Getting robbed, scammed and compromised while traveling is the biggest buzzkill around.
I know. I've been there.
I have been robbed at gun point in Latin America, had cash stolen from my hotel room, and found my credit cards skimmed and compromised.
It left me feeling violated, vulnerable and paranoid.
Despite the few negative experiences and security breaches I've endured while traveling, I still love exploring new countries and cultures. I refuse to let a few bad apples keep me from my globe-trotting dreams.
Instead of holding myself back from traveling the world, I am using my past experiences as a lesson in financial safety. Here are my 11 best tips in keeping your money safe while travelling. Everything from the cash in your pocket, to the cards in your purse, plus your bank account as a whole.
Money Safety - Before You Travel:
Do Your Homework
Learn the exchange rates, along with some basic costs of living in the country you’re going to. Download a currency converter app like this for your mobile so you can access it on the go.
I also look up typical costs for things like meals and taxi’s on Numbeo, so I have a good point of reference to how much something should cost. Case and point, an unmetered taxi in Bali once told me a 10 minute trip would be over $30 when I knew very well it would be around $5. Doing my homework has allowed me to avoid getting ripped of, overcharged and taken advantage of.
BYOC (Bring Your Own Cash)
Order a small amount of the countries currency to bring with you. You can do this at your local bank, or even a currency exchange booth at the mall. It's always nice to have money on you for unseen expenses, like paying for a Visa on arrival at the airport, or hiding duty free purchases from your husband. Just aim to keep the amount small.
Bringing in a huge wad of cash is only going to raise red flags or increase your risk of theft. What if you lost your bag? What if you brought in a higher amount of cash allowed by customs? I might bring enough cash in to fund my travels for a few days, but I never travel with more than that.
(There are off the beaten path countries where this tip won’t work, like Iran, which doesn’t allow foreigners to withdraw from local ATMS. If you are going somewhere less traveled, find out if you can take out money once inside.)
Get an RFID Purse or Wallet
Before investing in an RFID purse, my card was constantly getting scanned. Thieves take scanning machines into busy public places and can skim the information off your credit cards via the ‘tap’ feature and use it to make small purchases. This happened overseas and multiple times in the US!
Now I use an RFID purse made by a company called Arden Cove that keeps my credit card info safe. I've used the same bag for almost 2 years and it's still in perfect condition. My husband also uses an RFID wallet for his own cards and we haven’t had a problem since.
Beef Up Your Bank's Security
Call or visit your bank and ask them to put a few extra security measures on your account. I personally had my branch disconnect my savings accounts from the available withdrawal options while using an ATM. That way, if I was ever forced by a thief to take out money, it doesn’t even show that I HAVE a savings account. It’s simply not accessible by ATM. I also keep a modest amount of money in my current/checking account.
Another option I applied was daily withdrawal limits on my bank account. This way, if someone got my bank card and my PIN, they wouldn’t be able to empty the account quickly or easily.
These quick and easy requests will help keep your money safe while abroad.
Keeping Your Money SAFE On The Road:
Use Local Currency
I use local currency for markets, stalls, and most small purchases under $20. First off, I think it’s ignorant to whip out CAD or USD currency and just assume they want to accept it. I don’t want to be ‘that’ traveler. But mostly, my preference for only using local currency for small purchases is safety.
In the middle of a negotiation at a market, things happen fast! If I am negotiating in one currency and trying to pay in another, there is a ton of room for error, especially with the exchange rate. By only holding, negotiating and paying in local currencies, I can mind my money much easier.
Use Safe ATM's
In order to pay in local currency, I have to find a good, safe source to get it. I like getting local currency by using ATM’s in the country I am visiting, but only authorized ones that are inside banks, hotels or shopping malls. ATM’s located outside on the street are at high risk to be compromised.
Local ATM’s will usually give a better exchange rate than using currency agents at the airport.
Cover and Wipe
When using any ATM cover your hand while entering your pin and wipe the key pad after your finished. It seems like overkill, but compromised ATM’s are the top security breech for travellers.
Covering your hand will help stop cameras from watching for your PIN. Wiping the keypad will also keep your PIN safe. Scammers can apply a thin layer of plastic over the keypad and use the oil from your fingerprints to figure out your code.
Use Credit Cards For Big Purchases
I use my credit cards for most purchases over $20.
As a full time traveler I want to ensure I am taking advantage of my cards airline point program for each purchase I make. Points add up to multiple free flights each year! (Including business class seats!) I also like that my transactions are recorded and that I am not liable if the security on my card is somehow breeched.
Split up Cards and Cash
Don't keep all your cash and cards in one place. I will stash some cash in my luggage, my purse, and in the pocket of some clothes. This way if one of my bags is stolen, I still have a cash reserve available. The same thing goes for my credit cards. I have 2 of them and I keep them both in separate secure places at all times.
Lock It Up
I never used to use hotel safes until I noticed things going missing over the years. Thieves will often take just a FEW bank notes from your wallet instead of the whole amount, as it's much harder for you to notice and take immediate action upon.
Now, I use the hotel safe and take a photo of the contents for proof. (especially if something of significance is being stored there.) Hotels clearly state they are NOT liable for anything stolen out of your room that was not put into the safe.
Practice Safe Wi-Fi
Don’t do secure things on unsecured Wi-Fi. If you are on public Wi-Fi that does not require a password, DO NOT do banking, online shopping, or other transactions that need a secure connection. Big no-no. Hold off on those delicate transactions until you can use super secure Wi-Fi or your own cellular network.
Examples of secure WiFi:
- A hotel that requires you to login to the network with unique password
- A local SIM card with your own data package
- Use of a mobile HotSpot like this that uses a unique passcode
All my travel money advice comes from my own personal experiences and preferences. Use this blog as a tool, but always make your own safety decisions. Protect your cash, get saavy about local prices and HAVE FUN!
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