I Got Robbed Again: How to Keep Your Money Safe on the Road

A foreign ATM - Can you tell what country this is?  (Image by Nordelch, via Wikimedia Commons)

A foreign ATM – Can you tell what country this is? (Image by Nordelch, via Wikimedia Commons)

Ever been robbed while traveling? I sure have – in fact, I’ve had the pleasure of being robbed twice in the last 2 months!  First I got mugged in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua. They got my phone, my hat, and some cash – not a huge deal. Then last week, on my to San Pedro, Lago Atitlan, I got pick-pocketed on a chicken bus in Chimaltenango.

It was a good scam, in fact. There was an attractive woman who told me I was about to miss my stop, and there was a helpful man who ushered me off the crowded bus. It was packed, as chicken buses always are. Three people sat in each seat, meant for two, and the isles were full with standing passengers. With the help of the man, I squeezed through the crowd, got off the bus. The man and the pretty woman also exited and disappeared into a crowd before I noticed that I had been relieved of my wallet. Great. And this wasn’t even my stop. I hopped back on the bus and continued on my journey.

Luckily, I had stashed a bunch of cash in my backpack, as I had been to the bank that morning. Unluckily, I still had my ATM card in my wallet, and by the time I got to San Pedro and called to cancel my card, the thief had spent ALL my money.  I was in a tight spot for a while, but Paypal was incredibly helpful and I was able to get all my money back while they are disputing the transactions.

If you’re traveling long term, or for just a couple weeks, it makes sense to put some thought into what bank account you use while traveling, and how you use it while on the road.

Here are a couple travel finance and banking tips that should help you make some smart decisions on your next trip:

Choose the right bank!

Put some thought into what bank your going to choose. Ask them about fees for overseas transactions and withdrawals. Will their ATM cards work in cash machines where you’ll be traveling? some people prefer an international bank account, while others might want to have a person at home they can send to their local branch to handle any unforeseen issues.

Brick and Mortar or Online?

I use an online bank (Paypal), but some people prefer to have a brick and mortar storefront to be able to go to and talk to a real person. Most banks these days have online systems (even smaller credit unions are jumping on the digital banking revolution), but it’s smart to look into your options. It’s easy to transfer money online and handle any issues over the web with an international bank account such as those offered LloydsTSB Offshore Banking, etc.

Tell your bank!

Banks are smart about security. If you normally only spend money in Poughkeepsie, New York, and suddenly your on a spending spree in Paris, you might set off some red flags and get your account suspended. Letting your bank know that you’ll be traveling will save you some serious problems.

Never carry your card!

Use your card to pull out large amounts of cash from the local ATM or inside a bank, and then stash the money in a safe place, along with your card. I keep my money and my cards in a secret compartment in my backpack. Usually my backpack stays locked up in my hostel, so I know it’s relatively safe. If I were to get robbed, I’d only use the small amount of cash I have in my wallet. Unfortunately I  didn’t follow my own advice last week, and never put my card back in it’s secret spot. Oops.

So heed my advice, amigos!  Choose the right bank account, keep your card and your cash locked up safely, and and enjoy your travels!

And if you’re in the mood for a cautionary tale, you should check out the whole story about how I got mugged in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua.

You might also consider choosing a good travel credit card - You never know when you might need to pull out some emergency funds!

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  • Helene Jermolajew

    Thanks for your advice, very useful. From personal experience, NEVER let go of, or take your eyes of your bag! I had my whole frontpack stolen in Maccas in Madrid in 2006 – stupidly also hadn’t followed my own advice that day and had everything in it! I now have a pacsafe bag that is not only secured with metal strips to stop having straps cut, it has a secret pocket AND an RFID safe pocket. These days they don’t even need to take your cards if they have a cheap reader.

  • http://twitter.com/the_wynns gone with the wynns

    good advice!  too bad you have had such crummy luck lately!

  • http://www.bemytravelmuse.com/ Kristin Addis

    OH man.  That’s so frustrating! I’ve been lucky so far, knock on wood. I should proooobbably stop carrying my debit card though.  I didn’t even think of that. 

  • facebook fans

    Nice tips

  • Gingerlocks

    On my last trip abroad I loaded up a Visa gift card with $200 that could be used anywhere credit cards or debit cards were accepted. I carried that solely with a wee bit of pocket cash anytime I was out alone in places unknown.