The Best Laid Schemes: Money Matters While Traveling

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It is with chagrin that I write this. It has been a few months since my Ireland and Scotland trip. And what I came back to certainly wasn’t fun. Last year I wrote about being careful while traveling, especially where money and safety is concerned. I had two incidents happen to me while traveling, even though I was vigilant and had planned well in advance, was always on guard. One of the big drawbacks of traveling alone, you don’t have a mate to watch your back. You spend a great deal of time watching every corner, when really you want to be watching the sights. How do you tour and enjoy sights while not being targeted is the big question. And even when you plan, you can still get swiped.

In my last article I wrote about how to carry your money, do money belts really work, how hard was it to travel with cash or money. This most recent trip I had gathered up and taken some cash from the UK and Ireland, Pounds and Euros. I kept a certain amount for both on or locked in safes in places I stayed. I only carried small amounts of cash and guarded my concealed chip card fiercely. I still had incidents. I didn’t want to have to access ATMS or anything that would be compromised unless I needed to. Best laid schemes and all.

Cash

Cash is always good to have, especially when you have a desire to not collect chip card fees. It is also a bit of a burden while traveling. You can keep large amounts of cash, but it’s not usually a good idea. Even with a lockable case, or if you are lucky, a hotel room with a safe, you shouldn’t have large amounts on your person as you are making yourself a target. So, I had to decide what the cash budget for a day would be, try to keep that very low, conceal it, stuff a fiver or a tenner in the key pocket of the Levis for cash items, the rest was prepaid travel card. I didn’t want to have to access foreign exchanges too often, there were always fees involved. Card use depended on using for food at restaurants mainly, and I tried to keep that down because fees may be charged again. They may seem minimal, but usage fees can total over £ 50.00 by the end of your trip, and if you are limited to currency because your card company won’t do two or more currencies to your card, you will get exchange fees. So budget £ 5-8.00 for a day if using one for the extra fees.

For the most part, money belts do work, especially if you get a low profile one that you can sling low and hide in jeans it’s not quite as obvious. Cloth money belt may be more desirable due to heat and moisture, but one with internal pockets.

I carried my cash from town to town and through airports using a money belt. Problem was they made me take it off and put in the bins during boarding. This was extremely nerve wracking as it was out of sight and I had to keep chasing down the bin and keep track of everything else as well. The money belt worked otherwise for the most part, I found it was better while traveling on trains. So, even though the belt was made to not trigger alarms at the airport, they still found it. Concealed card holders usually make it through if there is not a metal snap. Better to wait and get the cash there after you arrive.

Backpacks

Most of the cities you will tour are filled with students, and backpacks are the norm. You also want to be able to meet and greet locals and get a feel for a place. You should be able to just talk to anyone, right? But you always have to think the most affable could be sizing you up. Pickpockets have been in the trade for over a thousand years. And they have gotten more sophisticated than you think, think super spy.

If you are touring and doing serious backpacking with a kit and this is your mode for travel as well, you will probably want to take a smaller low profile version along for town day excursions. Back packs are magnets for a lift or slash. If you are touring and need to do several hours away from hotel or other lodging, purses and such are not a good thing. Too easy to slash and grab. You can buy modified purse/backpacks with reinforced straps, but the best thing to do is buy very small back packs with low profile or lockable zippers. While some thieves will still slash a bag, many are subtle and will unzip while standing next to you and you are distracted by the sights or your companions. Be wary of who is next to or near you.

I purchased a very low profile, small backpack that really sat against my body. It had hidden, recessed zippers and a compartment for my iPad. However, with careful planning I still was almost a victim. While in Dublin in large crowds, apparently someone went for my iPad. The recessed zippers hadn’t mattered. I had barely noticed the jostle and almost forgot it all together until two young girls came up and said that my pack was open and looked like a grab had happened. I checked everything and luckily the would be thief had not made off with the iPad, or any other valuable item like the passport. The girls said it happened a lot in the area. So, whenever possible, practice looking tragically hip while guarding your backpack, especially in the Temple Bar area.

Cash Card

I went with a cash card again on this trip. However, I did bring my ATM card as a backup if it got stolen. Big mistake. I had been really vigilant about getting cash. I was trying not to use the chip travel card to get cash, wasn’t sure how safe it would be. If I needed cash I went directly to accredited money exchangers after checking Yelp for reviews, and in some UK Post Offices you can use their exchange. I figured if you got a receipt and if they are a chain, you have some recompense if there is a problem. However, depending on remote locations, sometimes the card wouldn’t work for buying meals and such, being WiFi processing dependent. I was doing really well with managing the money, and really thought I had done okay until I got back to the US and found my checking account had been cleared out. The bank got me the records and after contacting Scotland Police by email, I began looking at a trail of how my account was cleared out. It appears the one time I got desperate for cash on a tour, I used a small stand alone ATM at a petrol station. Bad idea. A card skimmer had been attached and as I looked at records, I followed a parallel track to my travels, going through the Highlands and into Edinburgh, the same days I was there for Fringe Festival. Lesson learned, don’t bring anything attached to your bank account and use it to access funds.

Credit Cards

When traveling we often use our credit cards, they usually can be replaced when lost or stolen while traveling if your card is supported internationally. Just be prepared for the the foreign transaction fees. Check with your bank about their rates of exchange before you go. Always plan in your budget for the fees that will hit you when you return. Depending on your countries of travel, you may want to have a card that is with one of the major card companies, Visa or Master Card. Virgin Money is still only available in UK, Europe and Australia.However, the interest rates are terrible. Use credit card sparingly and use the prepaid card for food and expenses.

Large card companies will have the best infrastructure to wire money or replace card overnight in some countries. Travel cards that you preload can be advantageous, but will also accrue per use fees, and if you return and still have money on them, you may get charged monthly fees as well. Close out your cards when you return unless you plan to travel within a year. Contact your card holder for details. I went with Travelex again and for the most part they worked, but the cards were not the latest processing cards and some of the newer chip readers had trouble with them. If you bring your card, make sure you know about any emergency limits. If you have a medical issue in another country, your personal insurance will not cover most expenses. You should buy travel insurance for your trip, make sure that there are allowances for transport fees (ambulance) included. Your credit card will help get you in the door of a medical facility, and you will have to work with the travel insurance later. Pay as you go cards may not be accepted at Casualty rooms.

Travel Cards

I had a Travelex card which is a UK card. Coming from the US, I was told I could only purchase one currency. While in the UK and EU countries, there are cards that allow you multiple currencies on the card. Research this before you go as new card services are popping up, exchange rates will always accrue.

American Express is not accepted by most merchants, if any in the UK and Ireland.

Piece of Mind

There are no guarantees in travel. For the most part, if you have companions you can look out for one another. If you are the single traveler, you have to be even more prepared to be a target. Think about what you really need to do, and do you really need more money in cash. I didn’t want all my eggs in one basket. Even though the travel card was supposed to be the best option, I was concerned about if it got stolen, and considerations about tracking and stopping the old card going to get me refunded funds or were they truly lost. The company claimed it would refund me, but I had my doubts. So, when shopping for your travel cards, research well in advance and talk to them about all their policies. Look at their online interface and see if you think you will be able to access while abroad, or if they have an app for your smart phone. Research through articles and see which cards are performing the best, and in which countries. I found the online web interface really difficult to get to with Travelex. Their app was easy for daily monitoring and topping up.

Hotel Safes

You can shop for accommodations that have a room safe. While you are looking for accommodations on a travel website, contact the accommodation and see if they have room safes. These usually rely on a code that you set yourself, however there are a few locking types which means you have another key to keep track of. In days of old when you traveled, you could rely on a main hotel safe for passports, etc. Try to avoid them. You have no guarantee that the employees won’t skim your funds or access your passport.

UK and EU Travel Cards Information and Articles

https://www.moneysavingexpert.com/credit-cards/travel-credit-cards

https://www.moneyadviceservice.org.uk/en/articles/travel-money-options-cash-cards-and-travellers-cheques#using-pre-paid-cards-abroad

http://www.wisebread.com/travel-and-money-using-prepaid-travel-cards

UK Residents http://www.holidayextras.co.uk/travel-money-card.html

https://www.what-prepaid-card.co.uk

Cards

Travelex

Check if you can have multiple currencies https://www.travelex.com/travel-money-card

Visa Prepaids from Visa Partners https://usa.visa.com/pay-with-visa/cards/card-finder/prepaid-finder-page.html

Virgin https://uk.virginmoney.com/virgin/travel-prepaid-card/index.jsp

 

Travel Insurance, The Necessary Evil

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Getting ready for the trip in two months, I had to do the reality check on mortality and everything else that is taken for granted in your home country. That’s right, the whether to buy a vacation insurance package or not for your upcoming trip. What could really go wrong on a trip you have planned on for months. Just about everything.

Flight Insurance

Yep, your flight you have booked for months can get cancelled. Granted, airlines are responsible to a degree to get you on another flight, but if it ends up being on another airlines so you can make a connecting flight, you may have to haggle to not pay a difference in ticket costs. Demand that the airlines cover this of course, but there may be a different story at the other ticket counter and you will have to eat it until you can get the airlines to reimburse you. Or, make a claim on the flight insurance you hopefully bought. Since I got my tickets at a steal last fall, I am only covered for the $876.39. That’s the trip cancellation. Trip interruption, caused by airline having to rebook flight, is about $1,300.00. Considering that will probably be what it would take to book a flight suddenly, I may eventually not be at a loss.

Baggage Loss

I call it loss. It’s lost until you find it. And sometimes you can’t find it. Airlines call it misplaced or some other marketing name that doesn’t seem so disastrous. It’s still a disaster to you. Sad thing is the insurance companies will barely cover $1000.00 of loss. That doesn’t cover the laptop you will be forced to put in your luggage now, much less the clothing. You will need to shop around for travel insurance that covers your losses with luggage. And make sure it does not exclude electronics. Electronics like an iPad fall under the luggage category and many insurance carriers require you have the original receipts for your items. I have no clue where those are. I used to keep every single receipt, of course now that I need it… The baggage loss for overseas is not covered by federal regulations. So I am lucky I get $750.00. That will barely cover a iPad that I don’t have original receipts for. Wait, I bought that at Apple, I could bother their customer service to help me research back 3 years, right?

Laptop Travel Ban Expansion Imminent

Search Me? New Travel Restrictions, Customs Searches, and Your Mobile Phone

Medical

Sadly in the US, we still don’t really have socialized medical care. And our company issued insurance will do anything to not cover any claim. It certainly won’t cover you when in another country, and it’s a battle if you are in another state to get coverage if you get in an accident. Research the medical coverage portion of the policy you are buying. The policy I have covers $50k, and EMC and Transport to hospital is $25K. This may cover a small portion of a hospital stay and won’t cover any operations that may ensue. If you are in a socialized country, you will receive treatment but they will still come after you for a bill. If you are in a EU country and from another EU country, some things will be covered, but not all. I would advise trying to bump the insurance coverage up to $100k if you can. You may need to get a supplemental plan when traveling.

Mortality

I just called the policyholder today and informed them of my beneficiaries name for the accidental death coverage. Good thing I thought of it. It’s easy to not think about death when you are on the vacation you’ve waited months for. What, “I am inflatable” you think. Think again.

No one likes to think of their demise happening when you finally get on that trip. But it does happen. From the minute I get off the plane in a country that is left hand drive, I start self talking the “Look to the right” for cars immediately. Unfortunately, tourists do die while away from home. Could be traffic, could be a mugging gone wrong. Or your health gives out with a heart attack. Then your loved ones are left with the impossible task of getting your remains back to home. I have read articles of family and friends having to run crowdfunding campaigns just to bring a body home. It’s not just a simple matter of getting a plane ticket for a body. Each country has their laws for the transport of a body on planes and trains. There are fees. I have read that it can cost upwards of $5000.00 just to bring a body back. Got life insurance back home. It may cover just the loss of your life, the income loss to family. It will not cover transport costs. Will the $50k really cover my life? I have other life insurance, but there is probably some fine print about being in another country.

Read the accidental death coverage for the insurance, and any fine print.

Who to Go With

I chose the the insurance company preferred by the airline. Probably a mistake, but looking at all the other choices was getting to be a chore. I am not taking equipment with me. That is when you really need to pay attention. If you are really into your camera or are a professional film crew, of course you have to go with industry standard insurance coverage if you can get it. Your average person used to be able to carry cameras and laptops in carry on and I would still recommend that you do. However TSA rules are changing due to terrorism threats, laptops and electronics being the place to conceal explosives now. And you should lock your carry on luggage for when you have to use the toilets, the can get riffled through on a flight in the overhead.

So, who do you go with for coverage? The one that is offered at ticket checkout may cover your very basic needs. However, if you have the time, do a little research on reviews and complaints against carriers. Make sure you get and print out your Policy Confirmation Letter. Make sure you make 2 copies, one you will have with your other travel plans folder and the one you leave with your beneficiary of the life insurance. Do a specific quirk search on each travel insurance company, and search for complaints against them.

Further Reading
http://www.travelinsurancereview.net/faqs/does-travel-insurance-cover-laptops-and-tablets/
http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/2012/06/do-you-need-travel-insurance/index.htm
http://lifehacker.com/do-i-really-need-to-buy-travel-insurance-1674681487
https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/credit-cards/credit-cards-offer-lost-baggage-insurance/