Have you ever wondered how to keep your money safe while traveling in not-so-safe destinations, or worried about theft, bank scams, and pickpockets? You’re not wrong to consider these possibilities- they can happen anywhere. In my many years of travel, I’ve developed a number of tried and true strategies to deter thefts and money problems, starting before you even board your flight. Below I will share some of my top tips to keep money safe while traveling- including what to do before you leave, while you’re away, and once you return home.
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What To Do Before Traveling
Before you even leave your home, there are three key things that you can do to set you up for smarter and safer travel regarding money.
1. Notify your bank and credit card provider of your trip before you even leave. You can often do this online these days, but occasionally you may need to call in and speak to a representative. Once you do this, the bank now expects to see purchases made in “Greece” or “Thailand” or wherever you may be going, and in turn will not flag those purchases as fraud. Doing this can prevent your card from being frozen while abroad, or wasting your time to call back to your home country to sort it out. Even with the travel notifications, you may still occasionally have a charge denied, but it should be few and far between. I believe it has only happened once to me in the last decade. Not bad.
This is also a great time to pre-program your bank and credit card contact phone numbers into your phone. Then if a theft or declined card does happen, it will be much easier to just open your phone book and call immediately rather than search around for their info- especially if you don’t have wifi.
2. Designate a special wallet for traveling. When I’m away, I don’t ever bring my “normal” wallet. It is stuffed with every card I own, from credit cards to gift cards to a library card, and even receipts I need to keep handy. I need almost none of this while abroad. I have a small wallet like this that I specifically use to travel. A day or so before my trip I just transfer the specific cards and bills that I plan to take into this wallet. This saves a lot of real estate in my purse and leaves some cards safe at home, too.
Keep Your Money Safe While Traveling
You are probably most concerned about your money while you’re actually ON your trip, I would guess. Luckily, there is a lot you can do on the ground to minimize the possibility of theft, wherever you are in the world.
1. Credit is King. Limit the amount of cash you carry in the first place by primarily using credit cards during your trip – with no foreign transaction fees, of course. I pay with a card almost anywhere possible, from restaurants to guesthouses to activities. But because I travel mostly off the beaten path, I do find myself in plenty of situations where only cash is accepted. This goes for small street food vendors, family run guesthouses, and even small stores in rural areas. If that is the case……
2. Use a local ATM rather than carry a wad of US dollars to exchange. First, you will get the current bank exchange rate from the ATM rather than whatever the local currency exchange is offering. It’s usually not in your favor. And second, if you are able to get your hands on an ATM card that reverses or refunds ATM or foreign bank fees, you won’t even end up paying a penny to use an out of network machine. That’s exactly what I do and it is wonderful. It prevents the “need” to take out a whole bunch of cash at once to carry for the entire week/month, and instead let’s you grab money day to day and not worry that you’re getting charged each and every time.
Sidenote, I do recommend using an ATM connected to a bank whenever possible. This can increase personal safety, meaning that you aren’t at some stand-alone machine in a dark alley, but rather a bank building or lobby. It can also increase account safety as well, meaning that it is less likely for a bank ATM to have any kind of skimming device that tracks your bank number and pin than an unaffiliated one. So, by doing this, you can protect yourself as well as your bank balance.
3. Hide separate stashes. Depending on where you are and how paranoid or comfortable you feel, this can mean leaving cash or cards behind in your hotel, either in a room safe or locked in your luggage. It can also mean separate your cash and cards into 2 stashes in your purse or day-bag, so that if you are actually robbed, hopefully they only get one stash and not both.
4. Ditch the money-belt. Full disclosure, I do have one of these that I purchased before my first ever international trip, many years ago, and it has almost never been used. I find them a bit uncomfortable and cumbersome. First, you can’t really carry anything you plan to spend inside, unless you’re ready to dig around inside your pants at every stop. Second, I’ve traveled to A LOT of VERY hot and humid places and frankly, you’re likely to sweat through the material and onto your money / passport / etc. all day long. Gross. Better to invest in a good theft-proof bag, in my opinion. I have absolutely loved this one from Pacsafe, which has numerous pockets, a theft-proof strap, locking zippers, and RFID protection too. It’s also cross body bag so motorbike thieves cannot easily grab it as they pass by. If more room is needed for a laptop or other gear, you may want to invest in this bag, with similar features. I have had great luck with this brand and consider it to be an excellent investment.
Steps To Take After Traveling
You’re not quite out of the woods, even once you’re settled back at home, surprisingly! I have one last but very important tip to follow from home.
1. I highly suggest watching your bank charges for at least the next few weeks (I check accounts regularly anyway, so this isn’t extra work for me). If anyone who accessed your card abroad did manage to steal your info, this will allow you to catch it before it becomes a major ordeal. Keep watch, and if anything seems amis, immediately alert your bank and they will help you freeze the card and resolve it.
These are the steps that I personally follow each and every time I’m traveling to keep my money safe and secure. I hope they help you as well so you can enjoy your trip stress-free! Let me know if you have any other suggestions to add below.
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