I’ve traveled internationally in the past, but this past summer’s trip to Italy, Croatia was my first time to travel internationally alone. For me, traveling is always high stress, and traveling alone definitely added a layer of anxiety.
Being extra vigilant about my security felt important, and I think the creative ways I came up with to keep my belongings (including my passport and wallet) safe from pickpockets, theft, or just loss might be worth blogging about for other solo travelers thinking about ways to keep their passport and ID conveniently stored but also secure
Choose the Right Bag (and Modify It):
The right type of suitcases, backpacks, and purses are the first line of defense from theft. For this trip, I used an Eagle Creek backpack for transfers (where I had to have luggage), and an ultralightweight North Face bag for day trips. This setup worked well because the North face bag only weighed 6 ounces and could tuck into a pocket of the larger backpack. The Eagle Creek backpack has a pocket that is only accessible from the panel that rests on the back of the wearer. This RFID protected pocket sits securely between the shoulder blades preventing theft, providing lots of peace of mind in places like crowded train and bus stations.
While the Eagle Creek bag was well thought out, it’s also heavy, so the NorthFace bag was my go-to for exploring overseas. Unfortunately, the setup of the North face bag is not ideal for a traveler concerned with security. There’s a pocket on the front which doesn’t seal at all, and the pocket just inside the main zipper that, while handy, felt too exposed to use as is.
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To give myself a little extra security when storing my wallet in my North face bag during my trip, I used a lanyard and a coin purse to create a literal link between my wallet and my bag. The lanyard, knotted onto my bag, was clipped directly onto the zipper of the change purse- making it impossible to steal my cash or credit cards without unzipping two zippers first.
Use a lanyard to tether your coin purse or wallet to something you are wearing, like a backpack.
Keeping your Passport Safe When Traveling Solo
All of these tips for keeping your wallet and backpack safe can also obviously be applied to passports stored in the same bag. However, I add a simple layer of security through basic disguise
A thief who wants to steal your passport knows exactly what to look for – a dark colored booklet. Foil the pilfering pickpocket by placing your passport in a brightly colored envelope. Not only does this make a dark navy blue passport – like America’s – easier to find in a dark purse or bag when you need it for customs inspections, it also offers a simple disguise.
If you’ll be traveling with a group, I also recommend a simple decoration for your passport to help it stand out from the crowd. When I traveled to Bosnia by bus in 2017 our passports were collected as a group each time we crossed a border. The bus conductor would call out names and return passports individually, however thick accents and my easily mispronounceable name meant that getting my passport back was always a little dicey. Finally, I added a bit of washi tape from my bullet journal travel journal kit, and was able to easily watch the conductor and wait for him to read from the passport with the washi taped exterior.
Keep Valuables Behind Two Zippers
I adopted an informal “two zipper” rule- meaning that values didn’t go in pockets or bags unless they were protected by two zippers.
In the series of photos below you can see how the rule created a kind of complex and secure place to stow important documents without making them easy to access.
When I needed to purchase something, I simply needed to unzip two zippers, but a thief would have a really difficult time accessing my money behind two zippers and secured to my bag via a polyester cord.
This also helped ensure that I never left my wallet anywhere– and even if I tried, the wallet would tag along when I stood to leave.
Making purchases overseas can be stressful enough when you are trying to calculate exchange rates and handling of foreign currency, having my lanyard hold my wallet was also really helpful because I always knew exactly where my wallet was, even a few times when the wallet wasn’t exactly in the pocket where it was supposed to be I could fish it out of the bottom of my bag by using the strap instead of having those panicky moments of wondering if I had been pick pocketed at last tourist spot I visited.
Make Yourself Too Much Trouble to Rob
I owned show horses for years and one of the rules in the equipment room of a barn- where theft was sonewhat common but never preventable- was to deter theft by making your stuff very distinctive or just too time-consuming to be an “easy” nab. The rules apply to keeping your ID, money, and tech safe when traveing. For a tiny bit of extra security you can also secure the zipper of your backpack with a small carabiner.
On days when I need to be extra secure, such as visiting the Vatican in Rome or Croatia’s very crowded national park, I’d snap the two zipper-pulls together in order to add an extra level of complication to any pickpocket trying to target me.
Keeping Keys Handy
A anyard was also really helpful for securing my keys. You never really know what to expect from AirBnB’s in regards to keys, but in Europe they tend to be, still, physical keys usually on some kind of keychain. I’m always terrified that I will lose my B&B key, so having one lanyard dedicated to holding the keys makes it really easy to find the keys at the end of the day. I usually keep them tethered to a loop on my bag, but the long tail on a bright colored lanyard also helps me find them easily if I drop them into the bottom of my bag.
Preventing your backpack from being stolen when dining during solo travel
I’ve heard horror stories about people’s bags being stolen from sidewalk cafés by pedestrians walking by and targeting an unattended bag as an easy item to steal. I’m sure this does not happen commonly in most locations, but it definitely was on my mind as a worst-case scenario. To protect from my bag being snagged by a passing thief, I try whenever possible to use my backpack’s compression straps to secure it to something solid near me.
Compression straps are generally adjustable sadjustable straps release buckles meant to help smash the backpack down into a smaller profile when overfilled. However the quick release buckle means is also perfect for quickly snapping on to a table leg, chair rail, or other stationary item. If a thief tries to grab a bag that’s buckled on to a llarge bistro chair, they’re probably going to drop it and run rather than stop to free the bag from the chair.
These are a few of my original tips for traveling overseas alone and keeping your passport, ID, and wallet safe. Check out the solo traveler group on Facebook for lots of other general security tips.
Lynli Roman’s unique approach to travel is informed by decades of experience on the road with a traveling family and, later, years spent as a solo international traveler. When she’s not writing about Seattle from her Pike Place Market apartment, Lynli writes on-location while conducting hands-on research in each destination she covers. Lynli’s writing has been featured by MSN, ABC Money, Buzzfeed, and Huffington Post. She is passionate about sharing information that makes travel more accessible for all bodies.