I think every traveler has that nightmare that they’ll be stuck in a foreign country without money, or no access to their money. I lived this experience and let me tell you, it sucks. Learn from my mistakes and help yourself to avoid or resolve issues with money on the road.
Incident One: The Darn CIBC Credit Card
Two days before David and I left for Southeast Asia, I got a letter from CIBC informing me that they’d be replacing my credit card with a “new and improved” credit card, complete with nothing but a new design. Oh… and that my existing credit card would be made redundant in one week. What? What the what? I immediately got on the phone and told them no, I did not need the new card. My existing one that didn’t expire until 2018 was perfectly sufficient and hey, fun fact, I was leaving for Asia in two days. Two days! No time to wait for a new card to arrive.
They promised me it would be fine, that they’d courier me a card right away and that it would arrive the day I departed for my trip. No amount of talking to anyone at CIBC (yes, I pulled the “can I speak to your manager?” card) would make a difference. I was getting a new card.
Day of my trip arrives and guess what? No card. Mother truckers. So, I call them back and give them my address in Chiang Mai, Thailand, where I’d be staying for 10 days. For sure, my card would arrive and I’d be fine. Yeah… no. I diligently tracked the package every day and for the entire ten days in Chiang Mai, do you know where my card sat? In Bangkok. Just, you know, chilling out in some post office waiting to be delivered.
At this point, my next “reliable” hotel wasn’t going to be until Vietnam, and even then I was skeptical. In the end, I had them ship the cards to my parents back in Canada.
Lesson Learned: Always have a backup credit card, which I did. Luckily my trusty Scotiabank credit card became my go-to card on the trip. If I’d been without a second card, I’d have been up sh*t creek without a paddle.
In the end, we authorized the cards over the phone and used them for online bookings only, nothing in person.
Incident Two: The Expiring Debit Card
Okay, I fully take the blame for this one. Apparently I’m the only idiot in the world that didn’t know that debit cards expire. I found this out while trying to log onto my Scotiabank account and being denied access. What the what (for the second time)? Without access to my online account, there was no way that I could pay for my credit card statements, my last lifeline of financial support.
There was no way I was going to risk having another debit card sent to me on the road, and frankly I only had four weeks left of the trip. I knew I could make it with just the credit card and David’s debit card, but I could NOT make it without paying my credit card bills.
At the end of the day I had to set up a Skype call at 5 a.m. my time (5:30 p.m. in Calgary) with the manager of my bank branch. She was able to set me up with temporary login details, which I’d have to cancel once I got back to Canada. I don’t think she’s ever had a more appreciative customer in her life. She got a gorgeous thank you card on my return!
Lesson Learned: Always check all expiry dates and make sure you’ve got a good buffer. Also, connect with your local branch manager before you go. They might turn out to be your new best friend.
Other Money Travel Tips
Back in the day, I had traveler’s cheques as a way to keep “safe” money on the road. Here are some more up to date ideas:
- Buy VISA gift cards. David and I bought three $50 VISA gift cards to use as our emergency funds. The downside is that if you lose them, it’s like losing cash. On the plus side, we didn’t have to deal with bank fees.
- Pick a bank from the Global ATM network to avoid bank fees. We totally didn’t do this in advance and suffered the numerous bank fees as a result. You know how much money an ATM in Vietnam will let you take out at one time? $100 USD. We were there three weeks. That’s a lot of $5 fees. Check out Nomadic Matt’s article on how to avoid bank fees entirely. He’s the master.
- Try and have cash for your arrival into a country. We arrived in Vietnam and were asked to pay cash for our entry visas. No ATM in sight. Seriously? Luckily they took Thai baht. Note: the border agent gave us change from his own wallet making me question the legitimacy of these visa fees, but such is life. Always have some cash on hand. US dollars are pretty much accepted anywhere.
- Pay what you can online. PayPal, online credit card payments, you name it. Paying online was the easiest way for us to track our expenses. It helped keep our cash for daily necessities like food and entrance fees. Keeping accommodation and train travel on our cards just made life easier.
- Track your purchases. Whether you’re on a tight budget or not, knowing what you’re spending is always a good idea. I’ve come back from trips with fraudulent charges on my cards that can be hard to spot. Having your own record helps! You can go old school and use a tiny moleskin notebook or there are plenty of apps to keep it online (you can export these as well).
Do you have any great stories of money issues on the road? Tips to share? Comment below. Tell me I’m not alone in my money woes on the road!