Unfortunately, for all those travel and adventure seekers out there, money has the power to make or break a trip. If all goes smoothly, the holiday is a breeze and we’re in a hurry to tell everyone back home how awesome it was. On the other hand, if we make some serious money mistakes while traveling then we might cringe when people ask how the holiday went. Take it from two people who have been traveling non-stop for over a year, there are smart ways to travel with money and absolutely terrible ways of traveling with money. Going from country to country has taught us quite a lot (about more than just money, too!) and we want to pass on the best ways we’ve learned to travel with money. So let’s begin!
Think Twice Before Bringing a Wad of Travel Cash
Traveling with a lot of cash creates the opportunity of losing all that cash. We know a traveler who had hundreds of dollars stolen from their apartment (allegedly from their host) while they were away for the day.
First question, why was all that money sitting in the apartment while they were gone? This is easily avoided by not leaving cash just lying around. The smartest way to handle your cash? Keep it in a safe or on you at all times, in a wallet, purse, fanny pack, whatever, just make sure it’s on you and secure!
The second point of this nightmare scenario, never have a lot of cash on your person in a foreign country. Period.
Most travelers think they need to travel to a foreign country with a lot of home currency so they can exchange it for the local currency in their destination. But this is no longer necessary thanks to banks like Charles Schwab.
The Charles Schwab High Yield Investor Checking Account refunds all ATM fees and all foreign transaction fees, meaning you can use an ATM as freely as you want (and withdraw smaller amounts of cash) without throwing your money away on wasteful fees.
With a checking account like Charles Schwab’s High Yield Investor account, you don’t have to carry all that cash on you and be a target for pickpockets and petty thieves. It has helped relieve a lot of the financial stress that traveling abroad for a long time can bring.
If you do decide to keep a lot of cash on you (which is inadvisable) make sure it’s in front of you. Men, keep your wallets in your front pocket. Women, wear a cross body purse and position it in front of you. Fanny packs are coming back in style and wearing them on your front is a great way to deter pick-pockets.
Notify Your Bank About Your Travels
It’s so important to have open communication with your bank. Nothing’s worse than traveling to a foreign country and being barred from using your card because your bank didn’t know you were going to be there. Always keep your bank up to date on your whereabouts so you have access to your money!
Many banks require a phone call so they can put a travel notice on your account. It’s understandable, as it helps them mitigate fraud.
But thanks to the handy dandy Charles Schwab app and website, you can put in a travel notice by filling out a simple form, no call needed.
This easy way of communication is so nice for a traveler, because if you don’t have a phone plan that allows for international calls (can be expensive!), then how do you call your bank from abroad?
This terrible scenario happened to us in Bali, Indonesia. Our old bank would not allow us to withdraw money from an ATM, even though we gave them advance notice we’d be in Bali. We had to call them after being declined at an ATM to unlock our card. But we didn’t have a phone plan in Bali. Luckily, we found a hotel that allowed us to make a call and we could finally withdraw money.
Be Mindful of ATM Fees and Their Credibility
Scared to bring your cash to a foreign country? We don’t blame you. We didn’t bring a lot with us when we moved to Taiwan. In fact, we exchanged some currency in the States before setting off just so we had a little Taiwanese Dollars on us for taxis, etc….
However, there’s a problem with this kind of travel logic. ATM fees, as we’ve mentioned, add up quick! We were once charged $20 USD for using an ATM in Krabi, Thailand. What?!
So what do you do if you don’t have a bank account like Charles Schwab that refunds ATM fees but you don’t want to bring a lot of cash with you? Well, in that case, we advise doing equal parts of both.
Bring cash, but not so much that if you lose it you’d be doomed, and plan on using the ATM and incurring fees but be mindful of the cost over time so that you’re not in shock when you check your bank account.
Another important factor with using foreign ATMs is their credibility. Is it an actual bank ATM? Always seek out an official bank and use their ATM. Like we just mentioned, the ATM in Thailand ripped us off. Turns out it wasn’t connected to a bank. It was a random machine in a tourist area, aka tourist trap.
Also, banks tend to maintain their ATMs and make sure they’re safe for their customers to use. While this is uncommon, ATM skimmers (devices put over ATM card slots by crooks that steal your card info) are still a thing all over the world.
Misplace Your Card? Lock It Up!
If you have misplaced your card or fear it’s stolen then it’s time to start freaking out!
Just kidding, don’t panic!
Luckily there are tools in place to help you out. It’s important to make sure no one can use it until you find it again (or deem it stolen or lost for good). Unfortunately, this service isn’t offered with all banks and cards but it’s something that’s becoming more and more common.
Some banks, like Charles Schwab, have incorporated a lock and unlock switch for your debit card on their app. So, if you can’t find your card then lock it up! If it’s lost for good (hopefully this doesn’t happen to you!), contact your bank immediately to get a replacement card.
Avoid Airport Money Exchanges
Many people arrive in a foreign country with their own currency in hand and the first thing they do when they land is make a beeline for the money exchange
If you like throwing your money away then use a money exchange in the airport. They typically offer worse exchange rates and high fees to exchange currency. So, the moral of the story, avoid airport money exchanges!
We’ll point this fact out again, the days of carrying a lot of money around to exchange are behind us. Banks are offering cards with perks like no ATM fees and no foreign exchange fees. So, the best way to avoid losing money while abroad is to head straight to an ATM with your travel-friendly debit card, not a money exchange with wads of cash.
This Goes Without Saying…But We’ll Say It Anyway
Keep an eye on it!
No matter if you have a lot of cash or not, it’s important to just be aware of your surroundings and where your money/credit card is. Some people are just waiting for you to let your guard down so that they can take advantage of your vulnerability. We had a friend who had hundreds of euros stolen from her purse all because she set her purse on the seat next to her. Fortunately, she realized her money was gone before the guy left the restaurant and she chased him down. That was an awkward moment for the thief.
Best Debit Cards/Checking Accounts for Travelers!
No ATM Fees and No Foreign Transaction Fees
Wondering what account is best for you? We give a few options below for specific countries. If you’ve got more to add to it then please let us know!
Americans: Charles Schwab High Yield Investor Account
You get $100 free for your personal investing account if you use our referral when you open this checking account. No extra cost to you, of course! If you do go with this account, keep in mind they will do a hard inquiry on your credit score.
Australians: HSBC Everyday Global Account
EU Citizens: N26
It offers a no foreign transaction fees and “mostly” no ATM fee checking account. It seems there’s a small catch with ATM fees though. You’ll be charged at ATMs in countries that don’t use the Euro but the fee is very minimal compared to normal.
Summary of Best (Smart!) Ways to Travel with Money
Traveling smart with your money will save you from stress and in turn allow you to travel more freely. Enjoy your holiday or whatever travel adventure awaits you and don’t let the financial stress get in the way!