Whether you are preparing for a globe-hopping trip or just a two week stint in a foreign land, having the right travel gear can be the difference between stress and relaxation. We did lots of research before our trip and also got some great advice from travelers along the way. Now we want to share with you the most useful gear we used for traveling the world, especially when you want to keep things light and cheap.
In Part 1, we’ll focus on gear that keeps your money safe, perhaps the number one concern for a traveler. Of course, the bag you bring might be the most important aspect of your travel gear, but we covered that in our last post on How to Fly Around the World Without Ever Checking a Bag.
I admit that I’m a pretty picky wallet guy. I don’t like anything too bulky but I do like lots of areas for storage. I guess I like to have my cake and eat it too. With the Pacsafe WalletSafe 100, I was able to do just that. This tough nylon wallet’s main security feature is a metal chain that connects to the belt loop of your pants via a secure hooking mechanism. It comes on/off easily and allowed me to be much more relaxed walking through cities. No pickpocket could get this wallet without clearly alerting me to the attempt. It is easy to clean and has enough pockets for many credit cards as well as a nifty little zip pocket for change that I used all the time. Also, if you don’t want to use the chain, there is a velcro pocket to store it in. Since I always use it, that velcro pocket comes in handy for random little things you want to keep safe, like a key for instance. An important note about wallets – I only ever kept a bit of cash, one credit card, and one ATM card in the wallet – everything else went in the security pouch (see below).
Even with a secure wallet, there are still some things you don’t want to leave within reach of a possible pickpocket attempt. Things like your back-up cash & credit card, passports, and maybe the keys to your travel locks. When I traveled around Europe ten years ago, I used a security pouch that hung around my neck. But stuffed with passports it was visible through my shirt and also was pretty obvious when taken out. For this round, I bought an Eagle Creek Hidden Pocket, and it worked wonderfully. The hidden pocket attaches to your belt and goes down your pants right behind your front pants pocket. It is large enough to hold passports and has two little pockets if you want to put things like passport photos or folded up cash inside. I found that even with 3 passports and cash inside, I could wear it all day with jeans without it being uncomfortable. Also, to take it out you can just reach down and flip it out – much less noticeable than pulling a big pouch out from under your shirt. If you are worried about leaving passports in your room or if you are staying a hostel – the security pouch is an essential and inconspicuous piece of gear.
No fee ATM Card
When traveling it’s obviously best not to carry large amounts of cash at a single time to prevent loss in the case of theft. The problem is that banks like Bank of America charge an arm and a leg to take cash out internationally. Not only do you pay the fee for the ATM, but Bank of America charges you their own fee as well. That means that it can often cost $10 or more just to take out some cash! While there are several ATM cards that offer rebates, after research and two years of use, my recommendation is the Schwab Bank High Yield Checking Account.
Opening an account with Schwab is free and there is no minimum amount of money required in the account, so there is nothing to lose. It is easy to connect your Schwab account with other accounts (like your Bank of America) so you can transfer money to it electronically while you travel. This way you don’t have to keep a large amount in your Schwab account for peace of mind in case the card is stolen or somehow utilized (which is unlikely with the pin code). But the true highlight of the card is that it can be used at any international ATM and that it reimburses all ATM fees you are charged! In Thailand the charge was usually about $5, so at the end of each month our statement would show $30-$50 of ATM fee's returned back into our account!
This is particularly nice because now you can just take out smaller amounts of money at a time. I remember when using a traditional bank account while traveling I used to take out large amounts of money each time because I didn’t want to keep paying fees. With the Schwab card you don’t need to worry about that anymore. Honestly, with all the fees in the US these days, the card is great for domestic use as well. I tried it out at one of those private ATMs in a bar in the states and sure enough got the $5 debited back to my account at the end of the month. There is nothing to lose and only ATM fees to save – so why not?
Last, but not least, a secure purse/messenger bag, is a great piece of gear for any traveler – man or woman. While the wallet is the go-to for cash and cards, the purse can hold all sorts of essential gear while traveling like keys, phone, headphones, etc.. But when walking the crowded streets of a 3rd world country, it can be hard to feel secure with any purse. For us the solution was CitySafe 200 Shoulder Bag, which we nicknamed “the tank”.
The CitySafe 200 contains a stainless exo-mesh under its water-resistant nylon exterior, making it impossible for a thief to slash the bottom or side to gain access. The shoulder strap also has steel reinforcement and comes with a brilliant security feature. One side of the strap detaches with a metal hook and allows you put the strap through a chair or other fixture. This was crucial while at bars or restaurants, where we didn’t want to always have to keep one eye on the purse. We could simply affix the bag to one of our chairs and be sure it wasn’t going anywhere.
Other key features of the purse are the intelligent ways the pockets are designed so that the direction in which the main zipper opens is the opposite of the way in which the security pockets within open. In other words, if a thief manages to open your purse (which is unlikely since the main zipper has a small hook on the end that needs to be detached in order to open), he/she has to reach all the way across the purse in order to then open the internal pockets. Add to that a pocket that blocks RFID readers and you’ve got a portable safe on your hands. Neda would usually carry the bag for everyday use, but if we felt we were in a dodgy area or on travel days when we were more exposed, I could carry the bag on my front with my arm on top and it would be near impossible for a thief to access.
So there you have it - all the essential travel gear we used for keeping our money and valuables safe. Let us know how it works for you if you use any of it. In part 2, we’ll discuss the best electronics for the savvy traveler. See you there!