travel hacks
What's the best way to keep your cash safe? In one corner: The Travel Bra; in the other: safety-pinning a sock with your wallet tucked in to the inside of your pants. (Left: Image courtesy The Travel Bra, Right: Image courtesy Outpost editorial sock.)

Pimp My Backpack: Travel Gadgets vs. DIY Travel Hacks

For frugal travellers, saving money on gadgets and gear can go a long way. But do the DIY travel hacks work as well? 

By S. Bedford

Outdoors stores are laden with gizmos and widgets marketed as being able to save you space, time and hassle. But is outfitting yourself like Inspector Gadget worth money that could otherwise be spent on the road?

In this piece, I'm pitting purchasable contraptions head-to-head with DIY hacks.

The Money Belt vs. The Travel Bra vs. The Sock and Safety Pin

Reality check: the more you travel to distant lands, the more chances you have to get robbed.

Maybe you’ll be pickpocketed in a bustling marketplace or on an overnight bus (it happened to me in Vietnam). Perhaps you’ll lose your bag in a distract-and-swipe scheme at the train station (it happened to me in Chile). Possibly you’ll have your purse snatched by some guy on a motorcycle (it happened to my friend in Brazil—she chased the guy for blocks, screaming and swearing, as her travel mate begged her to stop in case the perp had a gun).

And then, of course, you could also be relieved of your day-pack at knife- or gunpoint (it happened to enough of my friends worldwide that I now separate my cash into “mug money,” which I carry in one pocket and am ready to part with, and “real money,” which I hide elsewhere).

Money belts were once the traditional method of burying your treasure from sticky-fingered opportunists. Unfortunately, thieves now know to look for them—plus, they’re uncomfortable and there’s something undeniably dorky about wearing the ugly offspring of underpants and fanny-packs.

money belt travel hack
The money belt: Perfect for whenever you want to subtly scratch your groin while grabbing extra cash. (Mattes/Wikimedia Commons)

So what are your other options?

There’s the recently kickstarted Travel Bra, which seems to be like Mary Poppins’s bag for your boobs. Various pockets allow for your passport, credit card, cash and even jewelry storage. Wearing it might make you feel like one of Charlie’s Angels—or like your promiscuous friend who uses her bra as a purse to draw continuous attention to her cleavage.

I’m not sure how comfortable I’d be when asked to present my passport at a Delhi train station, only to dive nipple-deep to retrieve it. Furthermore, as a 32B (on a good day), I’m not ample enough to mask the planes and corners of a passport or a credit card. Even a wayward crumb presents a visible bulge.

This brings us to my personal favourite travel hack: the sock and safety pin. Place your passport and credit cards in a thin sock and pin it to the inside waistband of a baggy pair of pants. The sock hangs invisibly along your outer thigh, and most pickpockets won’t think to check your leg.

pill box travel hack
Don't want a soft-shell jewelry case? Grab your grandma's pill box—with permission, of course. (Flickr/Dvortygirl/Creative Commons)

The Jewelry Travel Case vs. The Pill Box, Button and Straw

I don’t often travel with jewelry, because if I don’t have something then I can’t lose it—and anyway, I’m usually so sun-scorched, sleep-deprived and dirt-streaked that a midi ring or delicate pendant isn’t going to transform me into somebody presentable.

Nevertheless, many people do elect to bring their bling on vacation. Jewelry travel organizers are widely available and are usually large, soft-shelled wallets with individual compartments to prevent tangling. Like anything purse-like, there’s no upper limit to how much you can spend.

A cheaper option is to use a weekly pill organizer like the one your grandmother has. (Disclaimer: DO NOT STEAL YOUR GRANDMOTHER’S PILL ORGANIZER!) Alternately, if you’re going the “shove it all in this stained pencil case from middle school” route, you can keep your earrings paired by affixing them through the holes of a button and your chains from tangling by feeding one end through a straw before clasping.

diy dry bag
Buying a fully sealed dry bag from MEC, or covering your electronics in a plastic bag or a backpack coated in beeswax? (Left: Outpost/Jimmy Martinello, Top Right: eflon/Flickr/Creative Commons, Bottom Right: Frank Mikley/Wikimedia Commons)

Waterproof Gear vs. Beeswax and Plastic Bags

All right, by now you may have figured out my bias towards all things DIY—but not even I’m sold on this next one. That said, if you’re keen on spending as little money as possible on travel toys, you can give it a shot.

Dry bags are available from MEC for around $12–$45 depending on size (dry backpacks and pelican cases retail for more), and most backpacks come with a rain cover. These are easy, sensible solutions.

However, you can also waterproof your backpack by lining it with a large garbage bag and coating it with a boot sealant, or by rubbing it with beeswax. I’ve admittedly never waxed my backpack, but I have waxed my dreadlocks, and if the principle is the same then you’ll want to use a harder wax (ideally one so tough you need to soften it in the microwave) so it’ll be less sticky afterward. But I'm still skeptical. 

Have you tried any of these? Do you have savvy DIY tips you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments section below!

Sue is an indie traveller who has trekked, motorcycled, wandered, bussed, hitchhiked, boated, tuk-tuk’ed and stumbled through more than 50 countries in the last decade. Her travelogue/memoir, "It's Only the Himalayas and Other Tales of Miscalculation from an Overconfident Backpacker," is available from Brindle & Glass through Amazon, Chapters Indigo and Barnes & Noble. Website: www.sbedford.ca / Instagram: @sbedford_86


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