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Protecting Your Valuables on the Road
by Denise McCluggage

Don't carry a purse, wear it.

A purse can be snatched from your hand. Or it can disappear when you set it down to finger the fabric of a possible purchase.

And you can too easily leave a purse on the counter of a gas station where you signed a charge slip, or hang it in harm’s way over a restaurant chair while you lunch. Even across-the-body shoulder bags can be quickly cut by an expert at the craft and made off with. (Worth knowing: Shoulder bags and fanny packs are available with knife-foiling steel cables in the straps from shops specializing in travel gear.)

I like literally wearing my “purse.” I favor the so-called photojournalist’s vest with an array of pockets of varying sizes - exterior, interior and one on the backside useful for a flatly folded rain poncho. Some also have pouches the size of a small water bottle or mini umbrella.

My vests (I have several) have small and large pockets, inside and outside, some zippered, some with Velcro closing and some with snaps. The pockets are designed to hold camera gear from lenses to film, but a variety of stuff fits.

To avoid that pat-patting search ritual when trying to locate something carefully stowed I treat the vest as if it were a file cabinet and “file” the oft-carried items in an unvarying pattern. (Even vest to vest because they similar in layout.)

In one upper pocket (Velcro closed) I tuck a credit card and my driver’s license. The pocket just below holds, nerd-like, two pens. And for occasions requiring more light on the subject - guidebook in dark churches perhaps - I carry there a flat credit-card-sized flashlight that operate at a squeeze. Or a penlight might substitute for one of the pens.

In a shallow closed pocket at waist level are coins. On an inside pocket (deep and Velcro-closed) is my wallet - a small thin one. That pocket, alas, is not quite deep enough to hold a plane ticket or boarding pass and still be Velcro-ed shut so If I do put a ticket there I fold it (gently) at its crease.

In the chest pocket with a vertical zipper I keep “purse-y” things - a combo folding comb and brush, a tiny fingernail clipper, lipstick, Tums, etc.

The front flap pockets can hold - Velcro-ed in - my passport (in a soft, thin leather folder for anonymity). Another pocket can hold a city map or public transportation schematic. I always carry a small spiral notebook that fits in another pocket.

Yes, a camera can still fit, a small point-and-shoot or a disposable one. When I am seriously photographing I can carry one with a longer zoom lens on a (padded!) neck strap carried more or less inside the vest, long lens pointing downward. That way it is at the ready and I look more like a pro than a snap shooter. (More about photography next month.)

If I choose to carry yet more stuff without swelling into a Michelin man I can add a fanny pack (misnamed because for security reasons I wear it as a “belly” pack.) This is snapped around my waist under the vest so the latch is not easily accessible to someone with larcenous intent.

Backpacks: If there is even more to carry - such as a windbreaker, sweater, book or snack - I have a variety of backpacks to call on. One I like is relatively small “dressy” leather that travels almost flat in my suitcase. It has a number of concealed zippers and is not at all easy to open so I am less concerned about anyone behind me getting at its contents. (Anyway, in crowds I try to stand with a wall or post or something immediately behind me. And choose close-to-the wall seats in cafes. Not just for security reasons but because such a position usually affords a better view.)

The backpack contains little more than guidebooks and maps. Maybe a paperback mystery and a crushable jacket. Sometimes a lower-priced Walkman. Even full this backpack is flat enough that my sitting down (on a bus or subway for instance) while wearing it is not at all uncomfortable. And it is suitable in its flattest state for wearing to dinner or the theater. (And keeping it on.)

I have roomier backpacks as well so I can scale up to overnighting with my hands still free and nothing to drag behind.

For protecting valuables many travelers swear by the under-clothes money belts, or cotton or silk caches that hang around the neck, nestle in the concavities of the body and hold passport and/or cash. I have a couple of these but rarely use them. I like my vests. Which, incidentally, use mesh to good effect and thus are suitable for warm weather. In colder climes the vests over a sweater or nylon jacket or Polarfleece pullover help preserve heat at the body core where it counts. If your destination is truly hot similarly useful vests lighter in weight and sporting even more mesh are available.

Assorted hats can be had with small zipper pockets that will hold a few bills, a key and maybe a credit card, but realize that hats can be left behind and easily snatched or blown off.

Also handy is a wristlet that closes with Velcro and has a zippered compartment suitable for a hotel key, a few bills and an ID. The wristlet (also “leglets”) may have been designed for joggers but are handy for the sightseer, too. I’ve seen little purses made fast to your shoes when you tie your shoestrings. And socks with pockets. I’ve stashed a flat item or two in my shoe, but not when a lot of walking was involved.

Using a lot of tucking places that will spread the wealth around means that if one thing is lost or stolen you have not lost everything.

Most likely your hotel has a safe, or even your room in more up-scale hotels, to serve as a haven for important documents or cash while you carry only what the day demands. It’s wise to keep your passport with you always.

Some of the travel-clothing outfits such as Magellans  or TravelSmith have blazers with a number of pockets, inside and out, some zippered. The blazers may not have as many carrying options as the photographer’s vest but offer a more city, less safari, look. Check out the microfiber blazers - they are light in weight, feel particularly good to the hand and resist wrinkles and dirt. Some - even the lined ones - are machine (or basin) washable as well.

If you do carry a tote bag or a purse whether over-the-shoulder or across-the-chest (without in-strap cables) put in them only what you don’t mind (too much) losing such as reading material, guidebooks, maps, a not-too-favorite sweater. Stash valuables closer to your person in interior zippered pockets or next-to-the-skin caches. (Imagine the dismay of a panting thief checking his tote-bag haul in a back alley only to pull out a Guide Michelin, a menu translator, a John Sandford mystery and a Denver Broncos sweatshirt. Nyah, nyah. Serves you right.)     

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