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Some Valuable Lessons in Keeping Your Money Safe and Thieves at Bay

March 25, 2001|SUSAN SPANO | TIMES TRAVEL WRITER

Money management for travelers is a matter of choosing the safest, most convenient form for your funds, which could mean cash, traveler's checks, ATM card, credit cards or some combination thereof. Maybe more crucial, though, is figuring out where to keep your money and how to handle it on the road, a process that's made complicated for women travelers by such accessories as handbags and coin purses.

Anne Hopkins, a widely traveled vice president in the Travelers Cheques Group at American Express, is a firm believer in what she calls "protected funds," such as traveler's checks and credit cards, which, unlike cash, can be replaced if stolen or lost. When she's abroad, she usually leaves as many of her valuables as possible in the hotel safe and goes out with just a little local currency and other valuables, such as a credit card and passport, in her travel billfold. Above all, she leaves copies of her passport and credit cards and her traveler's check numbers at home with her husband, which makes them easier to replace if need be.

Phyllis Stoller, president of the Women's Travel Club, a tour company in Aventura, Fla., wears a pouch around her waist, concealed beneath trousers a size too large so she can easily get the pouch out when she wants to make a purchase. For a week in Europe, she takes two credit cards, $300 in cash and $500 in traveler's checks, and she uses hotel safes whenever she can. Stoller advises women to clean out their wallets before hitting the road, leaving behind unnecessary items, such as department store credit cards.

Gloria McManus, co-founder and vice president of Magellan's, an Internet and catalog travel gear company in Santa Barbara, generally takes about $400 in U.S. currency, a few credit cards and her ATM card, which she uses to get local currency when she arrives at the airport. For years, she has relied on a nylon wallet made by Eagle Creek, which she loops around her belt or pins to her waistband and then tucks inside her skirt or pants.

Sheila Swan, co-author of "Safety and Security for Women Who Travel" (Travelers' Tales Guides, 1998), uses ATMs wherever she goes. She keeps a little local currency in a coin purse in her handbag, separate from her wallet, which contains the rest of her valuables.

What these and many other women travelers have in common is that they follow the fundamental divide-and-conquer rule for managing money on the road. It dictates keeping several stashes of money and valuables in different places so if you get robbed or your pocket is picked, you won't lose the works.

On other money security issues, women differ. Some wouldn't dream of using foreign ATMs because the machines often attract thieves. Some women don't feel comfortable with hotel safes either. I would never be parted from my passport, but other women carry only a copy of it when they're outside the hotel.

Christinecolumbus.com, an Internet travel gear company for women, sells a "security half-slip" in black or white that has hidden pockets at the lace hem, and Jenna Mitchell, a Culver City entrepreneur, has devised shoulder pads with hidden pockets that she sells by mail, phone and Internet.

I have not tried the slip or the shoulder pads, but so far, I've never met any other hidden wallet, pocket or pouch I liked. They tend to be hot and uncomfortable and make me feel fat. Moreover, I'd rather die than have to reach inside my bra every time I wanted to buy something.

But when I travel to dicey places, I do use a hidden money belt, which holds my passport, credit cards and most of my cash and traveler's checks. For easy access, I also keep a little money and one credit card in a slim, oblong fabric wallet. It fits perfectly in my black leather fanny pack, which I wear at my waist.

For trips to places where I feel relatively comfortable, I often break the divide-and-conquer rule, leaving my hidden money belt at home. In these cases, all my valuables go in my fanny pack, which I prefer to a purse because it keeps my hands free. It's also small, old and worn, so it doesn't attract as much attention as a fancy leather handbag.

For me, feeling secure about my valuables is chiefly a matter of not attracting attention. I never count my money in public, and I read up on the currency in my destination before I leave home so I'm less likely to fumble with it on arrival. Instead of using a currency converter, which I find cumbersome, I jot down in my notebook how much various quantities of the foreign currency are worth in dollars, for quick reference.

And I haven't been robbed yet. Knock on wood.

*

Christinecolumbus.com, 15946 S.W. 72nd Ave., Portland, OR 97225; telephone (800) 280-4775, fax (800) 803-5383, Internet http://www .christinecolumbus.com.

Magellan's, 110 W. Sola St., Santa Barbara, CA 93101; tel. (800) 962-4943, fax (800) 962-4940, http://www.magellans.com.

Studio J (the source for Jenna Mitchell's shoulder pad money pockets), P.O. Box 1132, Culver City, CA 90232; tel. (310) 854-7465, fax (310) 306-0817, http://www.money pockets.com.

The Women's Travel Club, 21401 N.E. 38th Ave., Aventura, FL 33180; tel. (305) 936-9669, fax (305) 937-7649, http://www.womenstravelclub .comhttp://.

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