Nomadic Lifestyle Tips

Money Handling Travel Tips

There are a lot of challenges travelers run into when visiting a new locale. Besides acclimating to new surroundings, culture, food, and possibly a new language, we also have to find out the hard way whether or not our money handling decisions were, in fact, the right ones.

Handling Money Abroad 2

Sometimes our choices land us with no issue and we travel for extended periods with no worries. Other times— like when I decided to visit Australia with just a Nevada credit union debit card— we may end up hysterically crying, barred from access to your hard-earned dollars, and frantically borrowing cash from other travelers while waiting for wire transfers. (No? Just me? Bueller?)

So in an effort to help other adventurers find the right financial fit for them, I’m answering some of the Frequently Asked Questions I get about how I handle money while traveling.

Do you carry local currency or do you use a credit card?

Both. Some places I’ve traveled, like Fiji or South America, paying with credit cards isn’t accepted as often as cash. Sometimes the surcharge fees are too expensive for companies, hotels, or vendors to want to deal with cards. I’ve found it’s always best to have cash reserves (enough to get you through a few days) tucked around your bag. But with cash comes liability. So don’t keep more on you than you actually think you’ll need day-to-day.

What types of credit cards do you travel with?

When I was a novice traveler, I thought I could travel with my debit/credit card from my local Nevada bank with no issue. After all, I put all the necessary notifications on my account and my bank assured me I could always use an ATM (liars). After a week of dealing with a frozen account in Cairns, Australia, and no way to access my money, I learned my lesson. Once I got out of traveler hell, I applied for a credit card.

Now I travel with the Venture Card from Capital One, which also gives me points towards travel with every transaction (score). The built-in international chip means I have added security and it’s accepted practically everywhere in the world they accept cards. Plus, I never have to worry about international fees.

Sidenote: On a recent trip, I thought I’d misplaced a card, even though I was convinced it was still in my possession. I called Capital One and they suspended it without canceling the card. I found it a few days later and they reactivated it no problem. They do stick by their slogan “no-hassle.”

Another option that was recently introduced to me by other travelers is Charles Schwab. They are the preferred standard by travelers because they offer no monthly service fees, no ATM fees or international charges, and allow customers to use mobile banking anywhere. The accounts are also higher yield, meaning you get more back just by banking with them. Their cards also come standard with the international chip. I used them on a recent trip to South America with ease.

International Chip on Card 2

How do you keep track of your money while traveling?

I used to keep track of everything by hand but found it monotonous and difficult to maintain over lengthy periods of time. On my most recent international trip, I chose to only allot enough funds into one bank account to travel with so I knew exactly how much I had to spend.

However, a fellow traveler introduced me to an app called Trail Wallet. Not only does it allow you to input what you’re spending in the local currency, it converts those numbers into USD (or your chosen preferred currency) and averages your daily spending. Oh, and there’s a little caricature on the screen that will yell at you if you go over your daily maximum that you set, or applaud your frugal behaviors. The app offers summary charts to travelers of what they’re spending, how they’re spending it, and takes care of the inconvenience of converting currencies and tallying spending. Hurray for digital money minions!

What about Bitcoin?

I haven’t dealt much in Bitcoin currency, but I recently came across a company called Xapo that offers a Bitcoin Wallet and Vault. Colloquially defined as a checking account for Bitcoin, this system allows travelers to manage their money securely without fees, transaction delays, or geographic restrictions. Xapo allows customers to purchase Bitcoins as well as transfer them between their daily spending account (Wallet) and their secure savings (Vault). To make a purchase, simply provide an e-mail address to transfer the digital currency. You can even tip someone by using their Twitter handle (Awesomely freaky… And in case you were wondering my Twitter handle is @TheNomadGrad). Added bonus? The service is free.

Any other money traveling tips?

If you are concerned about running out of money or getting locked out of an account, add a trusted friend/family member to your account before you leave so they can wire you money if need be. It’s also important that you have a trusted phone provider or access to your voicemails in case your bank, credit card company, etc., needs to call you to verify a purchase.


Do you agree with my travel tips? What’s your best piece of travel money advice? Leave a comment! Let’s discuss.


  • Reply

    Aunty C

    February 28, 2015

    Hi Hilary,
    Great advice! What is the current opinion on traveler’s checks? Have you ever used them or are they a thing of the past? Do you have any secret hiding spots for cash you could recommend?

    Aunty C

    • Reply


      March 2, 2015

      Hey Aunty C!

      Thanks for commenting! I looked into them when I first started traveling abroad a few years ago, but I haven’t found a need for them. I also haven’t come across anyone that uses them recently… Sorry!

      There are some great places on your person- like in your bra and shoes- that are best to keep extra cash. As far as bags are concerned, I’ll try to hide some in my toiletries or in an area of the bag I can lock up. I’ll also keep some money in a wallet in my purse and put some in a smaller zipper compartment. I’ve heard of travelers hiding cash under a patch they’ll sew onto their backpacks, or also carrying a “decoy” wallet just in case.

  • Reply

    Hey Hilary!

    I don’t travel with traveller’s checks anymore – not after I was robbed in Ecuador and American Express took 3 months to ensure themselves that I didn’t rob myself of them… They are such a pain in the ass, anyway, specially if you travel with traveller’s checks in Euros (which I did, then).

    Since I’m a lot on the road, I’d rather only use my Debit Card. It’s easier, I don’t have to think about too many ways of getting cash, I don’t have to worry about handling too much cash at the same time, and I don’t have to worry too much on the rate exchange between 2 foreign currencies in between countries.

    I usually take out a little cash from the airport when I arrive or at the firs ATM after a border crossing. Just enough to get by. It’s also becaus my bank has partnerships with foreign banks and I usually don’t pay fees or commission if I draw money from those banks.
    Maybe everyone should check with their banks before going on a trip if they too have partnerships with foreign banks.

    Be well!
    Enjoy the Road!

    • Reply


      March 2, 2015

      Hey Jul!

      Thanks so much for commenting and sharing your advice! Yeah, I think you’re right- traveler’s checks are an out-of-date currency. And it sounds like you have your money situation DOWN! Do you have the companies you work for direct deposit into your account?

      Thanks for sharing! Hope you’re enjoying your travels!

  • Reply


    March 2, 2015

    Good advice here. When I travelled overseas, I checked the currency rate of the Us dollar to the Euro to determine how much to exchange before my flight. What I’ve also found out is if the place I’m going to had some big event going on that will draw an international crowd. If so, the country might artificially lower their currency value to encourage spending from foreigners like me.

    • Reply


      March 2, 2015

      That’s an interesting tidbit, Gene! Thanks for sharing! I never would have thought of that. Do you typically try to bring it all in cash with you, then? Where are your favorite hiding spots around your bag?

  • Reply


    March 15, 2015

    Great tips! I must look into that app next time I travel internationally, that looks super useful. I love Charles Schwab! On my recent European adventure, I overdrew my checking account and didn’t realize it, so it was overdrawn for a few days. Not only was I able to keep taking out money during that time, but I was charged no fees!!! I also have a stock portfolio with them for longer term savings. I recommend looking into it, the good people at Schwab are always super helpful!

    • Reply


      March 15, 2015

      Thanks, Mo! Glad you enjoyed them!

      Wow, that’s awesome that they didn’t cut you off or charge you fees! The more I use and hear about them, the more I think I’ll just move over to them for my permanent banking. They just seem so customer-oriented!

      Thanks for sharing your experience! Hope your travels are going well! Where in the world are you now?

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About Me

Hey fellow adventurers, my name is Hilary! After being rejected from grad school, I took off on a solo journey around the world. Now I constantly challenge myself to take on new experiences. This blog documents my journeys from Europe to Fiji, swimming with sharks and living with tribes, to becoming an accidental beauty queen and working for one of the top national media outlets. If you like what you're reading, please subscribe! Here's to the next great adventure!

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