How to Keep Your Money Safe While Traveling

The world has many different customs, cultures, foods, languages, and, of course, currencies. While navigating food and language can be an adventure, showing up unprepared to pay for your yurt rental in Mongolia or for a Fair Isle sweater in Galway can be incredibly stressful.

Before you hit the road or the airport (or the airport to the road), make sure you have the right combination of cash and credit cards to ensure your journey is a smooth one. You wouldn’t want to miss out on the best taco in all of Mexico City because of a simple misjudgment.

Here are a few tips for making sure you have a handle on your money while you’re out exploring the world:

Tell your bank you’ll be traveling.

There is nothing more frustrating than carefully choosing a souvenir at Helsinki’s Kiasma Museum or picking up a gorgeous scarf at a boutique near Rome’s Spanish Steps only to have your credit card declined because your bank doesn’t know you’re abroad. Avoid this frustrating situation by taking a few minutes to alert your bank about your travel plans in advance.

Exchange before you go.

Airport currency exchanges typically charge a commission when swapping dollars for baht, pesos, or other currency. Most banks will have a stash of Euros, British pounds, and Canadian dollars on hand, but if you’re traveling somewhere less common talk to your bank at least two weeks before you travel and they will usually be able to get any currency you need. As for the amount you need, it’s up to you to balance necessity and risk. As for you high rollers, don’t forget you must declare amounts over $10,000 when entering many countries, including the U.S. and European Union.

Cash is king.

The general rule is to bring enough cash to cover your expenses — taxis, food, emergency coffee — for the first 24 hours of your trip or until you can find an ATM. Pay for hotels, car rentals, and larger purchases on a credit card, but keep cash on hand for smaller sales at local businesses.

Many Asian and African nations, as well as smaller towns everywhere across South America and Europe are not yet tied into the global ATM and credit network, rendering your credit card a useless piece of plastic. Depending on where you travel, you’ll most likely want to have a good cache of cash with you to make sure you can fill your gas tank in Tanzania or buy dinner in the Belizean jungle. As for stashing the cash, make use of your hotel safe, your money belt, or that can of fake shaving cream your uncle gave you for Christmas — whatever makes you feel safest.

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