Simple reminders for passport, cards and cash safety.
Recently, a friend asked advice for her teen-aged daughter who would be traveling in Europe for the first time. She asked what to do with her passport and credit cards while walking around on the streets; wanted to know about using hotel safes; taking travellers’ checks or using ATMs, and so on. These questions seem fairly basic if you are an experienced traveller, yet a momentary mistake and we might pay severely later in terms of lost money, cards, passport, etc., not to mention the emotional stress!
Here are a few basic rules of the road:
- While in transit, keep your passport close to you/on your person at all times, on the plane, on the train, etc. Never leave your bag with these items in the seat if you get up for any reason.
- At your destination, use the hotel safe for your passport. Do not carry it around with you as you sightsee, shop or amble. Be particularly careful in the metro, i.e. in France or England. It is reassuring to know that your passport is safe at the hotel in case you do suffer a rip-off.
- If your room does not have a secure safe for your passport, extra credit cards and even larger amounts of currency, place them in the hotel safe at the front desk. Usually they have you put your stuff into a secure envelope that is then locked in their safe for you. Anytime you go into it, you must sign, so it is quite a reliable system.
2. Credit cards:
- Take at least 2 credit cards and an ATM card on your trip. Again, do not carry all of these around with you while sightseeing. When you leave the hotel, carry just one credit card and some cash. Only take the ATM card if you are planning to withdraw cash.
- Be sure you have all the international numbers to call your credit card provider, just in case. Keep a copy of each card – Xerox both the front and back sides of the card so you have the account number and phone information. I usually make two copies and keep them in different secure places. Again, this info should be in the safe once you arrive, not just sitting in your luggage in your room.
- VISA and MasterCard seem to be the most widely accepted in Europe, although American Express is also accepted. It just depends. With VISA or MasterCard you usually don’t have to worry.
3. ATMs; getting/carrying cash:
- Travellers’ checks work but are totally passé. They are used only rarely now and some places may not accept them.
- Use ATMs: The best way to get cash is to use a secure ATM. You will get the best exchange rate, even though you will probably be charged a transaction fee. These vary from 2% – 5% of your transaction but it is still the best way to get cash. Shield the keypad as you enter your private PIN.
- Repeat: do not carry all your cash with you when on the street. When traveling, again, keep everything tight and close to you. Don’t leave your bag or purse anywhere, even for a few moments. Watch it when hanging these items on the back of your chair, even in a restaurant. It is best to keep your bag on your lap or on the floor squeezed tightly between your feet.
4. If you have a loss:
- Call the emergency number on the back of the credit card (that you copied and kept) and report it immediately. They will cancel your card and arrange for a temporary card and number.
- It’s also best to call at least one of the BIG 3 Card Security agencies:
- Experian: 1-888-397-3742
- Equifax: 1-888-766-0008
- Transunion: 1-800-680-7289
From Europe, use the access code from each country; these are also available online according to your long-distance phone service, MCI, AT&T, etc. Usually each of the BIG 3 agencies will notify the other two for you.
Keep track and be careful. It’s more fun if you don’t lose anything!