15 Tips for Dealing with Money on Your RTW Journey

You finally spotted it. That familiar sidewalk machine that magically spits out money.

BEWARE.

Keep reading . . .

If you are planning an RTW, at some point you must figure out how you are going deal with your money. Things have changed a lot since the days of travelers’ cheques and no ATMs. The ready availability of ATMS in foreign countries, and thus the ability to utilize your debit card(s),  makes carrying travelers’ cheques and large amounts of cash obsolete.

Yet, for long term travel, having plenty of backups and safety nets in place is crucial. The last thing you want is to lose access to your money because your debit card was lost or stolen!

Here are 7 tips I have compiled for structuring your money situation before your RTW and 8 tips for once you have arrived in a new country:

  1. Have two checking accounts at home, and bring debit cards for both. First, maintain a “home base” bank account at a large bank, such as Wells Fargo or Bank of America.
  2. Second, if you don’t already have one, open a Charles Schwab Platinum checking account. Make this the main debit card you use, because Schwab actually reimburses all ATM fees you ever generate by depositing them straight back into your checking account each month. I’m not kidding. And ATM charges in foreign countries add up fast. It is not at all unusual for ATM fees to be $5 or $6 for each transaction. The reason for the two banks is this: The home base bank is a brick-and-mortar bank you can use for your second person to deposit checks and otherwise easily access. While Schwab has brick-and-mortar buildings, they do not function as walk-in banks. You can’t deposit or withdraw money at these buildings; all the banking with Schwab is online. Also, if one of your cards is lost or stolen, the thief will not have access to your entire money pile if it is divided up between banks and accounts.
  3. There are many reasons to add at least one other person, preferably two, to your two checking accounts (home base account and Schwab account). If you run into any problems, this person can easily deposit cash, write checks for you, deposit checks, and so on. They can even have a backup ATM card in case you lose yours, although you will probably need to change the card number altogether if you lose it. Also, if the worst happens, your backup person will be able to handle this part of your affairs. 
  4. Call both banks to find out how to get a replacement debit card if yours is lost or stolen. Most banks have an international phone number that you will want to keep on a separate piece of paper, preferably in duplicate. Keep this and other important information in a separate place from the cards themselves. In fact, keep the cards separate.
  5. Let your banks know you are leaving the country and will be traveling to multiple foreign countries. This is super-important because most banks will freeze your account (for your protection) if they see unusual activity on your card and they didn’t know you were traveling.
  6. Bring a pre-paid Visa or MasterCard with a few hundred dollars on it as a backup in the event that you can’t access your money any other way.
  7. Bring a couple hundred dollars (or your home currency’s equivalent) as a very last resort. You need all these backups for a variety of reasons. For example, in many countries ATMs can go down for days.
  8. When  you arrive at a country, immediately find an ATM to take out a small amount of cash for transportation and maybe food.
  9. Depending on which country you’re in, take out only $200 or $300 at a time from an ATM. You don’t want to carry a lot of cash with you, ever. (You can see how getting your ATM fees reimbursed every month can make a huge financial difference.)
  10. Never exchange your home currency at exchange stations if you can help it. They charge more and usually have the worst exchange rates. ATMs are the best way to go, with banks a close second.
  11. Get small bills by buying a coffee or some other small item so you can get the change. In many countries, drivers will claim to not have change for your big bill, and you’ll “tip” them the extra, far more than you would otherwise. 
  12. If possible, never use a free-standing ATM machine. Always use one that is attached to a bank. The free-standing ones are much more susceptible to fraud and tampering, such as having a dummy PIN pad that tracks your PIN and a dummy card reader that swallows your card. It happens, and more often than people would like to admit.
  13. If you must use a free-standing ATM, let someone go ahead of you. This way, if there is a problem with the machine, it won’t be your card that gets swallowed. Sounds terrible, I know, but this is reality.
  14. Wear a money belt for most of the cash you do carry. Just keep a small amount in your purse or pocket. Never access your money belt in a public place.
  15. Note that I haven’t mentioned credit cards at all. Partly because I am not going to be carrying one (except for the prepaid one mentioned earlier), but also because credit cards are by far the most expensive way to travel. And if you’re on an RTW, you hopefully aren’t living on credit, anyway. If you do bring one, use it for emergencies only.

The main thing is you never want to completely lose access to your money. Several of these ideas serve as backups and safety precautions so that you are never left without money. Be safe, be smart, and enjoy your RTW!

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It Could All End Today

As you grow older, you’ll find the only things you regret are the things you didn’t do.

Last week I got the dreadful news that someone I deeply respect and admire, a woman who was a very active member of our community, died while scuba diving off the island of Bonaire, a tiny little island deep in the southern Caribbean near the coast of Venezuela. She was with her wife, the love of her life, doing things she enjoyed most: relaxing, basking in the sunshine, scuba diving, meeting people, enjoying life to the fullest with the one she loved best. I didn’t know Jolie well, but I had spent timeIMG_0559 at a couple of small, intimate parties at their home.

Her death has shaken my little community to its core. Why does this happen? How? While I don’t know the details of her passing, it really doesn’t matter. What does matter is that Jolie was living life to its fullest, holding nothing back. And it got me to thinking about my upcoming world travel. What if something happens to me when I’m far, far away from friends, family, and those who love me? Do I really want to risk my life the way I am setting myself up to do?

The short answer is yes. Yes, I am willing to risk my life doing something I have always dreamed of doing. Oh, not by making bad decisions and doing stupid things and getting drunk with strangers. No, I’m way past that. (I just had my 58th birthday, for Pete’s sake.) But I’m willing to risk being in foreign countries where I don’t know the language or my way around or where to go or what food is safe to eat. I’m willing to be comfortable in my discomfort, to remind myself that the world is not the big, bad, scary place we are told it is.

It’s true that my 83-year-old mom tries hard not to panic when she thinks about me “gallivanting around the world.” She won’t even discuss my plans with me. She pretends it’s not really going to happen. It’s also true that my darling great-niece and great-nephews, who are 17, 14, and 11 and who I am very close to (along with their parents), will miss me, especially since we’ve grown much closer as I’ve spent the last several months in California to escape the Oregon winter, staying at my mom’s just two miles up the road from the kids. And while I certainly don’t want to hurt my family, I can’t live my life for them.

It sounds so terribly cliche to say my friend died doing what she loved, but it is true. Since we all will die, wouldn’t we rather die knowing we are doing what we truly want to do, the things we do so we can say, at the end, “I have no regrets”? Planning this trip around the world, making traveling a lifestyle, is hugely scary for me. It’s also thrilling and adventurous and exciting, the very emotions that make me feel alive. Not for me just sitting on my porch, quiet, safe, comfortable, aging gracefully with everyone around me doing the same as we watch each other grow old. No. I’m not done fully experiencing all that life has to offer, not by a long shot.

Bad things can happen anywhere. People can die in uncountable ways at the most unexpected times. It’s part of the deal we get with this thing we call life. We just don’t get the choice of when or how. So this is my reminder to myself: should I die on the road in some far-off land, I will be doing something I want to be doing with every fiber of my being. Should I make it back in one piece, I will be able to say “I have no regrets.”

What dreams do you have? What makes you feel alive? I would really love to hear from you. Please leave a comment by clicking the “Comments” link just below the title of this post. Then go live life to its fullest, whatever that means for you.