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Going Places: Keeping Your Valuables Safe While You Travel

The Piazza San Marco in Venice, after a rain.

For as many happy stories as people bring back from vacation, sometimes there are a few bad ones, too. Tourists can be prime targets for pickpockets and thieves, anywhere on the planet.

KNKX travel expert Matthew Brumley some experience dealing with this, both through his personal travels and his work as a travel guide.

“I was just thinking about my experience packing around $20,000 in China and Mongolia a few years ago,” Brumley said. He was leading a tour group and in charge of tipping for 100 people. “I dressed down. I definitely didn’t look like the kind of guy who was carrying that sort of money.”

That’s one of Brumley’s tips on how to keep your belongings safe while traveling.

Dress The Part, And Back Things Up

“Leave the Rolex and the gold and the pearls at home,” he said. “The other thing is, keep digital copies of your passports, your credit cards, your driver’s license, medical information.”

You can scan them or even take a picture with your cell phone. Keep the digital copies stored somewhere you’ll be able to access should you lose the hard copy.

Hide Things

Money belts can help keep your cash out of view, and certainly out of the usual places pickpockets might look. Some tuck under the waistband of your pants. Others hang around your neck.

“I like the one that hangs around my neck, because if you’re in Italy getting a gelato, and you just need 5 Euro, to have to unbutton your pants” can be a pain, Brumley said.

You can also find, at a lot of travel stores, clothing with secret pockets, belts with space for money, and other ways to conceal your cash.

Hotel safes are also good. The key here: Don’t just use it as overnight storage. Keep about half your money or credit cards in there, in case someone manages to take things from you.

RFID Wallets

Credit cards and debit cards now have little chips, which some have said makes them more susceptible to skimmers – devices that can read the information on the chip without someone needing to actually take the card off your body.

Some wallets advertise themselves as “RFID wallets,” which means they have shielding to contain the radio frequency identification in the chips. Brumley is lukewarm on them.

“If you want to buy a new wallet, fine,” he said. “But I wouldn’t go out and purchase an RFID special wallet. They really haven’t found any cases where somebody’s standing on a street corner with a radio wave receiver pointing them at people trying to pick up on their credit card information.”


“Going Places” is 88.5’s weekly exploration of travel. Matthew Brumley is the co-founder of Earthbound Expeditions on Bainbridge Island, which provides small-group travel to clients including KNKX.

Ed Ronco is a former KNKX producer and reporter and hosted All Things Considered for seven years.