Financial Travel Tips: Will That Be Credit or Debit?

This article is the first of the Financial Travel Tips series by Nora Dunn (The Professional Hobo), a former financial planner who has been travelling the world full time since 2006. We trust you’ll enjoy her experience-based tips and tricks for managing finances and travelling the world smartly!


How many credit/debit cards to carry when you travel

A number of factors may weigh into this decision, including the following:

  • Your destination (credit cards aren’t widely used or accepted in some places)
  • The length of your trip (a weekend getaway won’t require as much forethought on this topic as a long-term trip will)
  • Payment method for the trip (if you’ve already paid for an all-inclusive vacation, your credit/debit cards will be almost redundant on the road)

Other things to consider include reducing risk (against theft or card problems), minimizing fees, and keeping your finances running smoothly.


Travelling with credit cards
There are advantages and disadvantages to travelling with credit cards, though for me the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. I carry two credit cards with me on the road. That way if there’s a problem with one card (which can happen abroad), I have a backup. A few tips:

  • Visa and MasterCard are more widely accepted around the world than American Express
  • Carry different cards (i.e., one Visa, one MasterCard)
  • Ideally have the cards issued from different banks (as an extra measure of diversification)
  • I tend to use only one of my two cards for online purchases; the other I use for charges on the go. That way if one card is compromised, the chances of the other one being compromised in the same way are minimized
  • If you love travel, make sure your credit cards are earning you frequent flyer miles to help pay for your next trip!

Travelling with debit cards
Personally, I just carry one debit card (since I have two credit cards, which, in conjunction with the debit card, will get me out of most binds). But other travellers like to carry two debit cards to diversify their cash holdings and minimize foreign ATM fees. Here are some factors to consider:

  • Don’t keep your life savings in your bank account. If your debit card is stolen and your PIN swiped, you have little recourse
  • Consider signing up for an all-inclusive bank account option that waives the fee your bank charges to use foreign ATMs. Often the monthly fee for this type of account can be waived if you maintain a certain balance
  • Remember that Interac purchases made with debit cards are not as common abroad as they are in North America. In other words, your debit card might not be as useful in a foreign country as it is at home.

Managing your cards
Here are some tips for managing your credit/debit cards while you travel:

  • Avoid credit card cash advances at all costs. This includes making withdrawals from an ATM with your credit card The reason? You’ll pay a fee to get the money, and interest is charged daily on your entire credit card balance from the date of withdrawal with no grace period (unlike regular credit card purchases).
  • Keep your credit cards separate—then if your wallet is stolen or lost, you have a credit card stored elsewhere that can float you
  • Call your bank to advise them of your upcoming travels to decrease the chances that your cards will be blocked due to “suspicious activity.” Many banks allow you to create these “travel alerts” online
  • Sign up for online banking. This will allow you to monitor card activity, pay your bills, and transfer money as needed
  • If your credit cards are RFID-enabled (meaning you can pay wirelessly by tapping your card to the terminal), you may want to consider RFID-blocking technology—which is as simple as wrapping your card in foil

With these tips and tricks, you can hit the road safely, securely, and in the money! Stay tuned for another Financial Travel Tip next month.


Preparing for your next trip? Don’t forget your travel insurance.

1 Comment

  1. Julie Brunet Reply

    Wonderful and helpful tips! Looking forward to sharing this amazing information with others!
    Excited about the next financial travel tips!

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