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Credit Cards, Dollar Bills and Other Travel Bugaboos

If you’re planning a trip in the near future, or are heading out now, it’s a good idea to remember: 

Americans may have increasing trouble with credit cards. Other countries, especially those in Europe, have converted largely to ‘smart cards:‘ cards that rely on an imbedded chip, as well as punching in a PIN number combination, to access your funds. The problem: they won’t usually recognize American-issued cards. During a trip to Ireland last year, we experienced this firsthand. Our card was often rejected as “insufficient funds” or “unusuable,” even though we had plenty of funds. The clerks often figured out the problem ahead of time, and were apologetic. But there was little they could do.

     It will be expensive to replace all those cards — something U.S. credit card companies have been unwilling to do. After the debacle of Target’s information becoming breached, however, the issue may quickly become moot. Target had planned to introduce their new credit card lines, with chips included, in April. Other companies should follow suit, hopefully.

Pickpockets and hackers will be sorry to see us go. Before, Americans were good pickins. Now that Target and others are introducing ‘chips,’ it will be harder to access our cards. They’ll have to go back to the  good ol “smash an grab” method. A boss lost her purse — and consequently, her access to credit cards — when two thieves on a motorcycle in Rome coolly snatched her shoulder bag from her shoulder while driving past. Or this variation:

Keep the pickpockets out of your life by wearing a shoulder bag firmly across the chest, so it can’t be easily snatched. Or keep only a few dollars in your pocket. The rest should fit nicely in a security travel pouch worn under your clothes. This ‘undercover’ money pouch from Eagle Creek should do the trick:

Or try a neck stash pouch, like this one from Lewis & Clark. It’s worn discreetly inside your shirt or sweater, and holds passports, as well as money.

Maybe this idea was inspired by the “boodle:” one lady of our acquaintance always kept an emergency stash in her brassiere. Maybe her passport went there, too.

Make your money, identification and credit cards work better during trips by:

*Memorize or photocopy card and contact numbers. In case of trouble, they’ll be readily accessible. Give a copy to a truste friend or family member, if you’re especially concerned.

*Order your new passport now, even if you won’t need it for a while. There’s still a time backlog — which means you could wait for up to 2-3 months. If you’re going anywhere out of the U.S. (other countries, ditto), with increasingly rare exceptions, you’re going to need a passport. Here are tips to help you order  it faster.

*Keep dollar bills handy. The American dollar is actually doing better against the Euro currently That could change quickly — but citizens of many countries still value a stash of dollars. And you’ll save by able to quickly negotiate street vendors’ food and goods, without having to worry about exchange rates. Dollar bills also let you pay quickly at toll booths and fast food drive-throughs.

*Throw a filled change purse in too, for parking and tolls. Keep it filled and handy, and you’ll never have to pay a parking ticket again.

*Bring a credit card that’s geared especially for travelVISA or MASTER CARD are often your best bet.   Use them to pay at restaurants, and get a more equitable exchange rate, without having to change money. Also:

*Travelers checks may no longer be the way to go. Many store people are reluctant to cash them, for fear of counterfeits, and they definitely shy away from large amount. . You might have to travel some distance to find a bank or processing store, as well. Your money stash, and some good, reliable credit cards may be all you need.

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