Your Money Belt Life Support System

Money belts are pouches that are strapped on your person underneath your clothes. There are neck, waist and leg money belts. Your money belt is your life support system that should have some cash in US dollars and the local currency, and your most important documents: your passport, tickets, a debit card, insurance policy card, traveler's checks, your emergency contact booklet and anything else of major importance.

Your emergency contact booklet should contain the names, telephone numbers, addresses and e-mails of friends, embassies/consulates, police, your insurance company, the traveler's check company, your bank and so forth to contact in case of an emergency.

When staying at a hotel always get the hotel's business card or write down their address and telephone number and keep it with you. If you were ever to get lost wandering you'll be able to find your way back to the hotel.

Money belts are not really a secret anymore and muggers will find it, but money belts do help prevent loss and theft. You should keep your money belt with you at almost all times. If you will be going swimming then leave your money belt in the hotel safe or with someone you highly trust that is traveling with you. When you leave documents and valuables at the hotel safe be sure to get an itemized list of everything deposited and have it signed by a hotel staff member. Keep a copy for yourself.

It is a good idea to keep the money and documents in your money belt inside a ziplock bag. This way, if you get wet your important items will keep dry. Do not make your money belt bulky. Keep it nice and thin. Bulky money belts are a dead giveaway that your important items are on you and shows where they are located. Also, don't be dipping into your money belt every time you make a purchase. Keep a separate wallet for such occasions, such as a dummy wallet.

Make three photocopies of all important documents, including your emergency contact booklet and the front page of your passport. Keep a copy of everything in your backpack with a photo ID (not your passport) and at least one debit card. Leave copies of your documents at home and with an emergency contact person. Scan all of your documents and save them in a folder in your email account. Showing copies of your documents will make it easier to get them replaced. Even if you were to lose everything you'll still have copies of your important documents saved in your email.

Dummy Wallets and Hidden Cash

Keep a dummy, or decoy, wallet in your pant's front pocket as it is harder for pickpockets to get to it. A dummy wallet should have just a few bills and coins in the local currency, some useless debit cards and a few business cards to make it seem like this is the only wallet on you. If you get mugged, just give the mugger your dummy wallet and he'll probably leave you alone. Use your dummy wallet to make purchases throughout the day, don't be taking cash out of your money belt.

Sew pockets on the inside of your pants. Here you can store some emergency cash and a debit card. You can also hide cash in the soles of your shoes, flashlights, in the binding of hardcover books and inside pens. There are belts that have hidden compartments where you can store extra cash and copies of your documents too. Always keep at least $100 US cash, and perhaps some traveler's checks, hidden away from your money belt.

Thieves normally won't be able to get to your money belt and hidden cash. Muggers will have to strip you of everything to find your cash hiding places. It is very unusual when a mugger strips a victim of everything, but even if this happens you'll still be prepared by following the advice in the rest of this section.

Traveler's Checks and PrePaid Travel Cards

Traveler's checks are basically insured money. You buy the checks for a small fee and each one comes with a number. If your traveler's check gets lost, stolen or destroyed you can call the issuing company and give them the check's number to get it replaced. You can also spend traveler's checks and have them cashed at banks. The disadvantage is that if you need to cash them you will sometimes be charged a high commission fee (which could be as high as 10%).

It is a good idea to have a couple or a few hundred dollars worth of traveler's checks. In a pinch, they can get you by until you work things out. Due to commission fees use your traveler's checks for emergencies only. Have at least some of the checks in small denominations. Buy dual-signature checks if you will be traveling with someone you trust, as either person can spend or cash the checks. Be sure to make copies of the checks' numbers as outlined above. Only buy traveler's checks from the major brands like American Express, Barclays, Visa, Citibank and Thomas Cook as they have branches all over the world. You can buy traveler's checks from banks, credit unions and online. Here are some resources:

American Express Traveler's Checks

Visa Traveler's Checks

There are prepaid travel debit cards, which work like traveler's checks only in plastic form. You load your card with money and you can reload it whenever needed. You can use the card like a regular debit card to withdraw cash from some ATMs and to make purchases. The issuing company will replace the card if needed.

There are problems with travel debit cards though. You are assessed huge fees for loading the card and for using it, usually much more so than for traveler's checks. There are minimum reload increments and a limit on how much each card can be loaded with. A regular debit card works just as good, even better, and without the high fees. Really the only reason why you might want to have a travel debit card is because they are easier to replace than regular debit cards.

Thomas Cook and Visa are two companies that offer the cards.

Bank Accounts and Emergency Transfers

You should have several bank accounts and a savings account back home. Your regular accounts will have enough money (and then some) to fund your travels. Your savings account should be used for emergencies only.

Have at least two to three bank accounts and a debit card for each one. Keep a card hidden on you (in your money belt or elsewhere) and another one or two hidden away at different places in your backpack. If one of your cards gets lost or stolen you will still have one or two more to use. Make sure that your debit cards are not linked together. This provides added security from theft and protects you in case one of the cards gets frozen by the bank. Banks will sometimes freeze cards so they can't be used when they suspect suspicious activity (for example, you make withdrawals from several different countries in a week).

Be sure that you are signed up for online banking. That way you can get on the internet to check the status of your accounts and transfer funds from one account to another as needed. Keep your bank's contact information on hand in case you need to call them.

A good idea is to leave a few hundred dollars or so with someone you trust back home. If you are ever in an emergency and need cash quickly (your debit cards have been lost, for example) then he or she can send you the money. This can keep you on your feet until you've resolved the problem issues.

The ATM Locator can help you find an ATM machine anywhere in the world.

Western Union is a good way to send and receive money worldwide. There are over 320,000 agent locations worldwide in over 200 countries and territories. You can receive money within minutes after the transaction has taken place. Money can be sent from a Western Union location, or through a debit or credit card from certain countries.

Western Union can be costly to send money, so only use this option in an emergency. To receive the funds you will need to go to an agent location and show a government-issued photo ID (if your passport and ID was lost or stolen you won't be able to pick up the transfer). You will need to know the exact amount of money that is being sent to you as some unscrupulous agents will round off the amount sent and keep the change. A downside is that you will be walking around with a lot of cash.

iKobo Money Transfer is Western Union without most of the disadvantages. You and a person you trust back home both need to sign up for an iKobo account. You'll receive an iKobo Visa PrePaid card. When you need money fast your designated iKobo person back home simply goes online and places funds into your PrePaid card. You will then instantly be able to withdraw cash from over 1,000,000 ATMs worldwide. It's super fast, easy, much cheaper than Western Union, you won't be walking the streets with a bunch of cash, you don't need to show ID to receive the funds, you can use the card to make purchases anywhere that Visa is accepted, you can get your money right away and you can even send money to yourself from your bank account to your iKobo card.

Someone needs to first send you money before iKobo sends you your card (so do this before you go on your trip to have the card with you). If you lose the card a replacement will be sent to you via FedEx when money is sent again. This could take 3 to 7 days.

Money Dealings

Carry lots of coins and bills in small denominations. Many places just won't have change even for small amounts of money. Especially in the lesser developed countries, give taxi drivers the exact fare (otherwise the driver might keep the extra money as a "tip"). If you will be going to very small towns be sure that you have enough money to carry you through your stay there. Believe it or not, there are still some places that don't have banks or even ATM machines.

You should do some basic research on what the exchange rates are and general local prices before going on your trip. However, once you're in the foreign country it is a good idea to ask about average prices for the things you will be purchasing or paying for, especially in areas that don't have the prices listed. You could get overcharged. So when in doubt, ask someone about the prices who has nothing to gain from the transaction.

Avoid all offers for fast or easy cash as at least 99% of the time they are scams. Always be alert in all dealings with your money. When you purchase something, exchange money, receive change, pay for a service, are asked questions about your money - always be observant. There are countless ways in which you could be separated from your money, some are what you want, others aren't. Don't let your money leave your hands for anything without first being careful. You might be signing up for a tour, but they could be overcharging you or you might be able to find a better tour for a lower price. Same goes for hostels, transportation and any dealings with money.

There are also scammers, beggars and fake lovers that are experts in convincing people to give their money away. Scammers are far more common than thieves or thugs and most are very smooth talkers. The easiest way for people to get your money is for you to give it to them. Pay attention.

Examples Of Possible Worst-Case Scenarios

Let's say you leave your hostel to walk around town. You get stuck in a crowd and are smashed between people like a sardine in a can. Finally you get away from the crowd and realize that your dummy wallet has been pick-pocketed. You don't like it, but it was just a few bucks so no big deal. You then make a wrong turn and are grabbed from behind by someone while two others search your person. They discover your money belt and decide to take everything (your passport, debit card, traveler's checks, insurance policy card), rather than just the cash.

Shaken up a bit, you tell yourself that at least you still have some emergency cash and a debit card stored in your hidden pocket. But suddenly you get mugged again and are stripped down to your underwear. There goes your emergency money and debit card.

You flag a taxi and explain that you were robbed. You'll pay the fare at the hostel. Back at the hostel you have extra traveler's checks and cash rolled up inside a couple of pens. You also have another debit card hidden in the binding of a hard-bound book. When you enter your room you are shocked to discover that all of your belongings have been stolen! Even all of your pens!

So you go to the hostel's front desk and ask for your things from the safe deposit box. You'll get your photo ID and call your emergency contact person so she'll send you money via Western Union. But when the receptionist opens up the box, it's empty! She explains that she has no idea who could have stolen your things. She asks to see the signed paper that itemizes the items you stored, but that was stolen along with your other things.

Then you remember that you still have your iKobo Visa PrePaid card wrapped in a plastic bag and taped behind the bathroom mirror. Great. You go back to your room in confidence only to find that the iKobo card isn't there! You are traveling alone and there is no one at the hostel willing to help you.

You can't believe this is happening, but of course you have other back-up plans. You get the taxi driver to take you to your embassy. You explain your situation to the consul and you are loaned the money for the taxi fare. You are also given clothes, food and a place to stay at the embassy. You get into your email and print up the copies of your important documents. This makes it easier for the embassy to issue a new passport. It's in your hands within 24 hours. You call your emergency contact person back home and she sends you a few hundred dollars via Western Union. You're able to receive the money by showing your new passport. Then you go to the nearest American Express office and get your traveler's checks replaced.

You don't speak much of the local language so someone from the embassy who does decides to go with you to the police station. He translates for you. The police begin an investigation, first at the hostel in question.

You call your emergency contact person again and she sends you money via iKobo. Your new iKobo card will arrive in three days. You inform your bank of the stolen debit cards. They cancel them and send you new ones. You contact your travel insurance company and they begin making arrangements to cover your stolen items, to pay for your costs at the embassy and to cover extra expenses due to your trip being prolonged.

A few days after your unbelievably unlucky day you have all of your necessary documents replaced. Your traveler's checks have been replaced. Your insurance company has compensated you for your costs at the embassy, extra expenses and for the loss of your personal items and cash. The police contact you stating that they caught a guy trying to sell your digital and video cameras. He's in jail now and you can go pick up your stuff. You're relieved. It was a terrible experience, but you're ok and ready to continue your trip.

This story is a grossly exaggerated example of what could happen if you had extremely bad luck, and it gives examples of what you can do to handle the situations. Do you see the absurdity of the possibility that all of these things could happen to you on the same day? The chances are infinitesimally small that this scenario would happen to you. But even if it does, with a little preparation you'll be just fine. The small things that are much more likely to occur, like a lost debit card, can be easily handled and won't affect the rest of your trip.

Plan well. Travel safely. Have fun.

Travel Course: Beggars

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