Financial Travel Tip #55: How Many Debit and Credit Cards To Carry

by Nora Dunn on November 17, 2012

Heather writes:

I’m planning a RTW trip and am having trouble wrapping my head around how to manage finances while traveling. I’ve read several blogs on this but still have two questions:

1) Is it best to carry a minimum of two cards (eg a debit and a credit or two debits etc) from different financial institutions to abate risk?

2) Is it best to keep multiple cards separate at all times? Like one on you and one in your luggage? Or does it make more sense to keep them together at different times?

How Many Cards?

I prefer to carry two cards to abate risk, as you say. I have two credit cards (from different banks), and one debit card. This has been handy, as I’ve frequently had minor mishaps with either one of my credit cards, and needed the second card as a backup.

I’ve not been too bothered about needing more than one debit card, largely because I do most of my banking online, and I limit financial risk by keeping my bank account balance at a minimum.

How/Where to Carry Them

The best way to carry any duplicate valuables is to separate them in case you’re bereaved of something; I carry my external hard drive and laptop in separate bags, I carry cash in different places on my person and in my bags, and when I’m on the move I keep one of my credit cards stashed in my under-clothes pouch containing my trusty USB stick.

I’m pretty vigilant with this when I’m actively on the move and my bags are packed; but once I stay somewhere long enough to unpack, I tend to carry everything I need for the day in a purse or wallet.

But ultimately that’s okay, as I have backups of backups of backups of everything, so even if I lose my wallet, all is not necessarily lost.

It’s almost impossible to hedge against all risks at all times. Generally, a nice balance of prudence and faith is the best we can do.

Travelers: How do you carry your cards, and how many credit/debit cards do you have?

Other Money-Management Travel Tips

Scroll through this resource for other tips for managing your money on the road:

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Gigi November 17, 2012 at 3:35 pm

I’ll second this. I carry two credit cards and a debit card and I have a third credit card stashed in an envelope at a friend’s house, ready to be overnighted to me in an emergency situation. I also keep my removable hard drive in one bag and my laptop in another. And I back up almost everything online as well. I also keep paper copies of my credit cards (along with a copy of my passport) in case of theft. Then I can just call the company and have my number and info all on hand.

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theprofessionalhobo November 18, 2012 at 8:43 am

@Gigi – Oh my gosh! You’re as neurotic as me! (ha ha). Seriously though, it’s not neurotic. It’s sensible risk management, considering we’re hedging against so many different kinds of risk when we carry everything we own with us on the road.
Nice to know I’m not the only one who has this system! Happy travels…

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Gigi November 18, 2012 at 7:25 pm

Yep. We’re like the Boy Scouts. Prepared.

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Amber November 17, 2012 at 10:23 pm

The one thing to look for is a credit card and ATM card with 0% foreign transaction fees. Capital One is the best, particularly for ATM. Chase does some cards including the sapphire card or marriott and Barclays does British Air.

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theprofessionalhobo November 18, 2012 at 8:48 am

Hey Amber – I’ve heard Capital One has good fees and rates for US Citizens. The other thing I look for in cards is reward mileage if at all possible.

Here’s a Financial Travel Tip I wrote on banking and what to look for in a bank account:
http://www.theprofessionalhobo.com/2012/08/financial-travel-tip-41-banking-on-the-road/

…and my frequent flyer mile strategy:
http://www.theprofessionalhobo.com/2011/12/financial-travel-tip-8-flying-for-free-or-almost-free/

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Jessica November 18, 2012 at 8:42 am

I’m also carry 2 credit cards and 1 debit card. I get better reward miles from one of the credit cards, but it tends to be the one that doesn’t work at ATMs in some countries. I like to have a second card as a back-up. I’ve also had to get used to carrying cash since I’ve been traveling in SE Asia, where most of the smaller shops and restaurants only accept cash.

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theprofessionalhobo November 18, 2012 at 9:52 am

Jessica – You bring up two great points:
1) It’s often good to have more than one card because if you need money from ATMs, not all cards work. Case in point: In Grenada, my debit card doesn’t work in ATMs at all, and only one credit card (my backup one) does.
2) And yes, sometimes you just need cash. SE Asia isn’t very credit card friendly.

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Steve Godwin November 18, 2012 at 2:46 pm

I usually go for the option of 2 credit and 1 debit cards split between my wallet, one in my passport and 1 in my luggage. With cash in my wallet and some in another location. Usually in a sock or similar place in my luggage.

Another thing I do is scan a card I’m not carrying and email that scan to myself on a web based account, gmail, yahoo etc.

So if you ever do come unstuck, by losing everything you can cancel all your cards but still have enough details online to book a hotel or flight or anything else you may need in the immediate short term whilst waiting for banks or insurances to pull through. It’s also a handy way of keeping a copy of your other important documents without having to carry them.

Steve.

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theprofessionalhobo November 19, 2012 at 7:50 pm

Hey Steve – I hadn’t thought of having card information for a card you don’t carry! Very interesting!
I do, however, keep scans of all my cards, but I don’t store them in my web email, since I’m concerned about security. I have them encrypted on my computer, as well as my “trusty USB stick”.
http://www.theprofessionalhobo.com/2012/07/financial-travel-tip-38-total-travel-protection-with-the-usb-stick-trick/

Here’s how I back up my stuff:
http://www.theprofessionalhobo.com/2012/07/financial-travel-tip-39-backing-up-your-stuff/

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Arnis (Tripify) November 18, 2012 at 5:47 pm

I’ve heard numerous stories by people traveling from US to Europe who’s credit cards have been blocked by their own banks just because they try to make a purchase somewhere far away from where they normally do it (banks might not be so fast to do it if you travel frequently, though). Having some cash on you and at least 1 backup credit/debit card is a must in my opinion, and do not count on AmEx cards, you’ll find plenty of places where they are not accepted.

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theprofessionalhobo November 19, 2012 at 7:53 pm

Arnis – You got it! I’ve regularly had either credit card blocked (despite calling in a travel advisory to the credit card company), and needed to call them later to verify my location. In the meantime, it’s always great to have a second card on hand to whip out!

As for credit card brand, I find Visa to be the most widely accepted, with Mastercard as a close second.

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Amanda November 19, 2012 at 1:00 am

I’ve got you beat! I’ve been traveling with 2 credit cards and 2 debit cards! I usually only use my rewards credit card and keep the other stashed away, just in case. The 2 debit cards isn’t so much about safety as it is about worrying that one won’t work in certain ATMs (my main bank is a small, regional one, so I’ve had ATM issues before).

I also usually leave a 3rd debit card/credit card combo at home from a bank that I don’t really use anymore, but still have accounts open at. My parents have access to that debit card account, and so would be able to overnight the card to me and put money into the account if an emergency arose.

I totally should have been a Boy Scout! You know… if I was a boy…

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theprofessionalhobo November 19, 2012 at 7:57 pm

Amanda – Yes, I’ve had debit card ATM issues before, and my bank isn’t all that small either. But in those cases, I’ve usually resorted to using my credit card in the ATM instead (which gets processed as a cash advance). The challenge with cash advances is that interest is charged from the date of withdrawal (and there’s a withdrawal fee), so it’s not ideal, and it’s important to go online and pay off the card right away to keep interest fees to a minimum.

As for your extra debit card, that’s a cool strategy.
Remember though, to use your 3rd credit card from time to time (maybe charging an online purchase to it), otherwise it might be cancelled:
http://www.theprofessionalhobo.com/2012/11/financial-travel-tip-54-avoiding-credit-card-cancellation/

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