Safeguard Your Cash: Personal Safety Tips for Traveling Abroad

Nothing can spoil a vacation faster than getting your pocket picked. But a little planning can go a long way in protecting your funds while abroad. Follow these steps and you'll never have to worry about financial disasters while traveling.
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Protect Your Cash Abroad
Don't let a wily thief ruin your vacation.  (Andreas Schlegel/Getty Images)

You've saved, scrimped, and budgeted for months, and now you're making packing checklists for your dream vacation. Though we don't like to be Debbie Downer, if you're going to venture overseas, you should prepare for the worst. It could quickly turn into a nightmare if your wallet or credit card information got stolen. It only takes a second for a thief to strike, and you may not even realize it until hours have passed and you're miles down the road.

Making sure you're covered is a two-stage process: First you need to secure your funds before you leave, and then you need to safeguard your money and electronic transactions while you're on the road.

Before You Go
1. Make digital and paper copies.
Identity theft expert Robert Siciliano advises travelers to scan all travel and financial documents—passports, credit and debit cards, and traveler's checks—front and back in full color, and upload them to a secure, web-based, encrypted digital vault. Then, if they're lost or stolen, you can easily access the information. You can also email them to a secure account you can access online, like Yahoo or Google, or send them to a friend or relative. "You should also carry photocopies of your identification, but they won't do you any good if they're stored in the same purse that was just snatched from your rental car," says Siciliano. Spread the paper copies among several bags and carry-ons, hiding some in rarely used suitcase compartments.

2. Call your bank and credit card companies.
Call the banking institution behind each credit card you plan to use while away. Let them know where you're traveling and the dates you'll be gone, especially if you rarely travel overseas. If you don't, there's a good chance that when you try to charge a purchase in a foreign country, the bank will assume that your card was stolen and decline the purchase—or put a freeze on your card. Just because you have a debit and credit card with the same bank, don't assume you just need to make one call—more likely than not, you'll need to repeat the process with a representative in a different department. But calling ahead is no guarantee that a purchase will go through. "If you buy a $10,000 fur coat in Paris, the bank may consider it suspicious even if they know you're already there," says travel writer Susan Finch.

3. Lose the fanny pack.
To avoid being an easy mark for thieves, leave the fanny pack at home, says Karen Kane of Paris by Design, a travel consulting service. "You'll be more easily recognized as a tourist if you're dressed casually," she says. Shorts, running shoes, and warm-up suits are other surefire giveaways. "Dark clothing and dark comfortable shoes will help you blend in, at least in Paris, which reduces your risk for being pick-pocketed," she says.

4. Spread your cash around.
Prepare a dummy wallet and stuff it with expired credit cards, a few family snapshots, and a couple of 10- and 20-dollar bills in the event that a mugger demands all your cash. And just as you should spread your travel documents and credit card copies among several bags, never carry all your money with you. Instead, put a few bills in different purses and wallets if you're going to use several over the course of your trip. Better yet, don't carry a wallet at all, since the telltale bulge will give you away quicker than a fanny pack. Carry your cash in a front pocket or money belt instead.

It's also a good idea to bring more than one type of credit or debit card since some cards don't work overseas and American Express is not widely accepted worldwide, says budget travel expert Susanna Zaraysky. "Some ATMs in Europe only accept credit cards with gold metallic smart chips or PINs, so if you don't have one, you're out of luck."

5. Sign up for Skype.
When you call your credit card company to inform them of your travel plans, they'll tell you to call collect if your card is lost or stolen, which is usually an exercise in frustration. If you sign up for Skype and purchase some credit, you'll be able to call from any computer for considerably less than what international roaming rates are going to cost you. Another option is to buy a calling card, just in case.

Published: 21 Feb 2011 | Last Updated: 23 Feb 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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