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Anti Theft Travel Gear: 5 Ways To Keep Your Valuables Secure

Use some of these travel gadgets to outsmart thieves and pickpocketers

As a traveller you are obviously an attractive target for thieves. Fortunately, there are a number of different ways in which you can keep your belongings secure. Here’s my take on some of the common anti theft travel gear.

The money belt is the classic anti theft gear

1. Money pouch

Worn around your waist and underneath your clothes, the famous travel pouch is designed to discretely hold your money, credit cards, passport, etc.

This is a love-it-or-hate-it solution. Before my first big trip I thought it was surely the best thing since sliced bread, but in 22 months of travel it honestly rarely left my backpack. I know some people swear by these money pouches, but there are a couple of reasons why I don’t like them personally:

  1. Firstly, picture yourself digging around for something somewhere under your shirt… you just end up drawing attention to yourself. Not ideal.
  2. Despite marketing claims to the contrary, they are never completely comfortable. I’m always aware of it, especially if I’m in a summer destination where I’m only wearing a t-shirt. I always sort of feel like a police informant wearing a wire.
  3. While useful against opportunistic theft or pickpocketing, it won’t work against outright robbery. Thieves know about these pouches!

I’d probably say they are best for securing things while in transit (e.g. on night buses or trains). I have been less enthusiastic about wearing them in other travel situations, for instance when sightseeing.

Verdict: love it or hate it

Buy it here: check out this money belt by Eagle Creek

Security lockers at a hostel
Lockers are a common sight in backpacker hostels, low-cost guesthouses and budget hotels around the world.

2. Padlock for security lockers

A surprisingly handy piece of anti theft travel gear is a simple padlock, especially if you are going backpacking or travelling independently. If you stay in backpacker hostels or low budget guesthouses or B&Bs, then you are definitely going to need a padlock. If you are the type of traveller that more commonly stays in hotels, you can keep your belongings in the hotel safe (if there is one), but budget places usually have lockers only, and expect you to have a padlock for them. Make sure you buy a combination padlock so that you don’t have to worry about losing the key!

In my opinion, your place of accommodation is typically a good secure location to keep your stuff. When I head out, I only bring along any cash I need for the day, and keep my passport, bank cards and the rest of my money at my hotel or hostel. There are some paranoid people who advise against this, but in all my travels I have yet to hear of anyone having anything stolen from a secure place at their accommodation.

Padlocks can also be used for locking individual compartments on some types of backpacks which have little rings on the zippers. This obviously won’t stop a determined thief from cutting through the fabric or just stealing your bag entirely, but it’s a nice way to prevent pickpocketing.

Verdict: definitely bring a padlock – 100% essential!

Buy it here: travel padlock by Master Lock 

Using a wire mesh on a train

3. Wire lock or wire mesh

Wire locks can be pretty useful for anchoring your bags to a pole or other fixed object so they can’t be stolen as easily. The wire is usually quite thin however so anyone with the right tools can easily break them, but they are mainly intended to prevent opportunistic theft. The normal wire lock is basically a combination padlock but with a metal string that you can pull out and wrap around a pole or other fixed object. You also have wire mesh locks that allow you to wrap your entire luggage in metal wires and attach this to a fixed point.

These locks are good for occasional use. I most like to use them sometimes to fix my belongings in place when travelling by bus or train overnight. You could possibly also use them to fix things in place in your room, but I have personally been far too lazy to do this (when my stuff is behind a locked door, I’m usually satisfied it won’t get stolen).

Verdict: occasionally useful

Buy it here: PacSafe cable lock or Pacsafe wire security mesh

Secret bag compartment

4. Secret luggage compartment

My backpack has a tiny little zipper and behind it is a secret compartment just big enough to fit a passport, some money and one or two bank or credit cards. See if your backpack, daypack or purse has a similarly secure compartment.

Of course, this does not prevent someone from stealing a bag wholesale. But if someone were to quickly go through my belongings, it would be very difficult for them to find my most important ones.

Verdict: super useful! Try to have a secret storage place

Subtle belt pouch

5. Belt pouch (or secret belt compartment)

I actually don’t know where you can buy these—I bought this one at a market in Mexico. But for me this is a perfect alternative to a money belt or wallet.

This little pouch attaches to my belt and nicely fits unseen under my shirt. It’s just big enough to fit a couple of folded up bills (only what I need for the day) and any small change I just keep in my pockets. Unlike a money belt I can’t feel this thing on my skin all the time, and I can easily get money out without looking and without noticeably having to pull up my shirt.

Another alternative that I haven’t tried but seems clever is the money belt (these are literally a belt with a secret compartment inside), however the money in this case is not as readily accessible. It just looks a little awkward digging around your crotch area for that money, so it’s best for storing emergency money only.

I actually got robbed in Rio De Janeiro and this belt pouch remained totally undetected, so all I lost was about a dollar worth of Brazilian reales… phew!

Verdict: my new favorite way of securing my money. 

Buy it here: Not sure! I bought this at a market and have not been able to find anything quite like it online. There’s some bigger belt holders meant to store compact cameras in, but nothing this small that fits under your shirt. Keep your eyes peeled at markets, I guess…

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11 comments

  1. Jacob Reply April 26, 2016 at 6:07 pm

    How do you secure your camera when you bring it with you on day trips? Say at the beach and you want to go swim. Do you lock your day bag to a pole?

    Thanks for all the useful information!

  2. Rish Reply April 5, 2016 at 1:53 pm

    Hi Marek. Love your blog, brought your book. Planning on sending you a much longer message later due to how much awesome info I’ve got from you but currently scrambling to get ready for my trip!

    Quick question – how did you keep your laptop secure in hostels when there was no locker/safe available? Did you just use your retractable cable lock you had for your daypack and leave it locked to a pole or something? I’m debating on getting either the cable lock or the PacSafe TravelSafe 5L but not sure if that’s overkill. Any advice would be much appreciated!

    • Marek Reply April 5, 2016 at 4:26 pm

      Hey Rish. Glad it’s helpful! To answer your question, I’ve found secure lockers in most hostels, so usually this isn’t a problem. In rare cases where there isn’t, I’d leave it at reception or in a secure storage room when I’m away. (Sometimes I also stay in a private room that can be locked, which means I don’t need a locker or anything.) The retractable cable lock comes in handy sometimes for securing your bag in a shared space. Portable safes or wire meshes are nice but also tend to be heavy/bulky, so you might decide it’s overkill…

  3. Lara Reply March 14, 2016 at 10:25 am

    My father’s always wearing a belt pouch. No idea where he bought it, I definitely have to ask him!

  4. Anne Betts Reply April 28, 2015 at 6:03 pm

    I’m in the love ’em camp on security pouches.. hardly notice it’s there. In terms of anti-pickpocket strategies, I like the idea of internal plastic hardware sewn inside pockets and bags to which pouches can be attached. Too many steps are needed for pickpockets who rely on stealth and speed. Here are some examples of what’s possible: http://packinglighttravel.com/travel-tips/luggage-and-packing/anti-pickpocket-gear/

  5. Ready Steady Travel✈ Reply April 8, 2014 at 4:16 pm

    Some great tips, I am going to have to look at getting some of these for sure. I thought about getting an exomesh Pacsafe cage that goes over the whole of the bag. Do you or anyone else have any thoughts on these?

    • Marek Indietraveller Reply April 8, 2014 at 4:25 pm

      I don’t have personal experience with these, but perhaps someone can chip in with their 2 cents. I have seen such meshes only on rare occasion on the trail, perhaps because they are fairly big/heavy. They’re not a common sight but I do imagine they offer better security than other solutions.

  6. Escape Hunter Reply March 26, 2014 at 4:23 pm

    Wire locks can be easily cut. I prefer the conventional locks!

    • Marek Indietraveller Reply March 26, 2014 at 11:50 pm

      They are indeed super thin and will only ever work against purely opportunistic theft…

  7. Agness Reply March 26, 2014 at 9:10 am

    Security lockets always work with me. I pin it to my backpack and it feels much safer to travel 🙂

  8. Charlie Reply March 25, 2014 at 11:01 am

    I never heard of a bolt holster before, doesn’t look like a bad idea though. I definitely prefer leaving as much stuff behind in my accommodation when I go out though. Even at home in the UK I prefer not to carry cash when I don’t have to.

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