For travelers, paying for things and having cash in your wallet are two areas that can cause substantial problems. Thieves and pickpockets target places where tourists congregate. When my wife and I went to Italy for the Formula One race in Monza recently, we were warned repeatedly to be on guard. Apparently being a pickpocket is a growth industry there, especially in Milan. Using a travel wallet can make things a lot simpler and safer.
Carrying Cash And Credit Cards
Thieves are everywhere. Tourists are especially vulnerable because you are in unfamiliar surroundings and often don’t speak the local language. Do not carry your valuables the way you do at home — in a wallet stuffed into your back pocket or in a purse slung over your shoulder. A travel wallet has compartments for cash and credit cards and hangs around your neck where you can see it and feel it.
That’s not the end of the story, though. If you leave it dangling outside your clothing, a quick swish with a sharp knife will sever the tether and allow a thief to be off with your valuables before you even know it. Tuck your travel wallet inside your clothes. I actually tuck mine down the front of my pants, shorts, or bathing suit. Don’t leave it dangling like bait at the end of a fishing line.
Most credits cards today have an RFID “chip” embedded in them. If yours does not, you may not be able to use it in foreign countries. American banks have been slow to roll out cards with chips so talk to your credit card company before you go to make sure you have cards with the latest security technology.
Those chips have a downside, however. RFIDs — or radio frequency IDs — can be read by an RFID reader which can be up to 10 feet or more away. Consider getting a travel wallet that is shielded so strangers can’t download your credit card information remotely. They cost lest than $20 and are a great investment in peace of mind while away from home.
Special rules for credit cards
Notify your bank in advance about your travel plans. All banks have special fraud detection programs. If you live in Kalamazoo and suddenly start buying jewelry in Kiev, your bank may think your card has been stolen and put a hold on your account. That can lead to aggravation as you spend hours on the phone trying to get things straightened out with your bank instead of lazing on a beach, soaking up rays. Most banks allow you to notify them electronically on their website.
Getting Cash Overseas
Don’t carry large amounts of cash when you travel. Stay away from currency exchange booths at the airport as well. You will often lose 10% or more on your money at such establishments. The easiest, safest, and cheapest way to get cash is from an ATM. But beware. Some banks tack on outrageous transaction fees.
I have credit cards issued by USAA. There is a flat fee of $6.50 to get cash from a bank ATM anywhere in the world. Beware of ATM’s that are not associated with a local bank, such as those you may find in a shopping mall or sporting event. They may nick you with a hefty fee for using them.
Use Your Credit Cards While You Travel
Depending on which bank issues your credit cards, you will often get the best available exchange rate when you pay with your credit card. My wife and I carry just enough cash to last us a few days, then withdraw more from a trusted ATM. If you use a credit card for most of your purchases, you will have a complete record of your travel expenses when you get home.
Not all credit cards are the same. Some whack you with unreasonable exchange rates and ATM fees. If your card offers gaudy rewards, you are paying for those perks with high fees. Check around. The card you use at home may not be the card you should use while in a foreign country. My USAA card does not give me triple cash back on certain purchases but it does have low ATM fees and very fair exchange rate calculations.
People don’t go on vacation to spend time hassling over money or worrying about being robbed. Do your research. Get a travel wallet, preferably one that shields your credit card information from remote scanners. Don’t carry more cash than you need at any one time. Use your credit card to get cash at recognized ATMs.
And one more thing. Write down the overseas phone number for your credit card company someplace safe. It’s printed on the back of your card. If your card gets stolen, you will need that number to report the theft. You can’t call if you don’t have the number and you won’t have the number if your card is in someone else’s pocket.
Be safe. Be smart. And enjoy a worry free vacation. You’ve earned it.