We were traveling on a high-speed train in the middle of Belgium when my sister reached into her bag. John, Becky, and I were standing in the middle of the dining car, spending time watching the landscape blur by and drinking soda and beer. “My wallet,” she said, her hand scrambling inside her bag to find it. “It’s not here.” She started removing everything from it onto the waist-high table we were standing at. Lipstick, brochures, her cell phone. But no wallet. I could feel myself start to panic for her. She went back to her seat to see if it had fallen out. Maybe it was on the floor or in her backpack. When she came back to the dining car, we could see it all over her face: it was gone. She was sure that she had left it behind somewhere. After a moment of disbelief, she began shutting down her cards on her phone and figuring out how she would finish out the last leg of the trip. I marveled at my youngest sister level-headedness. Even though she had lost her wallet, she already had a plan in place for what to do, and she set about it quickly to protect her finances. If you’re going on a trip this year, here are 13 ways you can plan for and protect your family’s finances, no matter where you go:
Before your trip
If you’re headed out of the country, do your research. What do you need to know about the area? Are there security concerns you should take precautions for? Are there economic concerns that you should keep an eye on? What’s the exchange rate? Create a financial plan. No matter the vacation, you should have a budget to adhere to so you’re not hurting your family’s finances. If you’re going abroad, make sure you know what financial products you’ll be using. Does your credit card charge international fees? What about your ATM card? Will you take cash with you? If so, how will you get it? Make sure you avoid exchanging in high-traffic, high-convenience areas like airports. You’ll most likely see the worst return on your exchange. Consider local, trusted travel agencies or your financial institution to get the best exchange rate. Make sure that you call your bank or credit union with your vacation dates and alert them that you’ll be traveling out of your normal geographic range and (most likely) your purchasing habits will change. They’re able to put a note on your card so that it isn’t shut down during your vacation for possible fraud. Not only would that be a frustrating, stressful addition to your vacation, it could leave you without a way to make purchases or prove that you’ve made reservations at hotels and car rental places. If you’re a Navy Federal member, it’s easy to set Travel Notifications from your mobile app or online account.
During your trip
Take PERSEC seriously. While most people are very aware of their surroundings when they travel abroad, many act recklessly or are just too comfortable when traveling in their own backyard. The truth is, you don’t need to be in Italy or Japan to be pickpocketed or scammed–that can happen just minutes away from your house, at the beach, or in an amusement park. Be aware of your belongings by keeping them in front of you, rather than behind you. If you usually keep your wallet in a back pants pocket or in an easily accessible part of your purse or backpack, move it to a front pants pocket or to an interior compartment in your bag. If you can, keep your bag in front of you and when in large, bustling crowds or while crammed onto public transportation, keep your hand on your bag’s closure. Avoid flashing large amounts of cash in public as well. If possible, keep your denominations small so you only need to take out what you’re going to use, rather than breaking large bills. If you’re abroad, try to use your cash by the end of the trip. If you have to change it back to US dollars after your vacation, you’ll end up losing money through the exchange rate and any charges your bank or travel agency charges.
If you are overseas, be aware of the exchange rate while you’re there and whether it makes more sense for you to do the majority of your purchases in cash or by credit card (and whether you should charge in the currency of the country you’re in or in US dollars) to get the most bang for your buck. Keep all of your receipts in a folder or pocket of your bag. You’ll want them after your trip.
After your trip
Get out those receipts. If you traveled to the EU, use these to apply for and receive a refund on the VAT (value added tax) that you paid when you made purchases. No matter where you’re visiting, use your receipts to track purchases on your credit card and debit card so you can identify possible fraudulent purchases. You can also use your receipts to track where you spend the most money on vacation and to use it as a way to analyze spending habits for your next trip. Return all of your financial and personal documents and cards to their normal places. If you secure any of them–like a passport– in a safe, make sure that you follow through on locking away your personal documents. If you need to, call your bank or credit union and let them know you’re home from vacation so they can remove the note on your credit and debit cards. Be extra vigilant when viewing your credit card and banking statements for the next few months and look for any possible fraudulent charges or strange activity.
Looking for more?
Navy Federal Credit Union can help keep your finances secure, no matter if you’re headed to another country or just to the grocery store. Learn more about the services they provide and how you can become a Member.