Keeping Your Money Safe When You Travel

March 15, 2018

I’ll be heading to Vietnam in a few days for the first time in my life. Though I’ve been in a position to visit before, I’ve generally shied away from doing so after reading accounts of tourists getting cheated, harassment on the streets… essentially everyone, everywhere viewing us as walking wallets.

While I’ve certainly had my share of experiences like that in Thailand, fellow travelers who had been to Vietnam described the problem as pervasive. And so, rather than stopping in Hanoi for a few months in 2016, I chose Sri Lanka. I’m not particularly concerned with my physical safety in a city like Saigon or an island resort like Phu Quoc, but that doesn’t mean I won’t be taking precautions.

Taking 2-3 credit cards, max

I currently have over ten pieces of plastic I rotate through depending on where I want the points to go. While I’m perfectly comfortable keeping all them with me at once in Japan – if lost, they’d probably just get turned in at the police box – I wouldn’t want to risk misplacing them in Southeast Asia, where I might suddenly find the charges for 17 iPhones on my account statement. One ATM card, one credit card, and one backup – with 0% foreign transaction fees, of course.

Cash on arrival

I don’t order foreign currency in advance of my trip, for the simple reason it’s a waste of money. Rather, I do my best to calculate the cash I’ll need, make one ATM withdrawal at the airport on arrival, and use my credit card when it’s accepted – better too have too much cash than run out and pay another ATM fee. When I left Korea to go to Japan and climb Mt. Fuji, I withdrew 50,000 yen for the week; I left the country with 120, just enough for a tea on the ferry.

Safety and security when traveling

I’ve never been the victim of pickpocketing, but my greatest loss was leaving my camera behind in Grand Central Terminal; when I returned for it a few minutes later, it was long gone. Nevertheless, as crafty as thieves may be in different countries, I’m not particularly concerned with them sticking their hands in my tight pockets.

Unless I’m staying at a big chain hotel with insurance to protect guests’ belongings (and enough of a social media presence to raise a fuss if they refuse), I am usually nervous about leaving valuables behind in my room. In a hostel, I lock everything up even when going to the toilet for a few minutes, but am aware it only takes one unscrupulous mid-range hotel employee to ruin my trip by swiping a laptop, card, phone, or cash.

If there’s a room safe, I use it; otherwise, I usually carry everything valuable with me rather than leaving it unattended in the room. Too paranoid?


I’ve only faced scams twice in all my travels, to my recollection: one willingly (I was exhausted and didn’t feel like calling him out) and one I saw right through. The latter was in Oceanside, California; a white van pulled up to me in the bank parking lot – during the middle of the day – and asked if I wanted to buy some new speakers… nothing sketchy about that.

The former was during a trip through Thailand, and the police were involved – they actually had the audacity to act like they were doing me a favor, making me pay a tuk-tuk drive several hundred Baht to reach a destination I knew was right around the corner. But, I was tired and just wanted to get to my hotel.

Eggs in different baskets

I always keep a little cash and one credit card in a separate area from my wallet, in the unlikely event someone does swipe it off me and I don’t get the chance to trip them. In fact, the only time I didn’t do this was on a trip to the mud festival in Boryeong, but my Mighty Wallet saved me. I can’t be sure someone was actually looking for money or just opened my bag by accident while I slept in the dorm, but the way it was folded and the design (a map of a mountainous region in the US), probably fooled the thief into thinking it was just some scraps of paper.

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