16 tips for dealing with money while wandering the world


Money.  Apparently it makes the world go round, and you certainly can’t go round the world without it.  Here are several tips to help manage your money on the road, and maybe even keep more of it in your pocket at the same time.

Credit cards

credit card and money
  • Tell your credit card company about your trip before you leave.  There is less change of your card being blocked when you need it most due to a ‘suspicious’ transaction if they know where you are going and when.  You should get a phone call to verify that it is really you, at least.
  • Know the fees and interest rates and when they start being charged – especially for cash withdrawals, as fees and rates are high and interest usually starts to be charged immediately.  If you have to use your credit card to get cash from an ATM, be sure to pay that balance off as soon as possible.
  • You may not be able to use your credit card at all in less developed countries, but if you can then VISA and Mastercard are most widely accepted.
  • Have the emergency contact number handy (and in your email) to cancel your card in case of theft or loss.


Travellers cheques and ‘cash passports’

  • Once the best way to take money overseas, traveller’s cheques are basically obsolete these days. Unless you are going miles off the beaten track and absolutely know that they are the only option, don’t bother. Many banks now don’t even offer them.
  • Cash passport cards – essentially a form of debit card preloaded with foreign currencies – also generally aren’t worth the effort. The fees are often even higher than using debit cards, with more hassle required to top up or transfer the funds out again once you get home.The only real benefit is that in the case of theft your potential losses are limited to the amount of money loaded on the card – but you can achieve the same thing by keeping balances low on the accounts linked to your debit card and transferring money into those accounts as necessary.


Debit cards

  • Cirrus logoMake sure your debit card has the Cirrus or Maestro symbols printed on it to have the highest chance of working in overseas ATMs.  Even then not every ATM will work with every card – be prepared to find a different machine.
  • maestro_logoAs with credit cards, know the fees and conversion rates your bank uses for international cash withdrawals.  Take out reasonably large amounts of cash each time – a week’s worth or so – to minimize the transaction costs.  Setting up an account with one of the few banks that don’t charge for this service may be worthwhile for regular travellers.
  • Some ATMs will not give you the option of selecting which account to withdraw from.  They default to a ‘cheque’ account, so if you only have a ‘savings’ account linked with your card you will not be able to use it in these machines.


Emergency funds

  • Carry spare credit and debit cards.  If these are from a different bank(s) to your main cards, even better.
  • Have enough cash in a readily-convertible currency to last you a few days, and don’t use it for anything except a real emergency.
  • Keep those emergency cards and cash separate from the rest of your funds – perhaps in a hidden compartment in your backpack or similar.


Online banking

  • Two factor authenticationUnless it is an emergency, only log on to your internet banking from a device you trust. This does not include a PC at internet cafes or other shared computers. If you absolutely have to use an unknown machine, change your password from a trusted computer as soon as possible afterwards.
  • Be careful when using shared or public wireless networks – make sure you type your bank’s website address into your browser directly, starting with https:// to ensure a secure session. Remember to check for the padlock and/or the highlighted green text in the address bar of your browser before entering your login details.
  • If your bank offers two-factor security – whereby you enter a unique number from a small device you carry with you or sent via SMS – sign up for it before you leave.

Check out our guide to staying secure while travelling for more information, including VPNs, physical security and more.


Western Union

  • When absolutely everything else fails, there is Western Union.  Expensive, insecure and time-consuming, it is both the bane and saviour of a backpacker’s life.  If you need it, you’ll know.  If you don’t then steer well clear.


Do you have any other tips for managing your money on the road?  Share them in the comments!


Money image cc via 401K, pinpad image cc via justusbluemer

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5 Responses

  1. Alex

    Whilst on the subject of Credit Cards, a word or two regarding RFID might be in the order. You could buy an existing product to protect your CC’s as well as chip enabled passports, or go cheap and make one yourself. Having a compromised credit card whilst on the road can be a serious pain….

  2. Sean Knox

    Another point about depositing checks: if you’re working while overseas and your client/employer only pays you in written checks (e.g. doesn’t offer direct deposit) you often can have clients mail your check directly to your bank and reference your account number–the bank will then deposit it for you. Check with your bank first.

  3. Adam @ GettingStamped

    Thanks for sharing your tips, money is stressful while traveling. Personally I hate carrying large amounts of money while traveling it makes me paranoid, but I also hate the fees from ATMs. So we signed up for the Charles Schwab brokerage/checking account that pays you back for every ATM fee. Those fees add up quick especially in a place like Thailand where ATM fees are 150B each time!


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