International Travel Tips for Globetrotters Part V: Money Matters & Personal Safety

by Nancy S. Wang

Currency/Banking

  • Be sure to inquire about international ATM capabilities with your bank at home. Although my ATM card is part of the Cirrus system worldwide, I was unable to use it on various occasions in South America.
  • The best exchange rates are given at the banks in town, not at the airport or hotels. Although there are exceptions to the rule, for the most part you will receive a better exchange rate for cash over travellers’ checks. Exchanging traveller’s checks almost always requires a small percentage in commission. Credit cards do not necessarily get the best exchange rate, since the rate is usually determined at the time of posting.
  • Exchange just enough money to cover your expenses for your travels. In most countries, it is required that you exchange any unused currency back to U.S. dollars or donate your loose change at the airport. In some cases, it is illegal to take foreign currency out of its country of origin. Be prepared to incur a loss in this transaction.

Personal Safety

  • Forgo wearing jewelry. Any sign of wealth makes you a vulnerable target.
  • Only carry enough money for the day in your purse or fanny pack (bum bag). The rest should be hidden under your clothes. Use a money belt or sewn-in pocket. Otherwise leave all other valuables where they belong: at home or in a safety deposit box.
  • Keep your travellers’ checks receipts separate from your travellers’ checks. In case of theft or loss, you will be able to contact your supplier to obtain new ones.
  • If you pay by cash, have the store vendor write "Cash" on your receipt. If you need clarification of this transaction at a later date, you have the proof in hand.
  • Never let your credit cards out of your sight, even for a split second. Watch the store vendor or travel agent carefully. The scam works like this: someone in the establishment will cause a diversion while the other person sneaks two transactions in. One for your legitimate purchases, and another credit card imprint for future forgeries. This happened to me twice in Athens, Greece, and on the island of Crete, but I’ve heard the same horror stories in other countries as well. I cannot stress the importance of retaining all your receipts until you receive your next monthly credit card statement.
  • Walk confidently to your destination, even if you have no idea where you are going. Try your best to fit in; attempt not to stand out like a tourist, even though you probably will be pegged as one.
  • Respect the customs of the local culture, especially in Asian or Middle Eastern countries. Dress conservatively (no shorts and sleeveless attire), avoid direct eye contact, and ignore sexual propositions.
  • Avoid sightseeing at night. You may stumble into an undesirable neighborhood not knowing any better.
  • Most importantly, just use plain common sense and intuition. Travelling abroad should not be overwhelming or dangerous. In fact it should be one of the most rewarding and memorable experiences in your lifetime.
Previously: Jetlag Tips & Destination Planning »

All International Travel Tips for Globetrotters Articles:
How to Pack
What to Pack & Airport Tips
In-Flight Activities & Customs/Immigration
Jetlag Tips & Destination Planning
Money Matters & Personal Safety