I am repeatedly asked how I deal with cash, credit cards and debit cards when I travel. Here are my top five tips.
1. Plastic Promises Power
Bring plastic and debit cards. Two credit cards, two debit cards. Forget about Travelers’ Checks, They are a hassle to get changed. Fewer and fewer banks offer the service of cashing travelers’ checks and be aware that is it is also increasingly difficult to converting U.S. dollars to the local currency.
2. Debit vs. Cash Advance
The easiest way to obtain cash in the USA and worldwide is to withdraw it from an automatic teller machine with your debit card. There are ATM machines available in most destinations (except in Myanmar and rural areas of developing countries).
NOTE: Most banks will charge a withdrawal fee if you don’t have an account with them. Ask your bank about fees before you leave. Some banks, like First Republic, will reimburse all fees charged.
NOTE: Using your Debit Card is the way to go. When you make a “Cash Advance” on your credit cards you’ll pay higher fees. Again, ask your Credit Card provider what they charge so you don’t have an unpleasant surprise when you get your bill.
3. Cash is King
The Asian tsunami hit when my family and I were in Thailand. We had a close call but were not injured. There was a power outage, so credit cards and ATM cards couldn’t be used. I had a similar situation in Chatham, Massachusetts during a hurricane. Several hundred dollars in cash, in small bills, helped to buy supplies, baby food and flashlight batteries.
4. Don’t get stranded
Once in Budapest my debit card was suddenly deactivated and I was stuck for a weekend with no cash. I learned that banks and credit card companies will deactivate your credit and debit cards if they see financial activity far from home to help protect you. Before you leave home call all your credit card and debit card companies. The number is on the back of the cards. This simple phone call can save you this trouble. They will add a “Travel Alert” onto your account. If they are unaware you are traveling and see unfamiliar spending patterns from a foreign country they may freeze your credit or debit card.
5. Money in the bank but not in the pocket.
Another time in Paris I ran out of cash during a long holiday weekend and the ATM machines were also out of cash! Don’t wait until you’re out of money to get more cash. ATM machines can be broken or out-of-cash on holiday weekends.