The days of Travellers Cheques as worldwide travel money are over. You also don’t need to carry around all your money. Using a credit/debit card to pick up money at ATM machines is a routine available almost everywhere, including developing countries. This makes the process easier but managing your worldwide travel money is still a challenging concern.
I met a fellow traveler in Patagonia that had all his travel money stolen at hostel party. In my travel group in Africa, people got a bit stressed and traveled with a lot of cash on them. These are some of the not so good stories, but there is no need to be paranoid. Preparation is key to avoid issues.
Avoid using Credit Cards
I always travel with two credit cards. One is always with me; the other stays hidden in my backpack as a backup. I also have a debit card that I use most of the time. The main difference is that with a debit card I pay fewer fees. Unfortunately, there are a lot of places where a debit card doesn’t work, so I end up using my credit card.
My worldwide travel experience taught me (the hard way) that you should avoid using your credit card, except for picking up cash. Even in stores, I pay with cash. Use your credit card to cash out money at ATM machines, taking the obvious precautions. In most countries you pay a percentage of the money you cash out, so do your math and figure out the best quantity to cash out, as fewer cash outs, fewer fees.
Credit Card Security
I had a lot of problems with my credit cards until I decided to stop using them besides picking up cash at ATM machines. I lost a VISA card in La Paz, Bolivia, luckily after picking up a bunch of cash. My credit card info was stolen twice: once in South Africa, another time in Australia.
My main credit card is VISA, my backup credit card is American Express, which is not the best choice as American Express is not accepted everywhere. MasterCard is a better alternative. I only noticed I had lost my credit card three or four days after it happened. Fortunately, I had a good setup: instead of going through the phone hassle with my bank, I just sent an email to my account manager who took care of it.
Also, VISA has a good customer service. After you tell them when you lost your card, they assume every expense from that date on isn’t yours. They analyze all the transactions and if any is, in fact, yours, it goes back to your credit card statement. It actually made me feel quite safe about credit card fraud. Still, avoiding problems is the best solution.
How to Recover from Credit Card theft
The most important thing to consider is preparation. Being prepared just means that if anything happens with your credit card, you can easily fix it and keep enjoying your trip with almost no time loss or hassle.
Here are a few tips from my worldwide travel money experience:
- Get an account manager: they will know you and avoid all the hassle of going through never-ending phone calls. A simple email could solve all your problems.
- Inform your bank/account manager that you are going to travel and were. They will be prepared to help you and will keep an eye on your transactions. If they see anything strange, they will act immediately.
- Take two credit cards from different systems, like for example VISA and MASTERCARD. Research which credit card systems work best in the countries you’re traveling to.
- Don’t ignore phone calls from numbers you don’t recognize. It could be your account manager trying to get in touch with you.
Worldwide Travel Money Tips: Pre-Departure
- Get a card with no international fees. They won’t charge you for international transactions and this saves you a lot of money.
- Get a card with bonus rewards that you can use for further traveling.
- Have a backup credit card hidden in your backpack somewhere only you can find.
- Prepare a way for an emergency transfer from someone you trust.
- Have a trustworthy person ready to be able to help you in case you need money. You can leave some cash or a credit card with someone to use in an emergency.
- Have your credit card info disguised somewhere on you. I had a fake phone contact with the info. I also had a document in my Dropbox with the data. If you need to make an online purchase, you don’t need to touch your card. If you don’t show it, nobody knows you have it.
- Although most people don’t check, make sure you sign your cards. There is a story about someone using a Credit Card with a photo of a monkey, that was able to do a few transactions without anybody checking the picture.
- Always have an emergency stash of US dollars or Euros on you, currency that is accepted anywhere and can get you out of trouble. I always had 100 USD on me in ones, fives, tens, and twenties. Sooner or later you will need change.
- If you have access to online credit card creation system for a one-time card use (like MBNet), make use of it. This is a great way to make one-time transactions with establishments or companies you don’t totally trust. They won’t be able to reuse the card.
Worldwide Travel Money Tips: After Landing
- As soon as you land, pick up money from an ATM machine, normally available at the arrival hall. I never get currency in advance and always avoid currency kiosks at airports.
- Avoid handing over your Credit Card, even if the establishment looks safe. I got robbed in South Africa after handing my card over at a four-star hotel. How do I know it was there? It was the only place I used it. I don’t even know what happened in Australia, but someone there also got hands on my card.
- If you have to hand over your Credit Card, never take your eyes of the card and don’t let anybody take it away, not even for a few seconds. It’s very easy to copy the info on it.
- If you don’t spend all your currency before you leave, use it at the airport to have a meal or buy a souvenir. If you still have money left, exchange it at a currency kiosk before departure.