Money trouble is a sure way to ruin your travels. Here are seven tips that will help you stave off trouble and have a flawless trip abroad.
Take a money belt or other security wallet to stash your goods. There is no glamor to these products. Constructed of nylon or silk (depending on what you want to pay) they are pockets that you wear under your clothes. Some travelers like waist belts (my personal preference). Some like the neck wallets or the type that go on your leg. You can get bra stash wallets, or one that is built into your underwear. It doesn’t matter — just make sure you have one. If you want to be super safe pick two.
The most important thing: DO NOT FAIL TO USE IT. I put that in caps because my pride is forever compromised by one lapse. I was in Copenhagen. I forget why I didn’t wear my stash belt, but I stuffed it in the bottom of an outside pocket of my pack. I thought it was secure for the short term because the pack pocket was zipped and we were not in any crowds. The only time anyone was near me was at a crossing light, and that is all it took. Ten seconds, tops. My credit cards and cash all gone. Luckily my passport was stashed elsewhere.
Speaking of packs and purses: in many countries thieves use razors to slash the bottoms of packs or purse straps. A friend had a fellow on a bicycle slash her purse strap and make away with it. It happened so fast he was a block away by the time she realized what had happened. So, if you want to be really safe purchase a slash-proof product. But, that is an advanced money tip, so I won’t go into more detail here.
At the Copenhagen police station there were at least a half dozen other tourists sitting on benches filling out forms. The officer who assisted me obviously had a well practiced script. He reassured me that the thieves were among the best pickpockets in the world so I should not waste time berating myself. A testament to the volume of theft was that the officer had clipboards with paperwork to be filled out in at least five languages, and photocopied lists of credit card companies in all major countries.
“Call your credit card companies soon,” he admonished as he handed me the USA version.
Copy Your Credit Cards and Contact Info
Photocopy or photograph all of your credit cards including the backs where the contact phone numbers are listed. Having a copy on your phone and another photocopy stored elsewhere will be a huge time-saver if you are robbed. While you are at it, photograph your passport, insurance documents and any other information you may need should you loose the original documents. More is better when you are far from home and need your information.
Good ol’ Cash
Take a stash of cash.
In the olden days I relied on travelers checks. Those are now for the most part passé. I moved on to ATM cards and still use ATM as my primary means of accessing cash. However, for several reasons (you will discover some of them below), it is prudent to carry a stash of cash in your home currency. For me this is US dollars in $20 denominations. Converting currencies usually costs more in fees than using an ATM, but when you can’t use an ATM you will find your stash a true treasure.
My last trip to Spain my bank failed me not just in one way but in a massive fail. I blame myself for not double checking before I left that they had lifted the $400 limit on my daily withdrawals that I had requested (they had not). Once in Spain I attempted to withdraw an amount over $400 and my account was immediately frozen. It was Thursday. Because of the seven hour time difference it was difficult to call them, and in any case I could not find a payphone. I contacted them via email ( which meant I had to find WIFI). I figured they would sort it out by Friday. The next day they emailed me that I would need to submit a form allowing them to adjust my limit. It turned out there was no way to do that using my mobile phone and WIFI. By the time I got to a computer my bank had closed for the weekend. (This bank has no weekend coverage; I may switch to a large bank with 24/7 coverage before my next trip.) It was Monday before my form was filed. Then, when I tried to withdraw cash my account was again frozen – their security company (offsite, not part of the bank) had not gotten the word about my limit. It was Wednesday before I was able to withdraw cash. I went six days with no access to my funds.
I was able to use credit cards in some places, but not all.
Thank heavens I had my stash of cash. I was able to have it converted into local currency. This got me through, but, it was a pain in the …um, it was a pain.
Which brings me to another pointer:
Have a ‘Phone a Friend’
Have a contact who can go to bat for you.
If like me you rely on your smart phone you will, like me, find yourself at a loss when abroad. I had to rely on WIFI to check and send email. Ten years ago I would have purchased a phone card and used a pay phone to call my bank, although being seven hours ahead made the timing difficult. These days pay phones in many parts of the world are extinct. Finding WIFI became a daily chore. Many cafes offer it, bless ‘em, but it takes time to wander around a strange city looking. (Of course, having an excuse to sit and have coffee and a pastry is a plus.)
I was on a cruise, and the cost of purchasing WIFI on the ship was astounding, although I ended up doing so, because of the bank problem. Most ports have free WIFI, but since it is free the available bandwidth is used up quickly by all the other people seeking free WIFI. Your best bet is accessing it on your way into town each morning when fewer people are trying to get online. Of course, this is when you least want to sit – the day is young, you are on your way to explore. However, by the time you return to the ship you will likely be competing for free bandwidth with your fellow travelers as well as ship crew. It was rare that I was able to utilize port WIFI after noon.
Having a friend or relative who can take on the task of making calls for you will be a major plus. My daughter jumped into the fray for me and was able to check that the bank was fixing my problems. Although I know my emails reached the bank, I think the fact my daughter was on the phone pushing them to act is what got my problems solved.
And, since I am telling you about how much I missed my smart phone, here is a really important tip:
Put your smart phone on airplane mode
If you have an international phone plan you can skip this. But, if like the majority of us you don’t please make sure to flip the switch to airplane mode as soon as you board the plane and do not turn it off until you arrive at your home arrivals gate. A quick search on the ‘net will allow you to read horror stories from folks who failed to turn off their phones only to find they had thousands (yes – THOUSANDS) of dollars worth of charges. Accessing a single web page using roaming will run you a small fortune in charges. I am spoiled having unlimited service at home. It was hard accepting the fact I had no always available WIFI. With your phone in airplane mode you can use WIFI, you just have to find it.
Yes, I know there are other ways to use your smart phone abroad. Airplane mode is the basic version. Check with your service provider to get the best advice for your phone. If you are in a position to utilize advanced methods bless you. You can skip this tip.
Use RFID blocking covers for your passport and credit cards
RFID tags, a technology once limited to tracking cattle, are now embedded in many things you carry with you: your passport, your credit cards, your airline tickets. This technology makes transfer of information easy for vendors and for thieves. Make sure to keep your RFID items safe by traveling with them in an RFID blocking sleeve or cover.
An internet search will show you RFID blocking covers from inexpensive to designer. It is your choice. The important thing is GET THEM and USE THEM. Thieves can access your information from afar, while you are walking past. Don’t risk it. I purchased inexpensive sleeves for my credit cards, and my money belt also has RFID blocking.
Notify your Bank and Credit Card Companies of Your Itinerary
Calling your bank or credit card companies needs to be done before you start your trip. Let them know your itinerary. Otherwise you risk having them freeze your account when they see “unusual or suspicious activity” (which can sometimes happen even within USA, so it pays to contact them any time you leave town).
Find out if your bank has a BLACK LIST
My bank is not alone in blocking all ATM transactions in Italy. This is due to the high level of fraud in Italy, so I am told. If I had not known this I would have been in deep trouble, as Italy was my last stop and I needed cash to pay my transportation to/from airport as well as to pay the guesthouse. I was glad I knew to obtain Euros before leaving Spain,
As an aside: I found ATM machines at London’s Heathrow airport that dispensed cash in pounds stirling, US dollars or Euros. Also, many ATMS in London charged no fees. If you travel often you are likely aware of these conveniences, but for the rest of you: FYI.
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