The Best Laid Schemes: Money Matters While Traveling

_68928386_461janeaustenconceptimage

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

Get Ready to Pack: The Reality of Living Out of a Suitcase

22788231_698103b7e3_z

When you are flying domestic or traveling via car or bus, you usually just dump a bunch of clothing, what you think you will need while gone for a few days, into a case. You may have some sense of how you pack, but it’s a ,”Hey, I am going for a few days” mentality.  At least this is what I have experienced in talking with other people from the US, not much thought goes into what we cram into the case. This is  probably why we get held up at airports, the not thinking about carry on restrictions and what we cram in a case, liquids in too large amounts. If you are going overseas, you need to pack less and more useful clothing, toiletries, devices, and pack definitely more efficiently.

How Are You Traveling?

Will you be on large domestic to international flights? What are their current restrictions on weight and size? You can find most weight and size charts online, but they can still be a bit confusing. You should keep in mind that you may be able to really cram a case full of your belongings, but you have to lug that around for a few weeks and also the planes, trains and automobiles you may use have limited space. When traveling in a train, its a free for all on luggage racks and space behind the seats. You need to monitor your cases and know where they are on public transit. If you can get reserved seating, try to get a seat near or facing the racks to keep an eye on your gear. Check with the airlines, all airlines you are traveling with. This includes the smaller flights you may take in between islands or countries. Don’t rely on what it says on the online travel site you may use to  book, contact the actual carrier or railway.

Start Packing Trial Run

Some people are born packers. Some have been in the military and really know how to pack. Others travel a great deal for their jobs and have learned over time the best way to pack a case and survive TSA. You should rehearse with your cases a few days ahead. Now you may think that you have this down, but it’s better to have the trial run and edit than do so 4 hours before flight.

Start by lining up your clothing and thinking about weight. When you are at home, things go in drawers and closets, weigh is distributed. It’s amazing how much we don’t think of clothing as having weight unless it’s work boots. It adds up quickly, and you will pay for extra weight. Not all airlines let you check the cargo baggage free. Many charge per bag.

Methods

Rolling is something I have learned to do. It also means you can cram more things in in the case, and keeps wrinkles down. That doesn’t mean you should keep cramming. Again, weight is very restricted on overseas flights. I find rolling works well because you can keep some wrinkles out of clothing and even when you start accumulating dirty items, you can have one side clean and the other dirty. You will need to do laundry somehow, many wash in the sink, but some dense items that really doesn’t work well for. Plan to loose a few hours to finding a launderette for wash and dry. Some small items just need a rinse, and packing them just takes a quick fold. You may want to take a picture of when you successfully get the cases packed the way you want, just as a reference for the re-pack. Pack a bag for laundry run.

What to Pack

Lists can be found online about this topic. My experience has taught me this:

Several pairs of jeans, trousers. 4 if you can fit it. Easy to move around in, have pockets. Now my experience has taught me get real levis or non-fashion jeans. That’s right ladies, your hip and trendies have no real pockets. Totally useless for travel. You may want to bring one pair for an occasion. If you are on a tight budget, you may want to do what I have done in the past, get to the army surplus and get some real camos or other army pants that have pockets. Otherwise get to the outdoor store and get cargo pants. Works really well for train travel. Zip off kind make cargo shorts.

Tee shirts. Get plenty of teeshirts that can work as layers. Try to have a weeks worth with you. Sadly you will need to wash things, otherwise you have to lug too much with you. Keep  in mind that many UK and European cities do  not have a laundry set up that you are used to in America. Most of it is service wash and that can take a few days to get back, which won’t work.

One nice set of clothing that packs tight. Unless you are going for a wedding or some other really big affair, one outfit that can go to the theatre or very nice dinner.

Lightweight rain jacket if traveling spring/summer. Heavier weight worn if traveling fall/winter. Don’t bring large umbrella, or brelly. I would advise just buying one there and leaving it if you need. Here in PDX we mostly jacket hood if we have to, and it rains torrents. Think mobile.

Devices. You need a phone and an international plan. Tablet maybe. With new restrictions on the horizon you may want to rethink this. I have to take something because I  blog. Make sure you have your power converter. This trip I am relying on the phone for pictures and will be testing some camera phone lenses out. Cameras can be a hassle when traveling, one more thing to keep track of. But if you are a picture fiend, then finding a travel worthy camera is a sound investment.

Money belt. Yes, you will be a tourist target. Try not to be one. You are allowed one small personal bag on most flights. When out on the street, these bags can get slashed and grabbed very easy. Consider money belts for when you really need to have the money with you. Leaving money stashed in hotel rooms is not really safe unless there is a room safe. Backpacks and or travel bag purses should be on the smallish side and reenforced and antitheft built. If you are going the travel backpack route, I suggest you flatten and pack it in your cases and use when you arrive. If they make you check it, it can get damaged on conveyer belts, or just go missing in the system.

Toiletries

I try to buy most of these when I get to the country I am visiting. This works well if it’s a Western country or one that has a large metropolis. Otherwise, you need to pack your shampoos and such in regulation size containers. Double bag in clear zip lock bags and place in clear organizers. Things get jostled about and even with careful planning, can make a mess before you get there are cause inspection problems. Some things you will need to have like medications need to be packed with you in your. Carry on. Just  bring enough in your budget to get to the apothecary when you get there.

More

The Savvy Backpacker – Great article on all aspects for consideration while traveling. Including traveling using underground.

https://thesavvybackpacker.com/europe-packing-list/

http://toeuropeandbeyond.com/europe-travel-packing-list/

Video


Photo © Jan Voigtmann