Travelers checks and overseas financial security

Don’t use ’em.

That’s right.  Use cash instead.  Just take care with your money.  Keep it on you at all times.  The extra insurance of lost or stolen cash is *not* worth the hassle.

“But just what is the hassle?” You might ask.  An excellent question…

First off, it’s a pain in the arse to find a money changer that actually accepts them.  You may end up spending a lot of time and energy roaming around from business to business just to find one.

Second, the exchange rate sucks.  I don’t mean, “wow, the dollar is really in the toilet these days” kind of sucks.  I mean, on top of the dollar being in the toilet is a fresh, stinky, heaping pile of poo.  Figuratively speaking, that extra layer is the additional percentage that the changers lop off the exchange rate (often it can be as high as 20%!, although if you shop around, you *might* find someone with a ridiculously good base rate so it’s only an additional 5% or so from the median price).  The universal reason that I was given for the crappy exchange rate is because there is an additional fee for changers to process travelers’ checks.  So you get quite a bit less money.

Third, it is an inconvenient process to exchange them.  You have to countersign each one.  That’s not just your John Hancock.  It’s all your address and contact info.  When you’re exchanging quite a bit of money, it can take a while to sign all those bills.

Because of those three strikes, I probably won’t be using them again anytime soon on my travels.  Of course, if you do lose them — either because you did something stupid or because some nimble-fingered kiddo was quick to access your pocket where you have them stashed — then it would be comforting to know you can cancel the missing ones…as long as you’ve kept the relevant info, and obviously, kept it separate from the missing checks.

So just don’t lose your money in the first place.  Here’s some tips:  Keep money you need to use for the day in a place that is easy to access for you, but not for someone else near you without you knowing about it.  Some people recommend “money belts.”  But I find them uncomfortable, especially in hot climates.  So, instead, I like to keep my money in my underpants if I’m feeling like I’ve entered a sketchy or crowded touristy area with saavy pickpockets preying off the naive foreign folk.  You might laugh or scoff, but even the most adept pickpocketer is much less likely to be able to reach into your underwear to grab at the goodies inside (…) without you knowing than they are able to deftly undo and remove your money belt.  And THAT’s assuming that there are pickpocketers who a) think that there might be money in someone’s underwear and b) actually would seriously consider trying to get at it.

Of course, the drawback to this may be your next question:  “But where do you keep coins?”  Digging around your nether regions for errant bits of metal money isn’t my idea of a picnic.  Some of those coins are pretty small…let’s leave the discussion at that.  Front pockets are more secure than back pockets, especially with a (ok, specifically, YOUR) hand in them fondling the money.  I never put anything I care about losing in my back pockets.

The last thing I can think of relating to security is location.  Pickpockets tend to hang around where they expect naive tourists to hang.  So don’t go there, or be aware when you go there that you, too, could be mistaken for (and possibly become) a naive tourist.

I’ll leave you with a disclaimer:  Haven’t ever had much experience guarding or losing my money in tourist traps.  Well, there was this one time in Mexico when I was about three or four years old…


One Response to Travelers checks and overseas financial security

  1. […] really expensive.  I head to the money change kiosque and present some travelers checks (which I don’t recommend).  The guy warns me, “There is a $5 fee for these.”  As if I have much of a choice.  […]

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