Problems with International ATMs While Backpacking and How to Protect Yourself

I seldom talk to a backpacker who has not had money issues while traveling, particularly if they are a seasoned traveler with multiple trips under their belt. I’m no different. Among the common problems I’ve experienced and hear about from other travelers:

I’ve now undertaken 7 trips abroad and have a few tips as to how to protect yourself from these problems:

  1. Make sure that you have at least two bank accounts with DIFFERENT institutions. It goes without saying that there should be at least some reserve in your backup account, I’d recommend somewhere in the $500 range.
  2. Especially for those doing extended trips, ensure that you can transfer money from your primary account to your backup account via online banking.
  3. Travel with a friend when possible as a safety measure. The chances are slim that two people will both have money problems at the same time, so traveling with a friend is always a good safety net.
  4. Carry large amounts of cash. This can be dangerous in the event that you get robbed (it can happen), but will provide some peace of mind that you won’t run dry on funds.

I personally carry a Bank of America debit card, two bank of America credit cards, and a Charles Schwab debit card as my backup while traveling abroad — though there are no transaction fees on my Schwab card, so I’m thinking about making that my primary account going forward.

Have you experiences ATM problems on the travel trail? How do you protect yourself from getting stuck in a bad situation without any cash on hand?

And if you’re just plain broke while on the travel trail — well, these tips won’t really help you. Phone your parents or a close friend and ask for some extra funds…or stop where you are and try to find a job.

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Drew Meyers

Drew Meyers is the co-founder of Horizon & Oh Hey World. He worked for Zillow from September of 2005 to January of 2010 on the marketing team managing Zillow’s API program and various online partnerships. Founder of Geek Estate Blog, a multi-author blog focused on real estate technology for real estate professionals, and myKRO.org, a blog devoted to exploring the world of microfinance. As passionate as you get about travel.

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