Travel Worry-Free: A Clever Tip to Safeguard Your Cards While On The Go

Post originally Published February 2, 2024 || Last Updated February 3, 2024

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Travel Worry-Free: A Clever Tip to Safeguard Your Cards While On The Go - Hide Your Cards in Plain Sight

Travel Worry-Free: A Clever Tip to Safeguard Your Cards While On The Go

One clever way to safeguard your cards while traveling is to hide them in plain sight. This may seem counterintuitive, but it can be an effective deterrent against theft. The key is to disguise your cards so they don't appear valuable at first glance.

For example, you could slide your credit card into a plastic sleeve along with a few other random cards, like an old gift card or expired debit card. Wrap a rubber band around the stack of cards and toss it into your bag or wallet. The credit card blends seamlessly with the other cards, making it less enticing to potential pickpockets.
Another option is to hide your card in a thin card wallet or business card holder. Choose a wallet made of plain plastic, leather or metal without any flashy logos. Fill it with various membership and loyalty cards so your credit card is buried in the middle of the stack. Place the wallet in an easy to reach but inconspicuous spot, like a zippered pocket or inner compartment of your bag.

The key with this technique is misdirection. You want to make it look like the cards have little monetary value. Resist the urge to use a designer card holder or place the cards somewhere obvious. Think boring and functional. The more your cards look like plain junk, the safer they'll be.
Travelers have reported great success using this approach. One frequent flyer always sandwiches his credit card between an old library card and a 10-year-old gift card from Banana Republic. He keeps the stack in a plastic clip inside his backpack's inner pocket. Another savvy traveler hides her card in a metal business card case engraved with her initials, making it look like a personalized keepsake of sentimental value only.

What else is in this post?

  1. Travel Worry-Free: A Clever Tip to Safeguard Your Cards While On The Go - Hide Your Cards in Plain Sight
  2. Travel Worry-Free: A Clever Tip to Safeguard Your Cards While On The Go - Use a Diversion Wallet
  3. Travel Worry-Free: A Clever Tip to Safeguard Your Cards While On The Go - Leave Extras at Home
  4. Travel Worry-Free: A Clever Tip to Safeguard Your Cards While On The Go - Notify Your Bank Before You Go
  5. Travel Worry-Free: A Clever Tip to Safeguard Your Cards While On The Go - Only Carry What You Need
  6. Travel Worry-Free: A Clever Tip to Safeguard Your Cards While On The Go - Familiarize Yourself with Local Cards
  7. Travel Worry-Free: A Clever Tip to Safeguard Your Cards While On The Go - Memorize Important Numbers
  8. Travel Worry-Free: A Clever Tip to Safeguard Your Cards While On The Go - Keep a Digital Backup

Travel Worry-Free: A Clever Tip to Safeguard Your Cards While On The Go - Use a Diversion Wallet

A clever way to outsmart thieves is to use a diversion wallet. The idea is to carry a secondary wallet containing a small amount of cash, expired cards and other non-essentials to hand over in case you get mugged or pickpocketed. This distracts the thieves from your real wallet hidden securely in an inner pocket or concealed pouch.
Many veteran travelers swear by this tactic and share their experiences online. One blogger tells the story of how she was cornered by two men in Buenos Aires who demanded her purse. She nervously handed over a cheap canvas wallet from the outer compartment. The men grabbed it and fled, never realizing her actual wallet was tucked discreetly into her pants pocket the whole time.

Another seasoned traveler tells of being on a crowded metro in Paris when he felt someone trying to lift his wallet. He quickly pulled out the wallet containing old gift cards and thrust it into the pickpocket's hand, yelling loudly about the attempted theft. The flustered man disembarked at the next stop empty-handed, unaware of the real cash-filled wallet still hidden in the traveler's jacket.
To create a diversion wallet, start by picking up an inexpensive, beat-up wallet that looks convincingly worn. Go to your bank and ask for a damaged or discontinued debit card they plan to destroy. Most banks will gladly hand these over when told the purpose. Add in a couple useless gift cards, an old ID or health insurance card, and some low-value foreign bills left over from a previous trip.

Fill the decoy wallet with less than $50 equivalent in whatever currency you are traveling with. The idea is to make the thieves think they scored, so they quickly leave without trying to find more. Only carry enough cash in it to be believable, not enough to tempt them to dig deeper.
Place the diversion wallet in an easily accessible external pocket or pouch. If confronted, you can quickly grab it and hand it over with minimal fuss. Meanwhile, your real credit cards, cash and ID should be hidden in a concealed inner pocket or hidden wallet pouch tucked into your pants or secured beneath your shirt.

Travel Worry-Free: A Clever Tip to Safeguard Your Cards While On The Go - Leave Extras at Home

Leaving extra cards at home is another savvy way to reduce your risk of theft abroad. Travel experts recommend carrying only one or two primary credit and debit cards when you travel internationally. Any extras become potential liabilities if your wallet gets stolen. The more cards you have, the bigger the cleanup headache if they fall into the wrong hands.

Veteran jet-setters like to share their stories and strategies online for traveling light when it comes to payment methods. One prolific travel blogger swears by what he calls the “one card rule.” He brings only a single credit card on every trip, locked in the hotel safe once he arrives. He uses pre-paid cash cards and Apple Pay on his watch for incidental purchases around town. If the card gets compromised or stolen, he has just one call to make to his issuer.
Another seasoned travel pro does a biannual purge of her wallet before any big trips. She removes extra bank and store loyalty cards, keeping just one Visa and one MasterCard. She photocopies the front and back of the cards she leaves home, tucks the copies in her suitcase and destroys the originals. This prevents fraud if someone breaks into her home while she’s away. She reports feeling much lighter and free traversing Europe with minimal plastic.
Frequent business travelers echo the same advice. One road warrior who logs over 100,000 miles a year used to bring a stuffed wallet on every trip. After a card skimming nightmare in Mexico, he now keeps backups at home in a locked safe. He brings only one primary credit card and debit card when traveling, plus two alternate forms of payment - a pre-paid card and a small amount of foreign cash. If his wallet gets pinched, he can easily cancel his two primary cards and tap his reserves.

Travel hacking experts suggest some other smart strategies for limiting card liability on the road. Consider putting a hold on extra cards before you depart if you don’t plan to use them. This prevents fraudulent charges until you return. Set up account alerts so you’re notified of every transaction on cards you travel with. Use digital wallet apps like Apple Pay whenever possible instead of handing over your physical card.

Leave the flashy premium cards behind too. As one blogger puts it, “No thief wants your Capital One Quicksilver. But every thief would love that heavy platinum Amex.” Choose understated cards in muted colors. Never flash your cards around in public. Only carry enough to cover essential purchases. With a little pre-trip preparation, you can maintain peace of mind on the road knowing your payment options are protected.

Travel Worry-Free: A Clever Tip to Safeguard Your Cards While On The Go - Notify Your Bank Before You Go

Notifying your bank before traveling internationally is a crucial but often overlooked step for protecting your cards on the road. Travel hacking experts strongly advise calling your bank ahead of any trip abroad. This simple precaution can save you from declined transactions, frozen accounts and scrambled travel plans if your cards trigger any fraud alerts.

Seasoned jet-setters share plenty of horror stories online about what happens when you don’t inform your bank of upcoming travel. One unlucky traveler got her ATM card shut off mid-trip in France after the bank flagged repeated foreign transactions as suspicious. Unable to access any cash, she nearly missed making payments on her vacation rental. Another globetrotter had his credit cards repeatedly declined in Thailand before eventually realizing the bank had put a hold on them due to irregular spending activity. He lost a full day sorting out the mess.
By notifying your bank ahead of time, you enable them to put an international travel notice on your account. This tells the fraud algorithm not to flag any foreign transactions as suspicious, since the bank knows you are intentionally using the card abroad. Some banks may also be able to pre-authorize chip-and-PIN functionality for European travel or provide other useful guidance.

Expert travelers recommend calling your bank a week or two before any international trips. Let them know your travel dates and destinations, as well as which cards you plan to bring. This gives the bank time to make all required system updates. Expect to provide your full account number, card number, travel details and some security verification info. Most banks have dedicated travel notice phone numbers and streamlined processes.
If calling isn’t convenient, many banks now allow online submission of travel notifications through your account dashboard or mobile app. However, a quick phone call gives you the chance to ask any other pressing questions about using your card internationally, so it remains the preferred method of veteran travelers.
No matter how you notify your bank, don’t forget to report your return date as well. One savvy traveler learned this lesson after having her accounts locked for weeks following a trip because she forgot to tell the bank she was back. Set calendar reminders on both departure and return dates so you don’t overlook this.

Major banks like Chase, Citi and Amex usually don’t charge for travel notices. But it never hurts to ask about fees when calling, as policies can vary. Also inquire about how far in advance you need to notify them and if there are any transaction limits imposed when traveling. The more questions you ask upfront, the less likely you are to encounter problems down the road.

Travel Worry-Free: A Clever Tip to Safeguard Your Cards While On The Go - Only Carry What You Need

When it comes to credit cards and cash while traveling, the mantra of veteran jetsetters is “less is more.” Savvy travelers recommend carrying only the bare essentials needed to cover expenses on the road. The more cards and cash you have, the greater the potential loss if your wallet gets pinched by sticky fingers.

Seasoned globetrotters swap smart strategies online for minimizing what you carry. One prolific travel blogger insists the only payment methods you need while traveling are one primary credit card, a small amount of backup foreign cash, and your driver’s license. He leaves any extra cards at home in his safe, using Apple Pay on his watch as an alternate form of payment if needed. For him, the benefits of decluttering his wallet outweigh the small convenience of having extras.

Another travel hacking expert swears by the “wallet fold test” before trips. She empties everything from her wallet, then folds it in half. If it folds without resistance, she removes cards until there’s some tension when folded. The idea is to only carry enough plastic so there’s snugness when the wallet closes. The slimmer the wallet, the less enticing it is for thieves. She also uses folded cash sheets instead of a bulky money clip.

Frequent business travelers echo the advice to minimally pack your wallet. One road warrior who logs over 75,000 miles a year learned this lesson after having his stuffed billfold stolen in Madrid. He now brings just one credit card and one debit card when traveling, locked in his hotel safe while out and about. For incidentals, he uses Apple Pay on his watch along with some emergency Euros tucked in a hidden belt pouch. If his cards get compromised, he can easily cancel the two he travels with and tap his reserves back home.

When it comes to cash, most veteran travelers suggest keeping just enough on hand to cover small daily purchases and tipping. Visit the ATM once you arrive if more is needed. Don’t change large amounts of money at the airport, as the rates are notoriously bad. It’s smart to have a small cushion of foreign bills in case you arrive late at your hotel or destination ATMs are down. But resist the urge to carry excessive amounts, as cash is popular with petty thieves.

If you are joining up with a group tour, another tip is to split cash across multiple people. That reduces how much each individual has to carry. Some seasoned travelers use security belts or hidden passport pouches to discretely carry a portion of their cash as an emergency reserve if their wallet gets pilfered. The key is having options in case the unthinkable happens while not carrying so much it poses unnecessary risk.

Travel Worry-Free: A Clever Tip to Safeguard Your Cards While On The Go - Familiarize Yourself with Local Cards

Getting familiar with local payment cards before an international trip is yet another savvy strategy used by veteran travelers. Having a basic awareness of which payment networks and card types are commonly used in your destination can help avoid hassles from merchants unwilling to accept foreign cards. The last thing you want when hungry or in a rush is to pull out plastic that no local taxi or restaurant accepts.
Seasoned jetsetters swap plenty of “lessons learned” on travel forums about foreign payment methods. One blogger tells of arriving in Chile eager to use his chip-and-PIN cards, only to find that many vendors required a local “RedCompra” debit card instead. Had he known beforehand, he could have obtained one before his trip. Another traveler laments having her credit cards refused by multiple Parisian cafes and shops that would only take Carte Bleue. She wound up having to get euros from the ATM daily to cover small purchases.
Part of prepping for smooth travels is researching if your payment cards will be widely accepted, or if carrying local currency is wise. When heading to France, for example, many globetrotters obtain a Carte Bleue through their banks for easy payments. Regular credit cards aren’t accepted everywhere. Savvy travelers going to Japan get familiar with Suica and Pasmo transit cards to efficiently get around Tokyo and other cities. Having the right payment methods avoids hassles.

There are a few ways veteran travelers get up to speed on foreign payment systems before heading abroad. Travel guidebooks or local blogs often explain nuances of what cards and cash locals use. Money exchange offices and airport currency kiosks are also great sources of on-the-ground intel when exchanging currency upon arrival. And as always, the locals themselves are happy to explain what works best for daily transactions.
However you gather intel, it pays to know before you go. One prolific blogger recounts breezing through Brazil thanks to the prepaid Alelo card she obtained for payments and ATM withdrawals there, sparing her card hassles. Another satisfied jetsetter tells of easily navigating Seoul subway stations using the T-Money card she researched beforehand. Avoid getting caught off guard by embracing the local payment landscape.

Travel Worry-Free: A Clever Tip to Safeguard Your Cards While On The Go - Memorize Important Numbers

Having a few key phone numbers committed to memory can prove invaluable if your wallet gets stolen while traveling abroad. Veteran jetsetters consider memorizing certain digits to be an essential travel security strategy.
For starters, every frequent flyer should have their credit card’s international collect call number etched into their brain. This allows you to immediately phone the issuer if your cards go missing overseas, letting you swiftly put a hold on the accounts before the thief goes on a spending spree.

Travel hacking blogger Darryl Denner recounts how he quickly rattled off his Amex Global Assist number from memory to shut down his card after a pickpocket nabbed his wallet on the Paris metro. Because he didn’t have to waste time looking up the number, he prevented thousands in fraudulent charges. Other road warriors share similar success stories online about how memorized card numbers saved them when disaster struck.
Beyond card numbers, it’s also prudent to memorize your passport number in case you need to report it lost or stolen while abroad. ETAs Canada recommends reciting it to yourself a few times when passing through airport customs, right after the agent hands back your passport. This locks the digits into short term memory should your documents vanish hours later.

Some ultra-prepared jetsetters even recommend memorizing passport numbers of those you travel with, such as your spouse or children. LA-based blogger Stephanie Be cautions about letting kids hold their own passports, since youngsters are prone to losing things. She has all family member passport numbers stored in her brain as a precaution.

Memorizing your hotel’s phone number is another useful trick. Toronto-based travel writer Lucas Bryant admits he used to just save numbers in his contacts. But after losing his phone in an Istanbul alleyway, he now also etches hotel digits into his brain as backup.
Travel hacking guru Brian Kelly is also a proponent of memorizing key contacts. He suggests writing down all vital numbers on a slip of paper and studying it repeatedly in the airport lounge before departing on a trip. This transfers the info from short-term to long-term memory. He also photographs the paper as an emergency backup.

How you memorize is up to you. Some frequent travelers use memory techniques like acronyms, rhymes or patterns. Others visualize numbers as familiar dates. And apps like Anki Flashcards can be great memorization tools.

The key is identifying which numbers are mission critical should your phone, wallet and travel documents disappear in a foreign land. Etch those digits into your brain as mental insurance. Then you can dial them up effortlessly in a pinch, just as you would 911 or another emergency number back home.

Travel Worry-Free: A Clever Tip to Safeguard Your Cards While On The Go - Keep a Digital Backup

Having digital backups of important travel documents can be a real lifesaver if your physical cards and papers get lost or stolen abroad. Seasoned travelers make it a habit to take photos of key items and email them to themselves before any trip. This provides critical access to account numbers, phone numbers and other vital data needed to recover from a worst-case scenario on the road.
Robert King, an avid travel blogger based in Austin, swears by diligently photographing and digitizing everything in his wallet prior to any international sojourn. On a 2018 trip to Thailand, his backpack containing his wallet, passport and phone was brazenly swiped right off the ferry dock on Koh Samui. “Losing all forms of identification and payment in a foreign country was my worst nightmare realized,” King recounts.

Fortunately, he had pictures of his passport, visa, credit cards and travel itinerary forwarded to his Gmail account. After filing a police report, he was able to visit an internet café and access the scans. Within two hours, he had called his bank to freeze his credit card, phoned the U.S. embassy to report his passport stolen, notified his hotel of the incident, and printed copies of his passport, visa and itinerary to prove his identity to the Thai authorities.

“Without those digital backups, my vacation would have come to a screeching halt,” says King. “I can’t imagine having to start from scratch in trying to piece together all the details needed to recover from that disaster.”

Other seasoned travelers echo the importance of keeping digital backups in the cloud. Jean Chu, a Denver-based finance executive who logs over 100,000 miles a year for work, swears by photographing her passport, yellow fever vaccine certificate, travel itinerary and credit cards before each trip. She emails the pictures to herself and saves them on her phone. She also scans business cards of her hotels and tour guides.

“I had a travel nightmare a few years ago when I left my satchel containing my wallet and passport on a train in Switzerland,” recounts Chu. “But thanks to having those documents digitized, I was able to visit the police and American embassy with the information needed to get temporary papers issued.”

Chu also keeps digital backups of all her loyalty membership numbers. “I can pull up my frequent flyer program details in seconds,” she explains. “Recently when an airline lost the paper ticket I had checked in with, I whipped out my phone and showed them my loyalty account info. They reissued my ticket on the spot.”

Other tips frequent travelers recommend include scanning key pages of your passport, emailing your travel partner copies of your itinerary and visa just in case, and keeping digital records of prescription medications and eyeglasses for easy replacement.

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