How to Use a Money Belt in Italy: It’s Not a Fanny Pack

I can almost hear what you’re thinking as you open this article. I am not a mind reader, but I had some of the same thoughts when I was planning my first Italy trip, too.

“I don’t need that, I’ll notice if someone is trying to take something out of my purse.”

“That’s silly, I would feel someone taking my wallet from my back pocket.”

“A money belt? Italy seems safe enough. Why bother?”

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

Eagle Creek money belt

Eagle Creek money belt

You’ll hear from people who traveled in Italy without using a money belt and who never had anything stolen, and you’ll think that’s normal. That is, in fact, lucky. You’ll also hear from plenty of people who had things go missing, from back pockets, from purses, from open backpacks. And in my book, it’s much better to travel safe than to end up sorry.

Now, this is not to say Italian cities are heinous or dangerous places. They’re not any more dangerous, in my personal experience, than similar cities the world over. You’re just as likely to be pickpocketed in London, Paris, Athens, and Rome – if, that is, you’re not taking the proper precautions. And one of those precautions is a money belt.

Unfortunately, buying it and using it the right way are apparently two different things. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen people wearing money belts outside their clothing… This, if you haven’t guessed by now, is not correct. The whole point of a money belt is to keep the existence of any additional cash or credit cards hidden from potential pickpockets. If they can see the money belt, you’re not letting it do its job.

Here’s how to use a money belt in Italy, or wherever you travel.

  1. Put a ziploc plastic bag inside the money belt’s pouch. Some come with a plastic bag like this already when you buy it, but if it doesn’t, grab one from your kitchen drawer and fold it up inside. Wearing a money belt around all day, you’ll get sweaty – and putting your cash, credit cards, and any other documents you’re carrying inside the bag before you put the bag inside the money belt keeps all of that from getting (ahem) moist.
  2. Carry in your wallet only one credit or debit card. If you’re bringing more than one credit or debit card with you to Italy, put only the one you’re planning to use (or at least the one you plan to use most) that day in your wallet or purse. Put the rest in your money belt.
  3. Carry only the cash you think you’ll use that day in your wallet. Again, don’t put all the cash you’ve withdrawn into your wallet. Since you’ll pay fees every time you take money out of the bank machines in Italy (unless you’ve got one of those awesome fee-free banks), you want to withdraw larger sums and make fewer withdrawals. That means you’ll be holding way more cash than you need on a daily basis. Put most of it in your money belt, not in your wallet.
  4. Put important documents in your money belt. If you aren’t staying in a hotel with a room safe, or you’d just feel better knowing some things were on your person, then carry things like your passport (or at least a photocopy of the photo and signature pages), any emergency contact information, train tickets, etc. in your money belt, too.
  5. Wear the money belt underneath your trousers. This is critical. Basically, the money belt is a layer between your underwear and your trousers. It’s not meant to be easily accessed. It’s meant to keep your valuables safe.

There are money pouches that are similar, worn around the neck on a slight string, but (as a woman) I find these really unflattering. Plus, there’s no way to hide them unless I’m wearing a bulky coat. But if you prefer the money pouch option, go for it. The same basic rules apply.

Do not wear the money belt like this, you guys.

Do not wear the money belt like this, you guys.

What happens when you happen upon a restaurant that looks fabulous, gets rave reviews, only takes cash, and it looks like it will cost more than what you’ve got in your wallet? You duck into the bathroom during the meal to pull more cash out of your money belt.

What happens when you’re buying something in a shop and want to use the credit card you didn’t put in your wallet that day? And there’s no bathroom to duck into? You can still get your money belt out, pulling it from inside your trousers (making apologetic gestures to the shopkeeper usually gets the point across) without disrobing.

Yes, it can be a little awkward. But compare that to how awkward your vacation will be if you realize your wallet with all your cash and credit cards are missing.

Again, I don’t want you to read this and think that Italy isn’t safe. The bottom line is that it’s unfamiliar territory, and should be treated with the appropriate level of caution. When you’re at home, you’re not staring up in awe at the facade of a gorgeous church, blissfully unaware that your purse is still gaping open because you just pulled your camera out. When you’re traveling, you’re on sensory overload, so it’s easy to miss a little thing like someone sliding your wallet from your pocket on a crowded bus.

There is someone in every crowd who will look like an easy target for a potential thief. Don’t let that person be you.

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2 responses to “How to Use a Money Belt in Italy: It’s Not a Fanny Pack”

  1. I love your articles, Jessica. Thank you! 🙂

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