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ADV PreppingHow to Carry and Spend Your Money Safely on the Road

How to Carry and Spend Your Money Safely on the Road

 A guide to effective money management for motorcyclists traveling abroad.

Published on 10.19.2014
Unfortunately, we can't just fill our panniers with all denominations of currency and set off on a round the world tour.

Someone of an informed nature once advised that if you want to successfully raise the funds for a big two-wheeled trip, adopt the mantra ‘Don’t be too stupid to be poor.’ Surrendering the daily caffè latte, monthly subscription to Premium TV Channels and annual visit to the slopes will all help kick-start your travel fund. Staying focused on the big picture will make those sacrifices easier, but that money you worked so hard to save can easily be wasted if you don’t manage it effectively on the road.

Traveling abroad on a motorcycle is costly enough without the foreign transaction fees and extra charges that can accumulate on your bank statement. On the flip side of the coin, there are many ways to optimize how you manage money on the road to help stretch your dollars and cents. Or perhaps it’s pounds or pesos for you. So what are the options?

Cash

Pros of Cash:  ‘Wad is God’. Having local currency will enable you instant access to the items and services you require to stay on the road.


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Cons of Cash:  Carrying a stockpile of cash can be a necessary evil on longer trips, traveling from country-to-country. Realizing the risk of getting your hard-earned notes lost, stolen or damaged could incur a painful delay to your journey, force you to stop somewhere and earn some money or worse still, end the trip of a lifetime.

Tips with Cash:  So, where and how is best to stash your greenbacks?  Anywhere your imagination can locate that’ll give you peace of mind when without it. It’s shrewd to divide up your notes into small piles and stow among different places on your person and motorcycle.

Apart from wearing a money belt for example, vacuum seal freezer bags from any supermarket make great waterproof, protective cases to house your money. Especially when duct-taped onto the armored back plate inside your motorcycle jacket. Most of the time, you’ll be wearing your motorcycle jacket and are unlikely to leave somewhere without it.

Storing discreet bags of cash in lockable panniers, a top box or hidden inside tool containers are also going to give your hard-earned dollar heightened security. Take it a step further and create a false bottom in your pannier, top or tool box.

safely hide your money in your jacket back plate pocket.
A good place to stash some cash is in your jacket’s back plate insert pocket.

Changing Money

Pros of Changing Money:  When it comes to buying or exchanging money, you may get the best foreign exchange rates at your home bank. Any foreign currency left over, you can swap it back at your bank’s favorable rates. When traveling abroad for longer periods, shopping around for the best currency exchange rate will give you far more euros, pounds or yen for your dollar. Often bartering with a shop owner or the money man on the street can save you a stack of bucks.

Cons of Changing Money:  If possible steer clear of changing money at the airport, rates tend to be appalling. You’re a captive customer at an airport or ferry terminal and invariably subjected to atrocious rates. If you’re forced to source currency from the airport, order ahead for pick-up to get a better rate.

Tips with Changing Money:  Carefully examine your foreign money for any counterfeit notes. Detecting counterfeit money may require ensuring a dotted strip will turn solid when held up to the light, a clear hologram exists or checking the quality of the paper or plastic for example. Note that there are many other ways to check (see link below for further information). Coins and small notes might not be accepted so take larger denomination notes ($10 and up) if you’re intending to exchange cash.

It may be prudent to avoid exchanging currency at border crossings, especially while traveling through developing countries. If unpreventable, ask for low denominations and a receipt; receiving fake bills for your hard-earned cash is not altogether uncommon in some poorer countries.

Shop exchange rates for your money at the Local Currency Exchange
Shop for the best rates before exchanging your money at the local currency exchange.

Credit Card

Pros of a Credit Card:  The issuer protects every transaction you make and will refund you for any fraudulent attempts made on your card. There’s instant peace of mind should your plastic get lost, stolen or damaged as it is straightforward to cancel the card. This source of spend is a safe bet. The top travel cards come with near-perfect exchange rates and no fees for purchases.

Cons of a Credit Card:  A high annual percentage rate (APR) of interest that you as a credit card holder will be charged on all or a portion of the balance – if the full amount isn’t paid on or before the due date – can make credit cards serious offenders when it comes to hidden travel costs.

Credit cards that push themselves as specialist travel plastic are ideal but issuers hope you’ll also use them back home where their interest rates are often not so competitive. Sourcing one specifically for spending abroad that gives you fee-free foreign transactions including: commission-free purchases and one with a zero cash withdrawal fee means you’ll beat the system.

Tips with a Credit Card:  Golden rule number one: Repay in full before the due date each month to evade forking out the interest. Most credit cards add a 3% cost to the exchange rates banks themselves get. You can dodge this by packing a specialist travel card that doesn’t add this ‘load’, namely you’ll get exchange rates that trump even the best currency exchange.

Carry two credit cards in case one stops working (Visa and MasterCard are generally accepted worldwide). Stow in subtle places on your person and motorcycle; slotting one into a slit in the padding of your helmet is an inconspicuous place for instance.

Hide your money or credit card in your helmet padding
A discreet hiding place for a credit card is in the padding of your helmet.

Debit Card

Pros of a Debit Card:  You’ll get the same great interbank exchange rate when you make cash withdrawals with your debit card (or automated teller machine (ATM) card) as you do when you make a credit card purchase. When buying foreign currency, a debit card (unlike a credit card) isn’t allowed to charge a fee.

Cons of a Debit Card:  Each cash withdrawal you make on your debit card will usually be subject to currency conversion fees, foreign ATM / cash / transaction fees or other surcharges from your bank and, or the local bank that maintains the ATM. Even if you don’t take out money and you buy something abroad with your debit card instead, they may charge a Foreign Purchase Fee.

Debit cards work along the same lines as regular credit cards for purchases, but if your debit card is lost or stolen you may not have the same level of consumer protection compared to your credit card. Expensive transaction fees can add up with frequent withdrawals, so try to take out larger amounts less regularly (although this brings its own risks in terms of theft).

Tips with a Debit Card:  Your debit card is useful for withdrawing cash in local currency. Although you may prefer the protection of a credit card in case a cash machine has been tampered with a skimming or imaging device that can unlawfully capture your personal identification number. Using an ATM machine inside a bank should avoid this misdeed.

If the debit card from your home bank isn’t connected to the worldwide Cirrus or PLUS networks, you may wish to source a MasterCard or Visa debit card instead. While they look and can be used like regular charge cards, they actually debit your checking account the same way your debit card does.

Some debit cards have the very worst cash withdrawal fees – do a comparison online and determine if it’s cheaper (all fees included) to withdraw cash abroad with a credit card versus using a debit card. Overseas, my current Visa debit card charges me around 12 US dollars (across three charges per transaction) for any amount of cash withdrawn up to the daily limit, starkly contrasting to my much cheaper credit card that has a zero cash withdrawal fee.

Cash on the bed in different currencies.
Debit cards are convenient for withdrawing cash in the local currency but may not offer the same security as a credit card.

Travelers’ Checks

Pros of Travelers’ Checks:  Security – they are completely safe and replaceable, often giving a full refund if they get lost or stolen. In contrast, lost cash isn’t always covered on travel insurance. Travelers’ checks are easy to use and convenient when they’re accepted at amenities such as hotels, shops and restaurants around the globe.

Cons of Travelers’ Checks: Current research reveals travelers’ checks issued at major banks and currency firms frequently offer among the worst possible value on travel money, in comparison to the top credit cards for spending abroad. This is because the exchange rate on travelers’ checks is often poor and they often come with high fees. Places that don’t accept travelers’ checks are likely to cause you hassle until finding somewhere that does.

Tips with Travelers’ Checks:  Keep hold of the serial numbers in a safe place away from the checks – should they get lost, stolen or damaged.

Other Considerations

Before Leaving Home: Leaving a few blank, undated, signed checks with a trusted family member or friend might prove handy while abroad long term should you face any unforeseen costs back home. Setting up online banking with text and email alerts will help you to manage your banking, go paperless and avoid going overdrawn. Carry, scan or email yourself your issuer’s international contact and other useful information prior to riding through foreign lands.

Fake Wallet:  Caution might stand you in good stead by carrying a ‘fake wallet’. In the hopefully unlikely event of getting mugged, relinquishing a false wallet with a small amount of cash inside may just satisfy the robber’s instant gratification requirements. Ensure it looks real enough by adding some recent receipts, a random company’s business card and a couple of expired cards from your roadside cover or the gym you no longer frequent for example.

prepare a fake wallet
A convincing fake wallet can be handed over to a mugger in the event you get robbed.

Credit Card Prep: If you’re prone to missing the due date on your credit card balance, it’s often possible to ‘preload’ your own money – above the given credit limit – onto the card quickly via internet banking for instance. Assuming the amount you push onto your card is more than the balance owed, this will buy you a handy buffer zone. It’s also beneficial for unforeseen spending that may crop up just prior to the balance’s monthly cut-off date.

Or set up a monthly direct debit for the guarantee of automatically repaying your credit card off in full. Settling the full balance on the last day before interest is charged will buy you up to 30 days of cash flow without ever having to pay interest.

Other Banking Prep:  Understand the credit / debit card fees that apply to your foreign travel purchases and cash withdrawals. Whether you’re planning to use either type of card as a main spending source or for emergencies only, it’s sensible to call the issuer before every trip. Let them know when, where and for how long you’ll be traveling. Any international activity on your account won’t result in activating your issuer’s panic button, triggering a bothersome block to your account.

Closed Currencies: A closed currency means that you can’t get it until you enter the country. If you’re visiting a country with a closed currency, you’ll need to change money on arrival. You’ll need to change it back again before leaving as you won’t be able to exchange it back home; keep your receipt from any transaction in case needed. Namely be careful not to over-withdraw when a closed currency applies so as not to lose out on the exchange rate twice. See link below for more details.

Being savvy, you’ll glean your own research on current travel money but better from the outset to be penny-wise than pound-foolish. 

More Useful Resources:

Travel Credit Card Reviews
A Guide to Closed Currency Countries
Counterfeit Money Detection

Photos by Jason Spafford

Author: Lisa Morris

Lisa’s love for two-wheeled travel is parallel to a soft spot held for scuba diving. From the age of 16, she traveled and dived extensively worldwide for 15 years in between getting a first class honors business degree majoring in finance; honing a career as a civil servant in the education sector; taking timeout to become a diving instructor and running Red Sea liveaboard trips with her partner Jason Spafford, a photographer / videographer. Lisa rides the world alongside Jason and relishes sharing tales, tips and tribulations on the road as a freelance travel writer for UK and US publications. To see, watch and learn about her journey, go to www.twowheelednomad.com.

Author: Lisa Morris
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6 thoughts on “How to Carry and Spend Your Money Safely on the Road

  1. I would like to highlight, that you broadcast all of our “secret” hiding places.
    Granted they were not exactly designed by Agent Q, but still.