-day trek on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu with SAS Travel. We purchased our United Airlines tickets with miles and a little money, our plane tickets from Lima to Cusco on LAN airlines with money ($1400), and we made a $1000 deposit with SAS using our credit card. Recently we’d been hiking and exercising as a family to get ready for the 28-mile hike on the Inca Trail, at elevations ranging from 9,000 to 14,000 feet. We’d gotten prescriptions for altitude sickness medicine, had a packing list going, and had even bought a few pieces of travel clothing (like this great lightweight but warm Storm Logic Jacket from ExOfficio) specifically for the journey.

But this is a story about getting blindsided: so here’s the bad news. The US State Department on February 13th issued a travel warning for Americans, stating that they had received credible information that a criminal organization may attempt to kidnap Americans in Cusco and Machu Picchu. On further research we found that a source stated that US intelligence had intercepted this information from the Shining Path guerillas, a group that last April kidnapped 36 oil and gas workers in Peru. All 36 workers were later freed, but several police and guerillas were killed in the release of the hostages. According to the un-named source, the Shining Path said they would begin after the rainy season, which ends in late March & early April. We planned to arrive on March 25. The State Department warning went on to say that US embassy employees are currently prohibited from personal travel to the region, and official travel has been “severely restricted.”

Well, you can imagine how Bob and I felt. We were planning to travel with our 16 and 18 year old daughters. We’re not travel chickens by any means, but this information certainly had us reconsidering our plans. After contemplating it for several days (with a few nights of tossing and turning thrown in for good measure) we were leaning towards canceling, but wanted to get Sarah and Emily’s opinions on the matter. Sarah immediately told us there was “no way” she was going, and Emily, after a few minutes of quiet reflection said “I agree with Sarah.” I can’t say I was surprised, as that’s what I thought too.

The truth is, this warning from the State Department could be an exaggeration. I feel fairly confident that Americans traveling to Machu Picchu next month will be safe. But we’re simply not willing to take chances, certainly not with our kids. And I’m not sure we would have been able to enjoy ourselves either. So we cancelled.

Over the weekend we started the process of trying to get refunds. I spoke to United Airlines twice last week, and both agents told me they could put the 320,000 miles and $300 in taxes back into our account, but it would cost $600. After charging us the $600, they said we could petition United Airlines, to try and get the $600 back. But, as is often the case with United, I called a third time and got a kinder customer service agent, who as it turns out, is also the mother to two teenage girls. She immediately put the miles back into our account, credited us for the $300 in taxes, and waived the charges. I liked her. A lot.

LAN airlines was also immediately willing to refund the entire $1400, although I had to wait on hold for 45 minutes for them to do it. The LAN representative I spoke to said she was sad for her country of Peru.

1127984_machu_picchuThe $1000 deposit to SAS Travel is another matter. The first couple of emails from SAS in response to our request were “pre-recorded” answers, saying there were no reasons to fear and the US State Department has “blown this out of proportion.” But since we are diligent, especially when it comes to our money, they finally have responded with a personal answer. Our deposit has been used to purchase hiking permits, and permits to enter Machu Picchu. Those permits are non-transferable. We’ve also paid for the porters/guides permits. So our hope is to get back that amount that is not for permits, alas, about $200. As for our spring break plans now, it turns out last minute travel bookings are very expensive. We’re checking out all our options, but not really sure what exactly will turn up.

So yes, we got blindsided, but in the grand scheme of things….

Money Belts Offer Peace of Mind

Whenever I travel outside the U.S. I wear a money belt. You never know when you’ll have to look out for pick pockets, scam artists and muggers, and I’d rather be safe than sorry. I use my money belt for my passport, my credit cards, larger amounts of cash, train or airline tickets, and any other card or paper items of value. I always keep out enough cash to use during the day in a zippered pocket of my pants or skirt, or in a zippered pocket of my backpack, that way I’m not getting in and out of my money belt throughout the day, and if someone steals my backpack, they’ve only gotten that $50 in cash. All my important documents and excess cash however, are tucked away in the money belt. More than anything else, I feel better when my valuables are in my money belt and not in my bag.

My backpack was zipped open while it was on my back in San Jose, Costa Rica once, but all I had in there was a water bottle and a Lonely Planet Costa Rica guidebook (and neither were stolen!). Money belts come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and can go around your neck, around your waist, hook to a bra, strap to your leg, or even be used as a regular belt (but with a hidden compartment for rolled up cash). They come in a variety of comfortable fabrics too. My advice: protect your valuables and get extra peace of mind when you’re traveling with a money belt.

Visit our website to check out a variety of money belts and pouches!