With many travelers getting ready for a mid-winter getaway, and Spring Break just around the corner, I thought it might be a good time to post an article I wrote a few months ago, about how to carry your money safely, and not run short, even if the ATMS (bank machines) are down.
Back-Up Your Travel Money Like you Back-Up Your Files
The first time I realized that bank cards are not infallible was when I was on my own in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Sure, I had brought cash to convert to pesos, and credit cards to pay for my hotel and meals, so I thought I was well prepared. But we all seem to spend more than we planned, and I had run short of cash. It took me an hour to locate three different bank machines, none of which would give me cash, before it hit me that something was definitely not right.
I went into one bank to make a withdrawal in person only to learn the overseas connections -- Cirrus et al -- were down for the day, and I was out of luck. Since then, I make sure to back up my cash sources, so even if banks are closed or I can't cash a travelers check, I can still get money when I need it. Read on for some tips to help you back up your cash when you are traveling.
Carry Cash in Several Currencies :: I usually carry U.S. dollars and euros (preferably in smaller demoninations), as both are accepted in a great many countries. Though there will be exceptions (like a rickshaw driver in a small town in China who looked at the proffered dollar as if it were monolpoly money then handed it back), most cab drivers and market vendors will usually accept U.S. dollar bills.
Travelers Checks :: Carry travelers checks (in your own currency if possible, to avoid another layer of exchange rates). Hotels will readily cash traveler's checks for guests. Some currency exhange outlets charge a fee per check, so if you take larger denomination checks, you'll be charged lower fees. Most airports offer a currency exchange, so buy local currency as soon as you arrive. Take more than you think you will need: Travelers checks are insured (record the serial numbers but *do not* keep the list in your wallet), and you can redeem any unused checks when you get home.
Bank Cards :: Take one or two credit cards (Visa is widely accepted) and one debit card. If they are lost or stolen, your loss is confined and there are fewer calls to make. Empty your wallet of all other cards, like gas cards and department store cards. Ask your card issuers about getting pre-loaded cards to further restrict any losses. Before you go, contact your credit card company(ies) to let them know where you are going, and the dates you will be out of the country. This avoids your card being cancelled when charges start showing up for a bar in, say, Brasil, and you live in the U.K. Make arrangements to pay your monthly credit card statement while you are away -- this also avoids having your card cancelled. Take along the list of numbers to call if you lose the cards, and leave a copy at home as backup.
Travel Wallet :: I recommend using a plain, inexpensive zippered wallet about the dimensions of a travelers check. My travel wallet is made from fabric, with several slots for bills and travelers checks, credit and business cards, with a zippered compartment for coins. It's ugly and cheap looking, and not likely to attract envious glances. A fancy, expensive wallet gives the impression that you have lots of money, and you don't want to do that.
Money Belts :: The purpose of money belts that are worn around the neck or waist is to keep *secret* the fact you have something valuable. Yet time and again, I see tourists whipping out their money belt as if it were their wallet. The belts are good for securing valuables such as passport, tickets and extra money, especially when in transit, or when there's no room safe in your hotel. Money belts are *not* wallets. When you are alone (hotel room, toilet stall etc) take from it what you need for the short term, then keep it hidden.
A little planning pays big dividends! Enjoy your trip instead of hanging about consulates, police stations and bank offices trying to replace lost money and documents. Me? I'd rather be out seeing the sights. I posted more travel tips at Snapshot Journeys Travel Tips.