Paying for things on the road

Photo by Graham Turner. The Guardian UK

Photo by Graham Turner. The Guardian UK

The NY Times Practical Traveler blog had an interesting article called For Americans, Plastic Buys Less Abroad. It brings back a lot of memories of having trouble paying for stuff abroad that we’ve all had: broken ATMs, credit cards that didn’t work, etc. The readers’ comments are well worth a read for the anecdotes about problems like these.

This is definitely a wake-up to check your credit cards, though. So far I haven’t had any problems, but it’s best to know before an emergency arises.

The comments also sparked a discussion about technology standards and how emerging countries may be taking the lead in innovation from the West.

How do you pay for things when you’re traveling? Got any advice? Please share your tips in the comments.

Posted by | Comments (7)  | October 23, 2009
Category: Vagabonding Advice

7 Responses to “Paying for things on the road”

  1. Lauren Says:

    I’m American. I have had the rare trouble with my always non-chip card in London. I got over it since I was only three a few days, but long-term it would have been an issue.

    Before my recent year-long round-the-world trip, my partner and I signed up for a Charles Schwab account because they have no foreign finance charge and refund ATM fees. It was amazing for a year of travel, spent mostly in Asia. Had some trouble when the foreign banks would bundle their ATM fees into the same transaction amount as the withdrawal, and we’re working it out now. Also, since the cards are such a minor part of their business, the customer service is polite but ineffective – had a card eaten in India and they were no help.

    But, still worth it. Always always have a separate second ATM account and card as a backup. And, don’t keep all your money in your ATM account, in case something nefarious happens.

  2. brian from Says:

    A bigger issue is with the current credit crisis, card companies are cutting credit lines without warning. So the reason you can’t pay for that room or ticket is because they cut your credit limit by 50%. It has happened to me, with everything paid on time and no large balances.

    Only use ATM machines in banks if at all possible. Standalone ATMs in stores and on streets can be less secure and could give up your PIN and account information if it’s been tampered with.

  3. Ted Beatie Says:

    I use both cash and credit when I travel, using whichever is easier or more appropriate for a given situation. For street vendors, buses and taxis, small restaurants and lodging, always cash. Quite often, credit cards aren’t even accepted so one has to use cash. I always make sure to have enough on hand in case a town we’re passing through has no ATMs, which can be quite common in the more remote vagabonding destinations.

    Upper-scale restaurants and lodging, if they take credit cards, I will use one in order to save cash on hand. I always have a “travel” credit card that has $0 when I start my trip, and I check the statement carefully. I’ve never had an unexpected reduction in credit limit, but would always have a backup card just in case. I also try to get the best exchange rate possible, having learned never to use the ATMs at the airport as they tend to have the highest rates. If I land in a country with no cash, I’ll usually take out just enough to get me to my first destination, and then find a local bank there to take out more.

  4. Keri Hacker Says:

    One of my worst experiences traveling through Italy during college was having the ATM machine eat my card when I was in Florence. I was only carrying enough cash to get me to my next destination which happened to be a small island off Sicily the very next morning. So, I put my ATM in the machine to withdraw extra money, the ATM screen bleeped, made a strange noise, then informed me that the machine was out of order. A second later a metal door slammed shut leaving me cashless and cardless. That was a very bad week. I mooched off friends while in Sicily and then waited three days till my mom could wire me money. My suggestion, always bring travelers checks.

  5. Nora Says:

    I tend to pay for things with my credit card whenever I can, and haven’t had any trouble yet (knock on wood). That way, most of my money management is done online, since I largely earn my income online too. The credit card statements are also great tracking mechanisms for my expenses too.
    However I also have cash on hand (pulled from an ATM) for those things that require cash and for emergencies.

  6. Lara Gordon Says:

    I call any credit card or debit card I’m going to be using before leaving on my trip. I let them know where I’m going and when I’ll be traveling so my credit card does not get put on hold due to a computer thinking it’s been stolen.

    I’ve also found that Capital One, at least last time I checked, was the only card that did not charge an extra % for foreign transactions.

    Sometimes, for example in Ireland, the merchant can ring the transaction in USD instead of Euros – but they charge a % for this as well so you must inform them before they ring the transaction to just ring it as Euros. Yes, your bank or credit card co. (except for Capital One) will still charge you the transaction fee, but at least you don’t get hit with it twice!

  7. Says:

    It’s best to have a combination of cash and credit cards. Some people to use travelers checks. Always contact your bank and credit card companies and let them know you’ll be traveling. Paying cash is easier. It pays to review your credit cards and what fees you will be charged when you’re in foreign countries. Perhaps it’s time to open up a new credit card just for travel. When you pay it off, lock it up!