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.
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.
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.