Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Planning a Visit: Foiling the Criminals' Plans

I'm not an experienced world traveler. In fact, my international expeditions thus far in life have all taken place in Canada (which, honestly, is no different than being in the USA). I've heard stories from friends and loved ones about their travel experiences, though, and there is no shortage of anecdotes online. These, of course, are sprinkled with a healthy dose of horror stories--being mugged, being kidnapped, losing your passport and not being able to return home. All of this has made me very wary over the years of branching out in my destinations of choice.

Now, however, I find myself faced with the prospect of visiting not only one, but TWO very different countries: Guatemala next spring, and the Philippines in a year and a half.

What I'm most worried about is having my money, credit card and passport stolen. I'm inordinately afraid of pickpockets even here in the US (at Universal Studios, for example, I walk with my hands in my pockets so that I can be physically touching my money), and I've heard how much worse it is overseas. The easiest and most appealing solution that has been offered to me thus far is to carry everything in one of those under-your-shirt money belts. I've heard, though, that they can be quite bulky and uncomfortable, so I was curious which brand was the most preferred and what other options I might have. Tonight, I sat down to research my options in that regard.

The first thing I came across was actually an actual belt ... at least, at first glance. This has a hidden zippered compartment inside for storing money, a driver's license, a credit card, and even a single key. This option appeals to me, because I would wear a belt anyway--no added, uncomfortable bulk under my clothes required. Plus, it's just fun! I'd feel like James Bond--just a little bit!--with my Top Secret Compartment Belt. The downside is that it's obviously not big enough to carry my passport or boarding pass. In the US, I would just leave these things in my hotel room. Overseas ... not so much.

So I searched on, and found a wallet that's large enough to hold my passport, ticket, credit cards, money, and a partridge in a pear tree. As a bonus, it also blocks RFID,  thereby preventing technologically-savvy criminals from obtaining your electronically-stored information. It folds in half and hangs from a lanyard, which allows you to wear it around your neck and tuck it inside your shirt. While it's certainly safe from being pick-pocketed there, it's not in any way secret--people are gonna see it, and unscrupulous fellows will know that it holds your treasured goodies. This, experienced travelers warn, makes you a more tempting target for muggers. Ack!

Not satisfied with that option, I continued to search and came across the Hidden Pocket by Eagle Creek. Large enough for money, credit cards and passport, it hooks to your belt and then tucks inside your pants! That made me think it would be uncomfortable, but the reviews on almost unanimously agree that it's soft, light, and you hardly realize you're wearing it. And as long as your pants aren't super skin-tight, no one else can tell you're wearing it, either. Sounds like a winner to me!

So, after carefully considering the various options, I think I will probably go with both the belt and the hidden pocket. That way I can split my money and cards up, so even if one of my anti-pick-pocket devices fails, I only lose half of my stuff.

This research has also taught me some valuable lessons that I'd not have realized otherwise. The first is that things like the Hidden Pocket and the James Bond Belt aren't intended to be used as wallets--if people see you take them out and/or take money out of them, it sorta defeats the purpose and makes you a target for mugging. The experienced travelers advise to carry money for the day's activities in your pockets like normal, and use the hidden compartments for the rest of your money and things that you need to keep secure by keeping on your person because the housekeeping staff at the hotel can't be trusted.

Some also suggest carrying a decoy wallet--something to appease an attacker and buy you time to get away before they decide to search you more thoroughly.  They say, if you get held up, to THROW the decoy wallet as far as you can and then RUN in the opposite direction. While the robber is busy absconding with your decoy (which they purportedly won't open until they have left the scene of the crime), you escape to safety. Assuming, of course, that you don't get shot for irritating the bad guy when you throw it.

Who would've thought this would all be so complicated?!

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