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Hidden Pocket: a Cautionary Tale

My DH occasionally uses the RS "Hidden Pocket" to carry valuables. (Here's a link if you don't know what they are:) https://store.ricksteves.com/shop/p/hidden-pocket

They're very clever; your belt goes through a loop (2 colors, light and dark) to secure the "pocket," then you tuck the pocket inside your pants. Great idea, right? Well, sometimes...

On our recent RS 20 Day BOE tour, my DH wore the hidden pocket on the flight over to Europe, planning to switch to the less convenient money belt when we arrived at our first hotel. But when we arrived at our Haarlem hotel, he discovered to his horror that the pocket was gone! Two credit cards, one debit card, and half our emergency cash gone!

We were able to piece together what had happened; it was an unfortunate confluence of events. Our plane to Heathrow was late, leaving us about 20 minutes to go through security and make our way to our connecting flight to Schiphol. I zipped right through security, but he was held up. The agent asked him to remove the shirt he was wearing over a tee, and also remove his belt. As DH was unfastening his belt, the buckle broke. So there he is, the buckle in pieces, the shirt tossed on a pile of luggage, the security agent tapping his toe, and the clock ticking. DH whipped the belt off, got checked again, then grabbed everything an made a dash to join me. He threw on his shirt, cursed the broken belt but put it back on as best he could, and we raced off to our next gate, barely making it in time.

Our hypothesis is when he whipped off the belt, the hidden pocket quietly slithered down his pants leg, evidently wanting to start life anew in London.

The folks at our hotel (shout out to the Amadeus in Haarlem!) were very helpful; we were able to cancel three credit cards and one debit card (turns out he only had two credit cards, but we weren't sure which one he had left at home, so we had to cancel all three possibles.) Bummer, because we were left with only one credit card and one debit card. Mine. So I, of course, spent the next four weeks being afraid I would lose them. And then it turned out my debit card had some problems, but that's another story.

The moral of our tale? Slow down. Take inventory at every stop. No, don't pull out your money belt or bra pocket or whatever you use, but assure yourself all is well before you leave security, immigration, passport control, the bathroom... It would have been a lot less stressful had we resigned ourselves to having to take a later plane out of Heathrow, but of course had we done that we wouldn't have had any idea of what we had avoided.

Posted by
84 posts

Wow, my husband uses the same type of hidden pocket attached to his belt. He likes it and says he doesn’t feel it at all, so it doesn’t bother him. How easy it would be to slide your belt off and forget you had it on. We leave for France in a week and will pay better attention to this. Thanks for the heads up! Thankfully you had some backup cards to use.

Posted by
4439 posts

Sorry to hear of your hassle.

I travelled for 15 weeks in Europe last year and didn’t feel the need for any hidden belts or neck wallets. I had no issues with anything being stolen. I just took the same precautions that I would at home in the UK i.e. wear a cross body handbag that’s kept closed and keep a hand on it whilst out - it’s easier to keep an eye on this.

Posted by
92 posts

Thanks for sharing your story. I have felt very rushed and worried about not repacking all my belongings at security checkpoints and will be extra cautious to double check all is where it should be. On a recent flight from Prague to Stockholm I realized my passport was no where to be found. This didn’t make sense as I had to have my passport to get on the plane. Well as I was getting to my seat I was in the act of putting my passport away in my purse when another passenger asked me for help to put away their bag, instead of finishing what I was doing I set my passport down, it got caught between the pages of the inflight magazine and I promptly forgot all about it. Thankfully the kind and helpful flight attendants found it but it took a panicked 15 minute search! I am now more careful about taking my time and taking stock of my belongings!

Posted by
8009 posts

Oh Jane! What a start to your trip! I am glad you were able to manage on your cards and yes, we want the whole story in your Trip Report.

BTW - just had a conversation with my brother who I thought was planning to use that kind of hidden pocket for our next trip but he had decided to go with the money belt. Wanted him to know your husband's experience just to heighten his awareness.

Thanks for the post.

Cathy....a similar thing happened to my roommate on our first trip to Europe in 1973! We had shopped at the Duty-Free and when she finished she just slid her passport down in to her tote instead of stowing it properly. Hunted all over for the dang thing. Retraced our steps, an airline gate agent helped us look, finally he said, lets take everything out of your bag and there it was in a side pocket. I can totally feel your panic! Glad it turned up and yes, also a good reminder to stow your own stuff before you help someone else. Very easy to get distracted! (PS She was also Cathy with a C, hahaha!)

Thank you for this heads-up. What a pain! Perhaps, you may consider getting neck wallets for airports and save the "hidden" pocket for daily "on-ground" use at your destination.

Posted by
8927 posts

Perhaps, you may consider getting neck wallets for airports and save
the "hidden" pocket for daily "on-ground" use at your destination.

This is what I do. The hidden pocket should never be used when transiting an airport. Airports that use the scanners, instead of metal detectors will always make you remove them. For airports neck wallets are best.

Posted by
2661 posts

What an awful way to start your vacation! So sorry.

It's less confusing if one doesn't wear a money belt when leaving home or hotel until after security, if at all. Put it in your personal item and then you know where it is, and it is contained in an item you are unlikely to forget. The fewer things to deal with at security the better. OR, prepare for going thru security before you get in line, belt off, pockets empty, etc. I always try to be organized so I don't hold up the line, but also because they change the rules so often that the more I have in my control the better. YMMV

I've always been confused by those pockets as it seems it would be so easy to have a the pocket drop off of your belt when undone to go to the toilet, unless it is always put on the end of the belt with the buckle.

Posted by
6195 posts

Sorry this happened. It would never occur to me to wear a hidden pocket or money belt in an airport or on a plane. Am I am the exception?

Posted by
97 posts

I didn’t think you could have anything on your body, like a pocket with credit cards and money in it, when gong through security screening. ?

Posted by
2397 posts

So sorry this happened to you! Lesson #1-when things go sideways at security slow down. Those folks in the long line behind you are being delayed by security, not you! Ignore that toe tapping security agent and other buffoons who prompt you to rush when you should not. #2-that hidden pocket attaches to your belt outside of your pants and is not pickpocket proof. In fact, it always looked like a pickpocket lure to me. All a pickpocket needs to do is cut the loop, give a pull and poof! A money belt properly worn is best. #3-as has been stated wait until after security to wear your money belt. As we like to have it on upon arrival but not wear it on the plane we fill it with what we usually carry in it (except passport which we keep out for immigration) put it in our small carry on that goes under the seat, take it out and put it on in the airplane lav upon descent. Except for when it’s in the scanner I can just unzip the bag and see it anytime.

Posted by
4453 posts

Pam in MN, that's probably why he got pulled over. I was wearing my money belt (I forgot I had it on,) but all I got was a quick pat down.

Suki, no, evidently lots of folks don't use their money belts or neck wallets in the airport. Vide the comments here on this thread!

Pam in Troy, yes, everything finally worked out. I will submit a trip report, but probably not until next week. Lots of things stacked up here while we were gone, and I'm chasing my own tail for the next couple of days. Oh, you were definitely right about Dimitri: he's great!

Alan, you are so right about slowing down. Things are hectic and confusing enough when traveling; we've learned our lesson. Yet again! How many lessons are we going to have to learn?

Posted by
7114 posts

Have you checked with lost and found at the airport? Since it likely came off at a security check point, it may have been found and turned in.

Posted by
9195 posts

I've been using a hidden pocket for over 25 years. Never had a problem. At airports it goes into a double zippered pocket in my personal item and my passport, some cash and a credit card go into a Tom Bihn Passport Pouch. This goes around my neck and is only taken off and put into my personal item at the security checkpoint.

Once clear of security, I head to the gents where I put on my hidden pocket.It has become a habit.

Posted by
1528 posts

Thank you for this reminder that we need to be extra vigilant when in the transit phase of travel.i am so sorry for the extra stress this added to your trip, but thank you for sharing. Because my husband ways gets pulled for extra screening, I've started carrying his stuff with me. We both use neck wallets, so I just keep them in my personal item and we put them on when we de-plane.

Posted by
187 posts

I wear a hidden pocket when I travel, but not until I get to my destination. As I rarely wear a belt, I attach it to my belt loops with a small carabinar.

Posted by
1106 posts

Thank you for posting about your experience and likely saving some folks from the same outcome.

I generally step to the side just prior to the security checkpoint. I take off my watch, pat myself down and make sure all my pockets are empty. Load all my stuff into my carryon bag. I also make a mental note of how many things I need to get off the belt post screening. Makes it easier for me to make sure I have everything.

I’ve used the hidden pocket too and I find it much more comfortable to wear vs. a money belt. As for the visibility comment above, I wear my shirt untucked and it covers the top of my pants and belt. So the little loop will not be visible most of the time.

Posted by
2753 posts

Oh no, Jane. So sorry this happened to you at the beginning of your trip. Now I have a better idea what you were dealing with when we met up in Haarlem for a drink early in your trip. So glad that you recovered well and had a memorable 21 day BoE trip to follow!

Posted by
119 posts

My husband uses the hidden pocket and I remind him to put it in his personal bag before the screening process. When I was going through security in the Istanbul airport back in 2004, I was wearing a security pouch holster style. The female agent patted me down and asked about the pouch. I told her what it was and did not have to remove it. A few years pass and in 2009 we are touring Greece. While changing planes in Athens from Crete to Thessalonika, we had to go through security again. I had the holster-style security pouch on again, as usual. The woman who patted me felt it and said give it to me. I could not easily get it off and she was yelling at me. I had to practically undress to get it off, and of course this was the day I was not wearing a camisole under my blouse! Since then, the pouch goes into my personal bag when going through security!

Posted by
4453 posts

Joe, we tried calling Heathrow lost and found from our Haarlem hotel, and the recorded message directed us to a website. We went to the website, and it said not to bother to check until at least 48 hours had elapsed since the loss. A couple of days later, we tried again, but the website would not work with the browser. At that point, we put it aside until we got home. DH is supposed to follow up on that tomorrow.

The credit cards have been replaced; the cash would be nice to get back, however.

Mona: Yes, we may have been a little more stressed than we usually are on vacation. I hope we weren't too negative. We had a lovely time meeting you, and the beer was great! I'm going to recommend that kind of casual meet-up to others. Oh, the other two folks who didn't show up? They were there in town, but hadn't written down the address of the bar and were wandering around hoping to run into it! We met them later on the RS tour.

Madelia, your story made me smile. I once went through security in Chicago with my money belt held high over my head, because I had forgotten to take it off. The TSA agent said "Say! That's a Rick Steves money belt! Have you heard of him?" Ummm, yep.

Everyone else, thanks for your tips and experiences. Every trip is a learning experience, and not always in ways we had planned!

Posted by
2147 posts

I'll be going through security this afternoon--Budapest, here I come!--and my belt and money pouch that goes on it are in my purse, to be put on after security. I always sit down to put my boots on and do take a quick inventory before leaving the area. Generally I find that when traveling I'm always much more aware of my belongings--especially important stuff like wallet, pouch, phone--than usual.

Posted by
1018 posts

OMG Jane! I would have had a complete meltdown if this happened to us. Sounds like you had a solid "Plan B" with you having a backup source of payment and it sounds like you had the other 1/2 of the emergency cash, smart! We use this method also but the other way around where I have most the cards/cash and husband has just his Debit card and some cash. This is based on our personality types, where he is more concerned with our physical safety and I am the planner/organizer with a really good sense of direction, making sure everything goes smoothly. We will often duck our selves into a corner of the airport with me getting what we need out for the next event and him standing guard. This happens also when we land and I need to get into my bag to obtain the confirmation for the driver, hotel ,card with the name of the lodging to hand to taxi driver etc. As a precaution I also write down all my Credit/debit cards I take with me (Name of issuer and number truncated to the last 4) with a phone number for the card. We also never use a money belt or any other type of cash hiding system. I really think I would be fumbling around and it would cause more anxiety. But that is just me! Maybe if I was traveling alone and did not have our "buddy system" of being secure I would consider a money belt.

Posted by
5946 posts

Jane, I'm SO sorry this happened to you first thing (sorry it happened at all!!!). You're very thoughtful to report here as a means of warning others that it can happen. Good for you for being able to pick up and move on.

Posted by
5624 posts

The best-laid plans of mice and husbands often go awry. But it sound like other than losing some cash you recovered,survived and hopefully enjoyed the trip. Thanks for sharing.

A good lesson learned is even with security devices, spliting cards and cash is a good idea. It's also good to have back up debit/ATM cards and credit cards. Something about all ones eggs in one basket.

Another good lesson learned is minimizing potential economic losses by limited the amount of cash you carry and depend more on credit cards and debit cards. Hopefully he only loss a first day spending amount of cash.

Posted by
4453 posts

Edgar, the only reason we carry any cash is there have been a few times when we had debit card problems, and had to change dollars for spending money. The amount he lost was not a lot, but more than one day's spending money. We're fine. There have been times when losing that much cash would have been a serious crisis; of course, if we were in that situation, we wouldn't have been on the tour we were on!

Thanks, everyone, for your kind thoughts and concern. As I said before, another lesson learned! No matter how well we plan, we can't cover every contingency. Nor would we want to. If we tried to predict every possible thing that could go wrong, we'd never leave our own houses for fear of the worst.

Posted by
67 posts

I have used the hidden pocket from time to time. I leave it in my personal item while in transit. When I'm out and about instead of sliding it onto a belt I use a big safety pin to secure it to the inside of my waistband in a spot that I can easily access.

Posted by
7114 posts

No joy in Mudville with lost n found, or are you still on the road?

Hope the rest of the trip was uneventful insofar as negative events

Posted by
4453 posts

Thanks, Jaye and Joe. No, we never got it back, but we had a great time on the BOE tour. (Here's a link to my trip report: https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/trip-reports/april-15-2018-21-day-best-of-europe).

And we had a lovely visit to Leiden, Netherlands, after the BOE. (https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/trip-reports/lovely-leiden-with-a-brief-stop-in-den-haag) (https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/trip-reports/lovely-leiden-part-2)

So it all worked out.

Posted by
20972 posts

I think this points out the importance of developing a pattern. Unfortunately a lot of first time or infrequent travelers don't have that pattern. For about twenty years I have carried my man's purse. Have wore out several but basically a shoulder bag that is slightly bigger than an Ipad (since it now carries an Ipad) with multi-zippered compartments. Just prior to security whether it is US or Europe, I strip myself of nearly everything metal, including the money belt (I use a money belt both in Europe and many locations in the US) and stuff it in the bag. Once through security, I hit a restroom and put myself back together. Probably over kill, but I generally sail through security. It is pain but you just have to do it.

Posted by
3677 posts

I agree with Frank. A routine helps, and getting all your stuff squared away and moved off your body PRIOR to entering the security cattle pen means you have a better chance of getting everything back. Then move away from the area to re-sort yourself.

You have to get out your bag of liquids, so while doing that, take the stuff off your person and put it into a zip lock, back pack or purse pocket. Better yet, minimize anything on your person than needs to be removed. Also, make sure everything that goes into a bin is closed up or secured. Easier to pick up a purse, backpack, laptop and your coat than purse, backpack, laptop, coat, belt, change, smartphone, sunglasses, wallet, change, bracelet, excess rings....well, you see my point.

Posted by
4453 posts

Good point. I always balked at the idea of taking my money belt off and putting it in the bin; putting it in a bag with something else never occurred to me (And I've been traveling how long????????)

The obvious isn't always obvious, more's the pity.

Actually, I had thought about putting it in my "personal item," but I envision someone wandering by and scooping it up by the strap...

But I do like the idea of consolidating the small things. Thanks.

Posted by
20972 posts

The possibility of theft behind security has to be very, very low. Once through security or even on the plane I have heard of anyone having anything stolen. If we are on connecting flights with the possibility of being outside of security on the connect, I generally leave everything in the bag until we are final stop. I suppose there is a slightly risk of the bag being grab and having everything in one bag does violate a cardinal rule but the risk is very low. And often times I will stuff that bag in the top of my carry on bag.

Posted by
4556 posts

Jane,

What an unfortunate event! It's a good thing that you had a separate credit card and debit card.

I made myself a hidden pocket similar to the one your DH uses, but the belt loop was sewn to the top, so it's worn horizontally.
I also secure the pocket to the inside of my pants, or skirt, with two quilting safety pins, and the belt loop (matches the color of my belt) always goes on the buckle side so there's no way that pocket is going to fall off or get picked by a pickpocket!

This hidden pocket is more comfortable than a money belt because I usually tuck my tops so the hidden pocket is not against my skin.
I also keep my hidden pocket deep in my personal bag when I go through security.

Hope you had a wonderful trip. ; )

Posted by
138 posts

Yes, it's easy to get flustered during TSA, especially when going through a foreign security process which can throw us off because it's the one we are used to. You make a good point when you bring up the "having to take off the belt" issue. (I once even left my passport in the plastic bucket! Luckily the agent shouted at me and waved it at me as I started to leave the security line). I agree that the best thing is to slow down and not get flustered. But most of all I wanted to comment on the person who posted that they never use a hidden wallet or pocket and they've "never had a problem". I'm glad for them, but I have been ripped off by an incredibly skilled group of "knock you down and slash your bag without you knowing it" artists, and it was wonderful to realize that the hidden pocket was still under my clothes with all my really important stuff. For TSA, as soon as I've shown my passport and boarding pass to the official, they go back in the round-the-neck wallet and it goes in the top pocket of the carry on. Before I leave the airport, I slip into a restroom and the hidden pocket is under my clothes again.

Posted by
1178 posts

But most of all I wanted to comment on the person who posted that they never use a hidden wallet or pocket and they've "never had a problem". I'm glad for them, but I have been ripped off...

This. Thanks for exposing a logical fallacy that I see when uninformed people do risk analysis.

Many times people equate “hasn’t happened” with “can’t happen”. Sorry folks, but it is an independent probability. That means it resets every time you go out.
The odds are the same every time you venture out. They do not get better or worse because you haven’t had prior incidents. That means you need to keep doing risk mitigation.

Posted by
20972 posts

I agree.

never use a hidden wallet or pocket and they've "never had a problem"

I can make the exact opposite statement. We have always used money belts going back to '90 and even in the US when traveling to some of the larger cities. Guess what ?????? We have never had a problem. Only proves that we have never had a problem in the past. There is always the next trip. But there maybe a couple of other factors -- one an engineer by training that makes me very methodical and two - spent some time in my early years with a government agency that taught me to be extremely aware of my surroundings. A habit I cannot break fifty years later. And at 6-2" it is easy to see my surroundings as compared to my 5-4" wife stuck in a crowd of head and shoulders. Experience counts a lot and habits.

My wife's habit as school teacher and mother is that we never started a trip without a bag count especially when traveling with the boys at a younger age. And frequently she would say, "Bag count." And we were expect to say, "1,2,3,... till all bags were accounted for. We never lost a bag. I am sure some people thought we were odd but our forty-year son now has the same practice with his two young daughters. Old habits are hard to break.

Posted by
50 posts

"Once through security or even on the plane I have heard of anyone having anything stolen"

A former work colleague had his passport stolen while on a plane - he had put it in an outer zippered pocket of a bag that he stowed under the seat (and in full view of the person sitting next to him), and he didn't think to take his bag with him to the bathroom... Unfortunately this happened on his first flight out of the U.S. and he had a terrible time getting everything straightened out.

Posted by
20972 posts

It may happen but it has to be rare. A more logical explanation might be that he just lost it.

Posted by
5010 posts

Things definitely do get stolen even while on a flight. Not from me, though, I'm obsessive about securing the goodies. Yes, the odds of pickpocketing go way down inside the security perimeter, but it can happen.

I've read of groups that specifically targeted business class cabins (people actually sleep up there) on long flights, stealing valuables from the overhead bins while passengers blissfully snooze. I try to keep my most valuable toys close to me (even when enjoying sleep in business class).

I've been traveling for 20 years with something similar to Rick's "hidden pocket" but mine's better. The "loop" part is a bit longer, and I can wear it either hanging inside the pants (something I only reserve for extreme high risk places), or (everywhere else) hanging discreetly (but securely) in my front pocket. It's readily available if I need it, almost invisible, and believe me, if someone wants to reach deep into my front pocket and slash the loop, I'm gonna know it (and I'll be worrying about where else that knife might be slashing in there, if you know what I mean, so I'll be ready to fight). It's quite comfortable, but I can easily and (after 20 years of use, instinctively) feel if it's there or not. I always, always know where it is.

When sleeping (on a plane, or in any kind of non-secure space eg an airport lounge or a hotel bed in a shared room), I secure the loop to myself one way or another. I've even taken it in a shower (being careful to keep it out of the water). The only places I've been unable to keep it physically on my person or connected to my body have been in a hammam (naked) or while scuba diving.

I agree that the most risky time/place is going through the security check. Having a routine is the way to go. Before I get up to the actual inspection, I remove EVERYTHING and zip it in a pocket of my personal item. Breeze through the nudi-scope, then re-assemble my self upon clearing. Works for me.