As many seasoned travelers have learned, the cost of heading out has only been increasing, which means those planning an excursion in the near future are on the hunt for deals that can save their wallets from undue strain. Unfortunately, most fail to protect their actual wallets when traveling, which is even more important than finding the top flight deals and hotel discount codes.
One of the best ways to save money on travel is to proactively avoid the expensive consequences of carelessness. Knowing what to carry in your wallet while traveling — and what to leave at home — will eliminate the headache of losing money to excessive fees or identity theft while you’re away from home.
Important Things to Keep in Your Wallet
When traveling, whether domestically or overseas, it’s important to carry some cash for taxi or bus fare, tips and miscellaneous expenses that can arise unexpectedly. For instance, many restrooms in Europe require a fee to use — you wouldn’t want to be caught in need of a pit stop without a euro handy.
Limit the amount of cash you carry to the equivalent of about $50 — enough to get by in most situations but not so much that you’d be devastated if it were lost or stolen. Be sure it’s the local currency and in varying denominations.
It shouldn’t be necessary to have more than one debit card on hand. The most important thing to remember is that you need to call your bank prior to leaving and notify them that you’ll be traveling, and for how long, in order to prevent a freeze on your card for suspected fraud. And to prevent actual identity theft when pulling out cash, plan your time so you can visit an ATM from a well-known bank and avoid swiping your card in isolated or otherwise questionable areas.
A credit card is essential when an ATM can’t be found, or when you need to perform a large transaction such as placing a hotel deposit. However, limit the number of cards you carry to just two.
Chris Reining, founder of the personal finance blog MrEverydayDollar.com, explains that he prefers to have two credit cards in his wallet when traveling, and from different issuers. “If you typically carry American Express or Discover, be sure to have a Visa or MasterCard with you as well,” he advises. “You don’t want to get caught trying to make a purchase where your only credit card isn’t accepted.”
Additionally, Reining recommends overseas travelers bring a credit card with an embedded smart chip. “Purchases based on the chip are common in Europe and Asia and merchants sometimes can’t accept magnetic-strip cards.”
Finally, watch out for foreign transaction fees. CreditShout.com’s Kevin Fleming says carrying a card that doesn’t charge these fees can save you 3% or more on every dollar spent overseas.
In addition to cash and cards, there are a few items you should consider keeping in your wallet when out of town to prevent the annoying problems travelers sometimes face from blowing up into huge, costly ordeals.
Seasoned traveler and healthcare professional, Sue diRosario, says she advises travelers keep their Red Cross blood type card in their wallets in case of a medical emergency that requires receiving blood. At the very least, you should have your medical and dental insurance cards on hand to prevent any delay in receiving care should a health problem arise while you’re away from home.
Things Not to Carry in Your Wallet
While it might make sense to have certain things with you while you’re away from home, carrying unnecessary items in your wallet could put you at serious risk for trouble. Here’s what to leave at home:
These days, there’s no reason to carry around a checkbook, especially while you’re traveling. An identity theft time bomb waiting to happen, your stack of checks offer an array of personal information, like your name, address, bank account and routing numbers, that would be an identity thief’s dream to have.
Social Security Card
Regardless of whether or not you’re traveling, you should never carry your Social Security card on your person — not even a copy. Keep this in a secure place like a safe deposit box or home safe (the same rules apply to your birth certificate).
While you obviously can’t travel out of the country without a passport, it’s dangerous to carry it around when not absolutely necessary. Keep it in your hotel safe (don’t leave it out in the open and susceptible to theft) and carry a photocopy of the page with your photo instead.
PIN Numbers and Passwords
Especially for those with multiple accounts, it can be tough to remember several account passwords and PIN numbers. However, including this information in your wallet right along with your cards is just asking for identity theft. If you really can’t memorize your most important PINs and passwords, keep them encrypted on your smartphone instead of plainly written in your wallet — but do so at your own risk.
When organizing the contents of your wallet before traveling, ask yourself if there’s anything inside you would regret having included if the wallet was stolen or misplaced. Saving money starts with practicing safety, which includes protecting your finances from unnecessary fees and excessive risk for fraud.