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Sunday Reader Question: Which Wallet To Use For Travel

by on August 12, 2012 · 45 comments

in Credit Cards, Sunday Reader Questions, Video Blog Post

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TPG reader Dani asks an interesting question regarding what wallet to use while traveling: “Considering you love to carry so many credit cards, what wallet do you use when you travel?  Do you just carry the bare minimum in cash when traveling since you use your cards so frequently?”

I do have more credit cards than any reasonable-sized wallet can handle – about 16 active credit cards, although only a couple of them are used on a daily basis. The four main cards in my wallet are the Chase Freedom, Ink Bold, Sapphire Preferred and American Express Premier Rewards Gold (though I did just apply for 4 new cards, so I’ll be swapping in those as I meet minimum spend). However, when I travel abroad I switch things up and carry 3 main cards, all of which have no foreign transaction fees, and a back-up wallet with all my extra cards that I always keep locked up in the hotel safe.  This larger wallet holds all my credit cards, foreign coin/cash and my passport.

My “abroad” wallet.

When I’m abroad, my primary card is the Sapphire Preferred because it earns double points on all dining and travel (hotel, airfare, car subway, parking, etc.) and has a 7% bonus. My back up Visa is the British Airways with chip and signature, which earns 1.25 Avios per dollar spent. Once I get my Hilton Reserve Card, I’ll replace the spending I would normally put on my BA Visa on that card instead.  Lastly, I always carry my Amex Platinum card, which has great emergency travel insurance coverage as well as purchase protection for any big-ticket items in case they get lost or stolen along the way.

In terms of carrying cash, I like to have at least $120 worth in the local currency on me even though I prefer to use credit cards as much as possible to earn points.  In many countries it is sometimes just not possible to charge transactions so its always smart to have back up cash. I’ve been in some countries that try to charge fees of up to 10% for using a credit card, totally not worth it – I would much rather use cash in that type of situation.  The main reason why I don’t like to carry too much cash is if I ever were to be pick-pocketed, I’d lose all that money – luckily that is something that has never happened to me (knock on wood). The idea of a money belt doesn’t really appeal to me – both for practical and fashion reasons! – and my current strategy has worked pretty well for me so far, so I won’t be changing it up anytime soon. I’d love to hear how other people manage their cards and belongings when abroad so feel free to comment below!

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • http://twitter.com/jameskibwe James Miller

    I need to catch-up! I take an AMEX Centurion, again the benefits for travel are there and also a UK Citibank debit card, which can be linked to three different currency accounts (EURO, USD & Pounds). That way I incur no charges whatsoever in those currencies. However, I will be planning to get some cards soon to build my points. I would like the Points Guy to have a virtual wallet online, so I can see which cards I should be getting in New York, and when you change, I can change/add-on as well.

  • Ticketace

    One year while traveling in Laos. I went on a river tubing excursion. We were staying in a room in town and there had been a history of thefts at many places. We opted to purchase a dry bag and we took our cash,credit cards and passports with us on our excursion. Looking back, we realized how stupid this really was.

    During our river excursion we were offered beer and Lao whiskey at every turn. We were living in the moment and got a bit carried away. Later in the day, I decided to attempt my luck at a 30 meter high rope swing which ended up being a huge mistake. I had lost my grip of the rope and fell 30 meters sideways into the water. I ended up in extreme pain injuring my ribs.

    We had to continue drifting down the river to get to town which was now very slow going due to my injury. Towards the end we were offered help by some locals. It was getting very dark and we accepted their help. During all of this, we had realized that during our trip down the river, our dry bag had somehow been opened and we had lost all of our belongings inside the bag.

    Being injured with no passport/cash or credit cards, we were basically stuck in Laos until I could heal and make the trip back to the city (4 hours of hell with broken ribs on a bus with horrible roads) We did finally make it back to the city with a bit of help from a friend back home that had wired us money but it took over a month to get things back in order.

    This story does not have anything to do with what type of cc or wallet I would bring on a trip but more of a traveling tip that I discovered by going through this experience.

    If you are going to do extreme traveling and you do not have people that you can depend on back home (which was almost our case) Do yourself a favor and set up a Western Union or Moneygram account with a couple of your credit cards. If you are ever in a dire situation like this as I was, you could at least send yourself a wire transfer. There are numerous pick up points in many remote areas of the world where you can send the money to. It is an essential lifeline when traveling to remote places abroad.

    I am lucky that I have not had to use this option since then but I am much more at ease knowing that if I lose all of my possessions again that I will at least be able to send myself some cash if the situation ever presents itself again.

    Cheers,

    Tom

  • Guest

    I heard Coach makes a SWEET money belt! I have gone with a money belt the few times abroad. But, I haven’t been picked. So like buying Volcano insurance every year, my house has never been hit by a volcano – so I’ll keep doing that strategy, too.

  • Attaturk

    Hey, TPG, can you supply us with the name of the wallet, or at least where you bought it?

  • JMSL

    TPG, what’s the rationale behind bringing all those “back up” cards with you when traveling? I could see bringing maybe one or two in a separate bag just in case your primary wallet gets lost, but 16+ cards? Why not just leave them at home? Seems like if something did happen to that back up wallet, it would be a massive headache to cancel all those cards.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/P2DWMCTPC4FGBRIA3JPTPMHCFA Vapes

    I don’t get why you would haul all those cards with you..seems like you’re just asking for trouble? I can see bringing the Chase, AMEX Plat, BA chip, a hotel card (Hilton or AMEX SPG) and the Priority pass. Other than that, man that’s a lot of cards!
    What kind of case is that btw? LV? Inquiring minds wanna know

  • Brian(J)

    Attaturk,
    I have a similar item, the Hartmann Zip Travel Organizer (http://www.hartmann.com/shop/productDetail-sku-715-CT) which has space for 10 cards. I travel with no more than four, plus my Global Entry, a lounge pass, etc. also has space for passport, a lot of small bills for tipping the chambermaid a few bucks every day, and all sorts of other useful items.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_PSMAQDHHLS37TWQJY437JBUL4Q Silvia

    I will be going to Cuba soon. They do not accept US issued credit cards. However, they accept credit cards from other countries. Is it possible to get one from another country? I do not want to take too much cash and also want the back up for an emergency. The icing would be getting miles or points. I would love to hear you suggestions.

  • purplnurpl

    No wallet.

    When outside of the hotel room (excluding getting to/from it), I go wallet-less with: Passport copy, sapphire and chase BA chip card, debit card for ATM transactions when needed. That stays in a security pocket (additional pocket sewed into the inside of a regular pocket but with a zipper – ask your tailor, they’ll do it) or awkward cargo shorts pocket. Everything else stays in the room safe or hotel safety deposit box.

    Everything else includes: Real passport, drivers license, amex plat, SPG amex (if staying at SPG), citi hhonors (if staying at hhonors), priority pass select, us airways lounge card, some other generic lounge card (can’t recall which), AAA card (never needed it, ever).

    I find a wallet too restricting and dangerous. It’s easy enough to select the right card directly from the pocket via touch without showing all your cards since they’re all so different.

    tl/dr; I hate carrying anything.

  • Zz

    I bring 3 cards. 2 CC’s (sapphire and Bold) + 1 Debit card. I use the debit card to withdraw cash at ATM in the local currency. If your bank is part of the Global ATM Alliance there is no fee in a select countries. For example, as a BoA member you don’t pay a fee using a Deutsche Bank ATM in Germany (but you do if you use DB ATM in Italy!). I also bring $100 in cash.

  • PJ

    in 3rd quarter, Chase Freedom rebates 5 % on dining. 5 % on Ultimate Rewards points minus 3 % Foreign exchange fees is still much better than 2 % Sapphire Preferred. I value Ultimate Rewards points at at least 1.5 cents a points. Once in a while I like to have Chase collect fees on my shopping.

  • baqa

    Just a quick note about money belts: I think many people don’t use them “correctly” or don’t wear them because they are imagining using them incorrectly. The best usage of a money belt is to carry your passport, extra cash, extra cards, etc with you under your clothing while you are out during the day. You still carry the cards / cash you’ll be using throughout the day as if you don’t have the money belt.

    In this way, you have the extra cash if you end up needing it (i.e. go into a bathroom or someplace private to dig it out), have your passport (and thus visa) with you at all times (which is usually the law in a foreign country), don’t have to risk leaving your passport and cards back in your room where they can more easily be stolen (yes, even from that room safe), and yet ideally you never need to open the money belt (most days you won’t).

    Given this usage, I find a money belt both practical and fashionable :-). Practical because of the reasons listed above (and because under normal usage you don’t ever need to access it during the day) and fashionable because it is worn under my waistband and is completely invisible.

  • PJ

    Of course, I carry the Debit card with PLUS logo to withdraw foreign currency from ATM at VERY GOOD exhange rate. It is a bit strange to me during my last trip in Brazil, ARgentina and Chile, ALL ATM with PLUS logos DOES impose stiff fees unlike my previous experience in Europe and Asia.

  • http://twitter.com/Rbakken Rich Bakken

    About a month ago I got my new BA visa, except no chip on it. Is it possible to request a ‘new’ card via the Chase website and have the replacement be one with chip?

  • http://twitter.com/jamucsb Jamison

    Brian,

    the hotel safe is not safe at all… most of the MASTER codes are available on the internet for thieves

  • Traveller

    For those with champagne tastes, Smythson makes fabulous leather goods for travel. Everything is neatly labelled for cards, passports, boarding passes, etc. that tickle the OCD in me. You can find them at Barney’s or they have a stand alone store on 57th St. in Manhattan. Prices are north of $300, depending on your taste, but I love them.

  • http://twitter.com/rosso_stradale

    That looks exactly like a Comme des Garçon wallet from the outside but the inside texture looks different.

  • RT

    thanks for this post TPG.

  • cheap traveler

    Just curious – where is the cheapest place to get the local currency? Upon arrival at a new country, I will pull cash out of the ATM, first trying to find an ATM/bank that has a partnership with my bank. Usually these will result in no or less transaction fees. However, I did stop by a few of the currency exchange booths, normally found at airports and tourist places…and the rate doesn’t seem too bad (depending on what currencies you’re using and swapping for). What do travel experts use?

  • http://pointstopointb.wordpress.com/ AKold

    Schwab offers a checking account that allows ATM withdrawals everywhere (including abroad) for free. All you have to do is open a brokerage account (free) and then tie the checking account to it. They have an iPhone app that allows for mobile check deposits up to $1000, so it’s pretty easy to move funds into it.

  • 4Health

    Can you point me to a web page where I can read about the Amex platinum card’s emergency travel insurance? I’ve tried searching via google and I can’t find anything for the US card.

  • RakSiam

    Yeah, I don’t get this either. What’s the rationale behind carrying every card you own with you? That seems silly to me. I usually take 2 or 3 credit cards with me and 2 ATM cards. I only carry one or two of the credit cards and one ATM card when I am out and about. The others I put in the hotel room safe. Although, as noted those aren’t exactly foolproof since they can be broken into by a thief in the know.

    I opened an account at TD Bank specifically because they refund all ATM fees. I take my Bank of America ATM card as a back up even though I always hope to not have to use it given their ridiculous fees.

  • Davidgrahammd

    I also got a BA Visa without a chip. When I called to activate my card I just asked for one with a chip and they sent it directly out to me

  • Scott S

    Wouldn’t it be a hassle to have to cancel all of those cards when you travel, should something (knock on wood that it doesn’t) happen where you lose or have the wallet stolen? Stylistically, I really like that wallet, but I couldn’t bring myself to take all of my cards along. I’d only bring the ones I knew I would be using during my trip. I agree with another commenter, that I don’t even really bring my wallet out of the country, basically a money clip and cards in my pocket. I also bring about $200 in local currency for the same reason. I also keep a list of card phone numbers with me on my trip, away from my cards, just in case something happens. I haven’t had to use it yet, but proactive is better than reactive.

  • Alan

    I usually travel in late fall, so cool weather, and I’ve kept one of those badge holders they give out at conventions. The one I have is a good one, zippered pockets, etc. I wear this around my neck and under two or three layers of clothes it doesn’t show at all. It’s much more comfortable for me than a money belt. I’ll keep some cash and maybe one credit card in my front pants pocket.

  • Rasputin

    Where do you carry that humongous wallet? I am pretty sure wallets that size don’t fit in my jeans.

  • jerry

    baqa has right here. Keep your important id and cards under your cloths. Just enough in your wallet for the days purchases. I tether my wallet to my pants. And i have been pickpocketed and you will too sooner or later.

  • Claire

    Wow, scary. I’ve never had stuff stolen from a hotel safe but know people who have. I usually carry my passport & cards on me when out & about. Bought a Pacsafe bag (substance over form for sure, as they are not fashionable bags at all!), but then I wonder of carrying it around makes me more of a mark…

  • thepointsguy

    I dont have every single card with me, but since I travel so much I’d rather have them on me than not

  • thepointsguy

    The big wallet goes in my carryon and in the hotel safe. The smaller one is a regular sized wallet

  • thepointsguy

    It would be a hassle, but I wouldn’t be liable anyway if they were stolen so I like having most of my cards with me wherever I am

  • thepointsguy
  • thepointsguy

    I always pull cash out of ATMs

  • thepointsguy

    My white wallet is Goyard.. the big one Prada (a gift)

  • thepointsguy

    Yea nothing is ever 100% safe.. but better in the safe than in your pocket in my opinion

  • thepointsguy

    Call them and they’ll have the chip card to you within 48 hours

  • thepointsguy

    The black case is Prada

  • cheap traveler

    Is that just for convenience or also cost savings? It’s also a pain in that I have to estimate how much I need – don’t want to get stuck with too much leftover and also too little where I need to make another pull for another fee.

  • cheap traveler

    Thanks AKold – unfortunately, I don’t think I travel enough to justify opening another account. I have already opened enough accounts to get free miles :)

  • Claire

    How do you keep track of which card to use in each instance? I mean, if staying at an SPG property then an SPG card is obvious, but if you’re buying gas, for example, some cards give 2x, some only 1x, etc. And then certain cards have limited-time bonuses in certain categories. Do you just manage to remember everything in your head or is there a trick to it?

  • Dorsalis

    I sometimes like to stay in small, family-owned hotels, and they often lack amenities such as room safes. So for me, I carry with me anything I don’t want to lose. Passport and cash in front pockets. Wallet in back pocket that is buttoned and zipped (Travelsmith pants). I have only made about 40 trips abroad (Europe, Middle East), but so far, no problems! By the way, I also never check luggage!

  • Quitoworks8

    For extra security, put a rubber band around your wallet. If someone does manage to get into your pocket, the rubber will make it difficult for them to pull it up and you have a better chance of feeling it as it happens.

    My husband and I have traveled to many countries, and he keeps his wallet in his front pocket with a rubber band around it. We haven’t had a problem yet (knock on wood).

  • Carol G

    I make sure that I take my no- foreign fee fee card + an ATM and my usual wallet stuff. But other than that, I’ve never understood why travel is much different than everyday life. I’ve only ever been pick pocketed at the Statbucks two doors down from my workplace. So with that logic, I should wear zippered pockets and whatnot to work. I say, exercise reasonable caution every day…whether at home or abroad

  • Ethan M

    Timbuk 2 makes a great ID wallet with money clip that is perfect to clip onto the waistband of you undies. Works well when you are in those nations where pickpockets reign. For trips to say Japan etc. Timbuk2 also makes a larger travel wallet that I have had great success with.
    In addition G-Star Raw makes some larger wallets with belt loops as well. very stylish and secure.

  • http://www.leonknife.com/ LeonKnife

    Definitely use the one full of cash :)

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