With travel restrictions finally easing up in many places, the idea of heading somewhere exciting and new for the holidays is not just appealing — it’s attainable. But among the million-and-a-half things you have to worry about when you’re planning your family trip (hello, motherload!), panic about traveling with money may start to creep into your brain. What’s the best and safest way to travel with money? Are traveler’s checks even a thing anymore? The last thing any parent wants is to run into a situation where they lose their money on vacation with the kids, effectively stranding the entire fam.
And, no, cleavage is not the right place to stash your cash for a major trip. Of course, there’s no argument a bra is a highly functional phone, keys, and money holder for a quick run to the store, but it’s not exactly practical for a long vacation. So, here are a few tips on traveling with money that don’t involve reaching down your top to pay for an affogato or those rose gold Minnie Mouse macarons at Disney your tween just couldn’t live without.
What is the best way to travel with money?
Of course, no single form of payment will work in all cases. Depending on where you plan to travel with your money, it’s smart to have a combination of methods. Let’s take a closer look at the most common forms of travel money.
Credit Cards and Debit Cards
Credit cards should be your go-to method of payment during a trip, especially internationally. Travel guru Rick Steves recommends those traveling to Europe, for example, should carry one primary credit card and a backup in case of emergencies. “Upon returning home, verify the balance and charges on your debit and credit cards,” Steves says. “Some travelers monitor balances as they travel, though it’s important to be careful when accessing a financial account online.”
Steves advises against debit cards since once someone swipes the money from the account, it’s gone until the bank is convinced the charges aren’t yours. “Because a debit card pulls funds directly out of your bank account, potential charges incurred by a thief are scary — it’s your money that’s gone, and it will stay gone until the fraudulent use is investigated by your bank,” Steves warns. “For that reason, I limit my debit card use to cash-machine withdrawals. To make purchases, I pay with cash or a credit card.”
Another benefit of credit cards? Travel rewards cards allow you to rack up things like reward points and frequent flyer miles. Plus, many boast no foreign currency transaction fees and even allow you to earn free hotel stays.
No matter which type of card you use, don’t forget to call and let the bank know you’ll be traveling.
Cash is king. But ballers, beware: If you plan on traveling outside the U.S. with more than $10,000 cash, you have to declare it with customs. Law enforcement is trying to deter money laundering, so if you can’t come up with some sort of explanation for where you got the money, they can seize it. But within the U.S., there’s no limit to the amount of cash you can carry.
Another thing to keep in mind is that you’ll need to exchange U.S. cash for the local currency when you’re traveling abroad. Do your research upfront, and you should be able to avoid overpaying. According to NerdWallet, airport kiosks and stores should be your last resort when converting currency — the exchange rates are generally terrible, and the fees are high. If you plan ahead, you can have your bank or credit union order the local currency of your destination prior to your trip. Or you could even use an online currency converter and have the local currency delivered to your home.
But, if you’re a procrastinator (hey, hi, hello… welcome to the club), you should still be able to get cash in the local currency from your bank’s ATM network once you’ve reached your destination. So, make sure you use your institution’s app to map out the closest ATMs to where you’re going.
Yep, they’re still around! The good thing about this OG alternative to credit and debit cards is that they can be replaced if they’re stolen or lost, making them a safer bet than cash. While it’s true that traveler’s checks are almost extinct, you can still find them at a few big banks. American Express still issues their traveler’s checks with no service fee in a variety of currencies, and they never expire. Some establishments may charge a fee to take traveler’s checks, meaning you might want to call ahead and find out the policy.
Traveler’s checks are great for trips to locales without ATMs, or if the local ATM is glitchy. If this form of travel money feels like too much of a relic for your taste, though, USA Today recommends prepaid travel cards as a more modern alternative. Fair warning: They typically involve more fees than traveler’s checks. Still, they make an excellent backup payment method.
How can I carry money while traveling?
Now that you’ve established you should have a combination of payment methods on hand while traveling (especially internationally), you need to know about the logistics. Although it sucks to think about — particularly when you’re traveling over the holidays — carrying money can make you a target for seasoned, slick thieves and everyday pickpockets. With that in mind, here are a few must-know travel money tips.
1. You’ve Gotta Keep ‘Em Separated
Seriously, if singing the lyrics to that Offspring song in your head helps you remember this, so be it. Because the cold hard truth here is that your go-to money-carrying method of stashing everything (cards, cash, coins, whatever) into one wallet puts you at greater risk when traveling. There are countless ways to do this, so you’ll have to play around with it to figure out what you’re most comfortable with. One scenario? You could hold onto your primary credit card and a bit of cash, your partner could carry the backup credit card and a prepaid debit card, and you could leave the rest of your cash in the safe at your hotel.
2. Hide Your Money Strategically
Just as you’ll be splitting up your payment sources between various locations and persons, you want to mix up where you’re carrying that money on your actual body. Split your bills up into different hiding spots. That way, if a crook nabs one source, it won’t leave you stranded. A wallet in your front pocket makes it trickier for a pick-pocket to access without catching your attention. And you can get money belts that go under your clothing around your neck, waist, thigh, ankle, and more that are practically undetectable and keep your money safely stashed close to your body. You can even carry a decoy wallet in your back pocket to thwart thieves.
Of course, you don’t want to have to strip down in the middle of a pub to pay for a pint. So, keep some money accessible — a few dollars in your sock or, yes, even a few bucks in your bra might be a good idea.
Is it safe to travel with money?
As they say, money makes the world go ’round. So, sorry, Mama — you can’t exactly take that dream family vacation to Paris without bringing some funds with you. Sure, you can pay for a lot of your travel arrangements in advance. But there will inevitably be moments during your travels when you’ll need pocket change. Still, in the immortal words of ol’ Ben Franklin, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Taking the following precautions can potentially save you a whole lot of frustration when traveling with money.
1. Don’t Flash Your Cash in Public
Years of watching true-crime shows have convinced you crowded, busy places equal safety. However, to a pick-pocket, a busy marketplace means plenty of distracted tourists that make good marks. This is where having a small sum of money easily accessible — and separate from the bulk of your travel money — comes in handy.
2. Be Mindful When Using ATMs
First, try to only use ATMs during banking hours. If you wind up having any issues, you’ll know you can go into the branch and speak to someone in person. When it’s 9 pm, your kid is crying their eyes out, and you need cash fast, you don’t want to be stuck in the dark at a defunct ATM. And always give the device you insert your card into a little shake before using it. If it’s a skimmer, it’ll fall off. Similarly, hide the numbers you push as you enter your pin. Some thieves use mini-cameras to record card numbers and accompanying pins.
3. Have a Point Person Back Home
If you do happen to lose all of your travel money, you’re going to want to have someone back home who is armed and ready with information to help. For starters, you should make copies of all of your credit cards before leaving for your trip. Your point person should know where those are (or have the login info for your online accounts). That way, they can quickly and efficiently relay the numbers you need to contact credit card companies, etc. Plus, they can wire you the funds you need to get home, which, you know, is kind of a big deal.
4. Get Travel Insurance
Traveling internationally is a big-ticket item for most families, so it makes sense to cover the cost of that investment. The right travel insurance can help with everything from rebooking flights to covering expenses incurred during travel delays, and even finding lost luggage. There are a lot of options out there, so give yourself plenty of time to research before your trip.
How much money should you travel with?
Although this is highly subjective, a good rule-of-thumb is to prepay for as much of your trip as possible and then bring $50 to $100 per person per day. And remember, you’ll want to diversify that money — splitting it between cash and cards (or even traveler’s checks). You’ll also need to consider the affordability of the destination you’re traveling to when making your budget. Some locales are much more affordable than others, meaning you may be able to get away with spending less.