Life Travel

Don't travel without cash on hand

DOUG ENGLISH, Special to QMI Agency

Don't travel without cash on hand. (Shutterstock)

Don't travel without cash on hand. (Shutterstock)

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Just when I thought I'd done all the dumb things that make travelling more difficult, I did another.

Even more annoying, it happened during a simple routine I follow to one extent or another before almost every trip.

First I take my Visa card from my wallet and put it, along with my passport, in a security pouch worn under my shirt. Just about everything else stays at home.

Most of what makes purses as heavy as barbells and pocketbooks as thick as War and Peace are things we won't need while we're away.

Things that take time and money to replace if lost or stolen get special attention. If my destination is outside Canada or the U.S., that usually includes driver's licence, health card and extra bank-issued plastic.

I started doing this in earnest after being pickpocketed in Rome, and it's what I did before heading for Mexico in March. Or I thought I did.

Half-way into an Air Canada flight to Puerto Vallarta, the food trolley came by.

I ordered a sandwich, reached into my security pouch and pulled out -- my debit card. I'd obviously mistaken it for my Visa card, which meant the Visa was at home.

Air Canada doesn't take cash and doesn't accept debit, just major credit cards.

But the prospect of having to skip lunch was the least of my worries.

I was travelling alone, to an area I'd never visited, for a huge annual travel trade show, an event I'd never attended before and knew little about.

Lodging, most meals, and ground transportation were to be provided. My Visa was for handling what was left -- drinks, tips, the odd lunch or supper -- with its hefty credit limit for anything that went seriously and expensively wrong.

Fortunately, I had an ace in the hole -- cash I could use where I was going.

Anyone who travels beyond Canada and the U.S. should take that kind of cash with them -- euros for much of Europe, pounds for Britain, American dollars for any number of destinations.

That may sound odd, considering how reliant most of us are on plastic here at home.

But things can be very different elsewhere. I've needed cash on airport buses in Paris, at small restaurants in Italy, and for taxis in several countries; I've visited many stores that wouldn't take plastic for purchases below a certain amount.

Why bother buying foreign currency here when you can use ABMs over there? Because you may not have time, particularly on tightly scheduled escorted tours, or may have trouble finding a machine, or at least one that works.

Once I arrived in Puerto Vallarta, most of my time was consumed by trade show matters, and, instead of being downtown, my hotel was in the boondocks. I didn't notice any ABMs, and would have hesitated to use one anyway. Not after an earlier visit to Mexico where I lent money to a writer whose card had disappeared inside a machine at a bank that was closed for the weekend.

What got me through the next six days was the $200 or so in Mexican pesos and American dollars I'd brought from home.

I made like Ebenezer Scrooge, counting and recounting it, jotting down every outlay, trying to estimate and allow for unexpected expenses. It got so one glance told me whether I could afford one beer or two.

Budgeting for unanticipated outlays proved to be crucial when the free bus pickup at the hotel failed to materialize three days running. That meant taking taxis. The fares weren't much, but they were strictly cash.

Cash, by the way, did get me that sandwich on the flight down from Toronto, but in a roundabout way. Another passenger put it on her credit card, and I was able to repay her with a choice of three currencies.

Next time you're heading into the wild blue, think of that American Express slogan, "Don't leave home without it.'' It applies to that old-fashioned folding stuff too.

denglishtravel@gmail.com


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