Pop quiz hotshot: you’re traveling in an exotic, far-off land and you lose your wallet, your cash and all your cards. What do you do? What do you do?
That’s what happened to me in Mexico City on Christmas Eve last year. I lost my brand-new Dash Wallet and my debit and credit cards.
I did everything I was supposed to do: I called my bank, checked for fraudulent transactions, canceled the cards and ordered replacements.
I learned the hard way that my bank (Capital One) doesn’t ship cards internationally. They could only send the replacements to my address in California.
Fortunately, Mexico is not that far-off from California, and my sister overnighted the replacements to a nearby DHL for about $60.
A couple days after Christmas and everything was resolved, but it got me thinking about the best strategies to deal with this all too common traveler’s nightmare.
Get A Backup Debit Card
Before you hit the road, set up a second checking account and get another debit card as a backup on your travels.
Most banks won’t let you get more than one card for an account, but you can set up and link as many accounts as you like and get a debit card for each one.
Keep your backup card in a safe place, such as a hotel safe or a hostel locker, while you travel using your main card.
If you lose your primary debit card, just transfer money from your primary account to your secondary and use your backup debit card until a replacement arrives.
Of course, this option only works if you plan ahead, but an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
PayPal With A Friend
If you’re waiting for your replacement cards to arrive and you need cash, ask a fellow traveler for help.
They withdraw cash from an ATM, you send them money via PayPal, problem solved. It’s encouraging how often you’ll find find someone to help on your travels.
Just be sure to factor in PayPal’s foreign conversion fee when you pay them back.
Use a PayPal fee calculator to find out how much you should really send. In either case, send them a tip in thanks.
Get A Prepaid Travel Card
The other option is to keep your bank card at home and head out with a prepaid travel card like Revolut.
Revolut is a prepaid debit card that allows spending at merchants and cash withdrawals at ATMs with the MasterCard logo.
It’s pretty to simple to use. You load the card with money from another account, and then use it to make purchases or withdraw cash from ATMs. If you lose the card, you can cancel it with a push of a button on the app, then move the money back to your debit account.
The downside is Revolut only allows you to withdraw up to £200 or €200 per month.
Anything over that and you’ll have to pay a 2% fee, plus whatever fees the ATM operator charges if it’s not part of the MasterCard network.
For now, Revolut’s only available to residents of EU member states and a few other select countries.
Send Yourself Money
This has saved my ass more than once. While I was in Rio de Janerio for the 2016 Olympics, my bank replaced my card with a new chip version.
But they didn’t warn me first, so I was stuck in Brazil with a canceled card and no way to withdraw cash from ATMs. Ria and Xoom didn’t work, so I got a family member to send me money via Western Union.
About Western Union: the fees are pretty high and it’s impossible to send money to yourself. You’ll need someone on the other end to send the money to you.
Money transfer services can be pretty handy even if it’s not an emergency. During a six-month stay in Argentina in 2015, I never used an ATM or my cards, because I got a better deal from Ria.
Back then, the exchange rate for the Argentinian peso was fixed by the government at 7 pesos for 1 USD.
Meanwhile, 1 USD would get you 15 Argentinian pesos at the “blue rate,” or the unofficial exchange rate.
Ria’s rates were just as good as the “blue rate,” so I just sent myself money and picked it up at a local mall.
I didn’t have to deal with the currency changers on the street or the terrible fixed rates at merchants and ATMs.
The choice really comes down to which service has a location closest to you, but I prefer Ria over Xoom because their exchange rates are usually better.
Scott Dylan is a freelance writer based in Latin America. In 2015, he left his home in California and never looked back. Now he spends his days learning Spanish, cooking strange dishes and meeting good people from around the world.