How To Keep Your Money Safe While Traveling


Diversify, Diversify, Diversify

Bring cash, plastic and traveler’s checks. ATM machines are available the world over and work well. Debit Cards have security issues; if your number and PIN are hacked, say goodbye to that hard-won $ in your account. Cashing back on credit cards will hit you with interest that can pile up quickly if you are not careful. Keep in mind that the advice here is to bring it all. Use the safest the most frequently. Be aware of which financial tool you are using what for.

Credit/Debit Cards/ATMs

The best option is probably credit cards, but make sure you find a way to pay off that balance remotely every month on extended trips so that you are not killed by the interest rate. Credit cards also help to protect you from fraud even after a purchase is made. When you do use an ATM, make sure that you read the fine print; sometimes fees add up to an uncomfortable surprise. I have recently heard a story of somebody in Mexico using an ATM for 100USD worth of pesos and the machine charged him an extra 30USD. Whatever kind of plastic you bring, and this is important, make sure you tell the bank or credit card company you are heading abroad and ask what they charge for international withdrawals. Banks and credit card companies will deactivate your card if they see financial activity far from home to help protect you. A simple phone call can save you this trouble.  Additionally, a hotel bill gone awry can lock up funds; so too can a rental car.  On a credit card, this could be a small issue.  On a debit card, especially if that is all you have, this can be a major problem. I remember a car rental in Ireland where I had almost a thousand Euro locked up on my debit card, money I would need for the rest of the trip, hinging on whether or not I damaged the tiny car while driving on the opposite side of the road from what I was used to.

Never, ever, e-mail your credit or debit card number. Your next place to stay or that slick dive trip you have all planned may want a credit card guarantee.  Find a secure way to get them that information as there are programs that can ‘sniff’ 16 digit character strings as your e-mail bounces from server to server in cyber-space. If you need to guarantee something, try to call it in over the phone (outside of earshot from passersby).

Here’s a note on ATMsATMs have become the trusted friends of travelers the world over in recent years. I personally have made more than a few trips and have rarely used anything else. However, more and more ATMs have become the targets of thieves. Along with the conveniences, technology also brings with it threats. There have been ATMs fitted with plastic sleeves that make your card stick. Then when you go to find somebody to complain to and hopefully get your card back, somebody fishes it out and takes advantage. Crooks are continually getting more and more creative. There have been small cameras installed to snatch a look at your pin so it might be a good idea to cover it with your hand even with nobody around. There have also been false readers installed over the real ones to pull off your card’s magnetic signature and even false keypads that record your PIN. Whenever possible, use an ATM inside a bank or in some other secure area. Even so, yours truly always inspects an ATM carefully before using it to dispense cash no matter where it is.


Hard cash from major currencies are almost always exchangeable anywhere. Pounds, Euros and Dollars are good to have a stash of in case your plastic has an issue. Stay away from American one hundred Dollar notes; there have been problems worldwide with counterfeits of these bills.

Traveler’s Checks

You can also bring traveler’s checks, keeping in mind that the best part about them will be that you won’t be tempted to impulse spend them. They are a bit of a hassle to get changed. They are safer than cash though, as you can get a refund if they’re lost or stolen.  Also, they are not tied to your bank account like a debit or credit card. Still remember, the more options you have, the better off you will be. For travelers, as for everyone else, financial security is in diversity.

The Money Belt

We all know that this is seldom comfortable and is often a pain to get in and out of. Some kind of concealable stash for your important documents is a must though. Shop around. My favorite one was one that looped around my belt and went down the leg of my trousers or shorts.  It pulled out easily. It was slightly visible, which was a drawback, but comfortable and easy to use. Again, the most effective way of keeping your money safe is by hiding it well. Experienced travelers shudder when they see somebody walking around with a travel pouch dangling in plain view. A cord can be cut and the pouch can be run off with in a matter of a few seconds. Also, on hot days, a money belt can get sweaty, soaking your passport and cash with bodily fluids which nobody appreciates. Consider a money belt with a plastic sleeve on the inside or, as a poor man’s version, one with a plastic, zip-locking bag inside . If you need to get something out, find a private spot such as a hotel room or bathroom. Never let passersby see you digging in your cloths and pulling out fat wads of cash or an array of credit cards. Carry a wallet and put it in a front pocket, preferably a buttoned or zippered one, and don’t put enough in it to make you cry if it does get stolen. If you are headed out for a night on the town, use a safe.  Pretty much every accommodation from hostels to five star hotels have secure places for your valuables. I keep things on me unless I intend to go out and have a few drinks. I don’t think there is much truth in people waking up without kidneys as the urban legends say, but waking up without a wallet or purse? It happens quite a bit.

Important Document Scan

Make scans of your important information. While this won’t keep your money and documents safe, it will save you a huge hassle if you incur any mishaps. For years, everyone has been touting photo copies. However, a scan can be printed and can be every bit as good as a photo copy.  Also, in digital format, the scan can be hidden in very clever spots. I have a folder in an e-mail account I seldom use. Deep in this folder, several pages down with an ambiguous name, are images of all of my important documents. If I really had to give a card number remotely and could not use a phone, I could e-mail the image of that card as a last resort. As far as I know, there is no way to ‘sniff’ a JPEG or GIF for sensitive info and images are being bounced over the web in such huge numbers there is no way human eyes could look at anything but the smallest portion of them. Before you leave, give a jump drive to somebody you trust with all of this information in case you need somebody to make a phone call on your behalf.  Note: use this technique for your passport as well.  This will make the hassle of replacing a lost or stolen passport abroad that much easier.

The author would like to remind the readers that he is not an expert on these matters. Just a seasoned traveler that has learned a few things along the way. Also, while problems can arise along any journey, being wary, prepared and confident is enough by itself to steer a traveler away from 99% of all potential threats. Be safe, have fun and GO FOR IT.

IMAGE VIA: TruShu on Flickr

15 thoughts on “How To Keep Your Money Safe While Traveling

  • Pretty much agree with all of them and have the same info dotted around on my blog in various posts.

    It’s worth keeping up to date with trends on ATMs. I just arrived in Bangkok for the billionth time and found they’ve started charging 150 Baht per ATM withdrawal – that wasn’t the case last year. Had I known, it would have been cheaper for me to buy the currency while I was still in the UK. Ah well!

  • Thanks, this is good advice, I hope to put it to use with a long distance trip soon.

  • One thing I forgot to say, I rarely actually pay with a credit card. I usually pay cash and depend on safe ATM’s to get it and a money belt of some kind to contain most of the cash. I generally do maximum withdrawals to save on service fees. I usually only pay hotels, tour companies, car rental companies and the like with an actual plastic payment. Even so, I’ve been known to just secure with a card and still pay with cash.

  • Great article! I just wanted to comment on this: “Stay away from American one hundred Dollar notes; there have been problems worldwide with counterfeits of these bills.” There have been some money changers (both here in the Philippines and outside the country) that accept ONLY hundred dollar notes, or charge you a surcharge if you use smaller notes (the explanation a bank teller gave is that it was harder to give the smaller notes to those exchanging from the local currency to dollars). Of course, it’s not a problem if you have the time (and opportunity) to shop around and look for another money changer. However, in some areas where money changers are few and far between, or if you’re really in a pinch and need the local currency immediately, that’s not going to be an option. My suggestion is to follow the first tip: “Diversify, Diversify, Diversify.” I kept a good mix of smaller bills and the hundred dollar bills on my trip, exchanging whatever I needed to change as I required at that moment. 🙂

  • While in South Africa a few months ago I was unable to exchange currency that was marked in any way. For example, I had a few $20s with pen marks that I was unable to exchange.

    Make sure that any cash you plan to exchange is new and free of any markings.

  • Ren~

    That is really good to know. I have had two occasions, one in Ireland and another in Guatemala where I had a mad rush to exchange U.S. hundreds. The first time, in the City of Cork, I went to five banks before I managed to beg a teller to changing them for me, and she would only take two of them. The next time in Guatamala, I got a big, fat NO everywhere I went. I guess these things change, from time to time and place to place.

    I didn’t know about the markings part, Rich, that’s a good tip too.

  • While planning for our year long journey we were concerned about how we would handle our money and decided on ATM’s. After a month I’m glad we chose this route and each couple of days pull out our needed money in the local currency. We don’t need to wear a money belt full of cash, which is a hassle, and while transferring countries usually use up our local currency easily. In Canada we found Citizens Bank which offers no fee international withdrawls, and look for ATM’s locally that do not charge.

  • Good article, very useful info. In South Africa the credit card is king. Locals don’t use cash at all. They will pay for a chocolate bar using a credit card rather than handle money. Apparently it’s because money (notes / coins) is the currency of the poor and there is a fear of contracting a life-threatening disease through contact. Not sure if there’s any scientific evidence to back up this theory but there you go.

    I would also be wary of ATM machines. There has been a recent spate of violent attacks on them in malls. Some have now been fitted with pepper sprays to deter robbers. But in true South African fashion these have misfunctioned leaving a few poor grannies writhing on the floor in agony. Advice would be, stick to plastic and pay for everything at the point of sale.

  • yea, i never use my credit card on the ATM the compounded interest is phenomenal. I opt for travelers cheques and cash like USD, or Euros. Also, I never carry a money belt – makes me look like a sitting duck! LOL. But I do go for flat water proof pouches that can be carried under the t-shirt. That’s a really cool first shot. is it yours?

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