Travel Talk: How to protect your money while traveling
Ah spring! The daffodils are blooming, lawns are greening up . . . and readers, friends and colleagues are asking how to protect their money on upcoming trips. After all, you can survive without your luggage (at least for a time), you can replace boarding passes with a click of your smart phone, you can access your data on the cloud on virtually any device, but lose your money and access to your resources? That’s a real problem.
Before you go: Years ago Bud and I did color scans of our passport photos and key info pages. We always carry several laminated copies to use for day-to-day ID when we’re abroad, and, of course, to make it easy should the real thing be stolen. But why not also scan color images, front and back, of all your credit and debit cards? Laminated or not, this info makes replacing stolen or lost cards much easier. Keeping copies in a couple of different places is even better.
Calling your credit card companies (or using online options) to notify them of your itinerary is also important to avoid having them canceling your card when they see “out of normal spending pattern” charges. Next, call your bank and tell them where you’ll be and ask them to raise the daily amount on your ATM/debit card. A $300 daily limit is normal, but if you get into a jam, you might need more. Ask for $750 or $1,000, and if you’re traveling with a spouse, ask for the courtesy on both cards.
On the road: Make the assumption that your valuables (cash, credit/debit, passports – don’t even think about traveling with your expensive jewelry) are always at risk. Most hotels and cruise ship cabins have in-room safes. The very first thing to do on arrival is use that safe to store everything you won’t be needing. No in-room safe? Use the safe at the front desk. It’s not as convenient, but if you have copies to carry on you it’s not so bad. Parcel out cash for daily use. Of course you’ll be using your ATM/debit card in local “Bancomats” to get the best exchange rates and your “no foreign transaction or conversion fees” credit card (Capital One or similar) to avoid fees. I always keep my wallet at the very bottom of my shoulder bag, which I wear across my body – comfortably resting my hand on the zipper. For years Bud has wrapped his wallet in a couple of rubber bands to deter pick pockets. Simple, but it works.
The worst: While following these steps will indeed reduce your exposure to disaster, the worst can still happen and you might need a lot of help. If you’re on a guided tour, start with the guide. No doubt he or she will have dealt with the situation before and know the best local procedures. Not on a tour? Start with the local police and your hotel’s concierge or manager. It helps if you’ve made an effort to introduce yourself to the key actors along your itinerary – a personal connection can provide the basis for someone going “above and beyond” to assist in making phone calls to your credit card companies, bank, etc. They will also know to reach the nearest US embassy or consulate – though you should have visited travel.state.gov before leaving to get the embassy contact info long your route. Helping distressed citizens abroad is a major function of our embassies. They will have lots of answers and (usually) a very efficient protocol for getting you on your way.