Taking advantage of the off-season rates, my wife Diane and I spent a couple days at the beach in South Carolina last year. Such vacations are not for amateurs. Even a short time away from home requires tremendous logistical maneuvering. You have to drag along enough stuff, so that when you get to your destination, you can re-create a reasonable facsimile of your home. Fortunately Diane is the one who frets over all the weighty issues, like whether or not to take lawn chairs, while my negligible contribution is in the muscle department, lugging things back and forth.
One of the most frequently over-looked vacation skills is the ability to hide things. It starts before you even leave the house. We left a key behind, so that Mike, our neighbor, could come by occasionally to entertain our spoiled cat, who complains for a solid week, whenever we leave him alone. We showed Mike the secret hiding place for our house key and he wasn’t very impressed.
I grew up with an open-door policy, so far as the house and car are concerned. This was based on my father’s “we have nothing worth stealing” philosophy and the deeply held belief that a broken window would cost more than anything a thief could possibly take. But now we always lock up the house and hide the key. Diane has warned me not to disclose the secrets location of our hidden key. All I can tell you is that it is in an extremely clever hiding place.
Once we got to the beach, all I could think about was that scary American Express commercial, showing a thief rifling through people’s belongings. Comedian Jerry Seinfeld says that at the beach you should hide your wallet in your shoe, because no one will ever think of looking there, especially if you push it all the way down to the toe. I admit that I have done this. But what other options are there?
Some people use those nerdy plastic pouches that you pin to your swimsuit or wear around your neck. I can’t believe those things are very secure and I doubt that they are completely waterproof. Besides looking dorky, they are not big enough to hold your wallet, the hotel room plastic key card, your cell phone, your Kindle, and your car keys. You would need to wear a keg around your neck like a St. Bernard.
For about $55, you can buy a pair of flip flops such as the Reef Stash Sandals, that have a secret compartment in the sole, where you can hide small valuables. The assumption here is that a thief would probably think that it was too unsanitary to mess with your flip flops, even if they were suspiciously thick.
At one point we went to one of those swim-up bars, which are sort of cool, but presents the dilemma of where to keep your money to pay for the drinks. I put some cash in a baggy and kept it under my hat. I don’t know where the people without hats were stashing their money and I’m not sure I want to know.
There is also the issue of where to put your valuables when you leave the hotel room. The usual sock drawer or under the mattress are ill-advised. I hate to give the impression that I’m paranoid or that I don’t trust the housekeeping staff, but hotel rooms are notoriously insecure, given all the passkeys floating around, sliding glass doors, and those unreliable cardkeys. We decided to use the in-room safe, although some people advise against this. Ours was one of those electronic ones, which you lock by entering a 4 digit code and then later open using the same code. I read on a couple of travel blogs that all these safes have a master over-ride code that the management can use to open it in case you forget your code. It was claimed that some hotels leave “0000” or “1234” as the over-ride code. After reading this I checked out our safe but neither of these codes would open it. Your valuables are only as secure as the secrecy of the override code.
Some people use the office hotel safe, signing things in and out, while others opt for those containers that look like familiar products, but have built-in secret compartments. Former detective sergeant Kevin Coffey from Corporate Travel Safety refers to these as “diversion safes”. These devices are designed to look just like real items, such as popular soft drink cans, wall clocks, dog food cans, salt containers, water bottles, vegetable cans, shaving cream cans, and even athlete’s foot spray. I think you need to be selective, however. A bogus Coke can among several others in a refrigerator might work fine, but single can of creamed corn in your hotel room might elicit some suspicion.
There is also the disgusting, but possibly effective, Brief Safe (also referred to as the Skidmark Underwear Safe), which is a cloth container for your valuables, that resembles a soiled pair of men’s underwear. The manufacturer says to leave it in plain view in your suitcase. They claim even the most hardened burglar will “skid to a screeching halt as soon as they see them.” They come in only one color—white (and brown).
You can also still acquire one of those hollowed-out books as a hiding place. I made one, as a child, to hide my money from my older brother, Norman. I used a razor blade to cut out the center part of a large book and glued the pages together. It worked pretty well, since a book was the last place you’d catch Norman looking for anything.
Based on conversations with a former burglar, writer Jeffrey Strain, from SavingAdvice.com advises against putting your valuables in common hiding places such as toilet tanks, freezers, and medicine cabinets.
Finally there is the question as to where to hide your money while walking around. Security experts suggest using devices such as money belts, neck, leg, or shoulder wallets to foil pickpockets. Travel authority Rick Steves says, “Money belts are your key to peace of mind. I never travel without one.”
Older money belts looked just like regular belts, but had a zippered compartment that allowed you to stash folded currency in them. Modern ones are small, zippered pouches that you wear around your waist, under your clothing, completely hidden from sight. The ones with metal zippers were known to set off airport metal detectors, but the newer ones made from fabric and composites are less likely to do so.
I might consider wearing a money belt if I was doing a lot of travel in Afghanistan or New Jersey, but it seems overkill for most minor trips. In the past I have used traveler’s checks, but today debit and check cards make them redundant. I do try to split my cash up and keep it in a couple of different places, so that I can’t lose it all at once.
One reason that protecting valuables is especially important when traveling is because everything is so expensive. On the last few days of the trip I was worried that someone may have taken Diane’s credit card. I would have reported it as stolen, but whoever took it, was spending less money than her (ala Rodney Dangerfield).
Originally published in the News Tribune of Southern Indaina