Don’t keep all your money on you
This should go without saying, but as a reminder; NEVER carry all of your cash on you when you go out! Take a little more than you think you’ll need and leave the rest in a secure place at your accommodation. It also isn’t necessary to keep a large amount of cash at your accommodation. If you have a quality debit card (see more on this below) you don’t have to take out large amounts of cash because your ATM fees will be reimbursed. This enables you to take out only enough cash to last you for a couple of days. This also helps in reducing the amount of unused cash you carry with you to other countries that you are then forced to exchange for less than favorable rates.
Use a credit card when possible
Protection against fraud — If your card is compromised you won’t be held responsible for unauthorized charges made with your card or account information.
Purchase Protection – remember that fine print in the pamphlet that comes with your new card? Yea, you probably didn’t read it, but if you had, you would see that most purchases you make with the card are covered. This can include extended warranty protection and price protection… no more spending money on add-ons to your pre-travel or during travel purchases = more money in your pocket.
Travel Protection – No one wants things to go wrong or missing while they travel, but if they do, it’s nice to be protected. Understanding what protection you already have will save you a boatload of cash since you won’t waste money buying insurance for every aspect of your trip (rental places love to upsell). A good card should offer most, if not all, of the following: trip cancellation/trip interruption insurance, Auto rental collision damage coverage, travel accident insurance (including accidental death), lost luggage reimbursement, trip delay reimbursement, baggage delay insurance, and travel and emergency assistance service.
Points Points Points — Your card should be working for you! At the very least your card should give you a point for every purchase you make (you may be able to find better), and two or more points for all travel related purchases (think transport, accommodations, and food).
There are many cards to choose from and we encourage you to shop around for the cards with the best incentives. Look for cards with great introductory bonus incentives and low, or no, annual fees. We got our card before we made all of our initial travel related purchases (luggage, plane ticket to the other side of the world, laptops, new camera, etc.) so that we easily hit the bonus points incentive. We ended up going with the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, but we strongly encourage you to shop around to find the best deal.
***KEY TIP — make sure you pay off your card weekly/monthly so that you don’t pay any interest. Don’t lose the benefits of the reward points by paying interest. You can even use your reward points to pay off your balance.
Use the right debit card for ATM withdrawals
Having the right ATM is critical. When deciding on what card to use you should look for the following:
Is it an EMV card (a chip) — While this doesn’t guarantee safety it is more secure than strip card
Does it work internationally — This may seem silly, but when we went to Europe for the first time we were shocked to find that our credit union issued Visa cards did not work at ATMs. It put us in quite the predicament.
What are the ATM fees— A good travel card should reimburse you for all ATM fees. We have encountered ATM fees that range from $2 to $8 dollars in our travels. If you averaged that and multiplied it by one transaction a week (you will probably use the ATM more than this) that is $260 a year or what we paid for a month of accommodations in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
International fees — You should not pay for any international fees when getting YOUR money from an ATM.
Online customer service/online chat— This is really important because there may be times when you are unable to make a physical call to customer service due to country restrictions. This happened to us while in Java, Indonesia, when our local phone plan wouldn’t allow us to call the international customer service number.
Do they send replacement cards overseas — This is important because accidents happen. While in Java, Lucas left his card in the ATM (unlike the US, they give you the money and then the card) and didn’t realize it for two days. I had to cancel the card and needed a replacement. If the company was unable to send a new card internationally we would have been in trouble.
Liability protection — even though we don’t recommend you keeping your entire savings in this account (see below), it is good to know that you will be reimbursed if something goes wrong.
The card that we use that meets this criterion is from Charles Schwab Bank. There are certainly other options but this card has worked well for us. Search around for the best option for you!
The process we use
We keep the bulk of our cash in our credit union account back home and while we also have money in investment accounts, but we don’t touch that money although they could be included. We then try to use our credit card for as many purchases as possible in order to benefit from the rewards points. We make sure to pay off the card weekly so we don’t accrue interest. We then top up our Charles Schwab account to $500 by transferring money from our credit union. Why $500? The reason we only keep $500 in the account is to protect us from any ATM hacks. Let’s say that we used our main savings/checking account for all cash withdrawals or purchases and disaster strikes because we used a compromised ATM when out trying to buy some delicious street food. If our card or account gets hacked and it has all of our money in it then we would face a dire situation where we had no access to cash. This concern is magnified when we are in locations where most transactions have to be done in cash since credit is not accepted. It is better to have your account with $500 in it compromised as opposed to your account with $20k (not saying this is our balance ). One thing to note is that you need to be diligent in keeping your account topped up because it takes a few days for the money to transfer. If you know you’re going to make a larger cash purchase, like a tour, then add some extra the next time you top up.
There it is folks! Hope this helps you prepare for your upcoming travels. If you have any questions or an even better method please leave it in the comment section below and we’ll make sure to respond.