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Living with credit, Protecting yourself

My worst travel experiences and how to avoid them

Julie Loffredi

When I travel, my credit card is the equivalent of a safety blanket.

Knowing I can easily pay for unexpected expenses gives me peace of mind whether I’m on vacation or a business trip. Plus, I just find it easier to swipe (or dip) my card than to count out paper bills and coins.

But transactions can sometimes hit a snag, no matter what form of payment is used. Here are a few of my worst experiences, and how I now avoid them:

Failed to bring enough cash
While credit cards are my primary form of payment, failing to travel without enough cash in my wallet has led to some hassles.

While I tend to avoid businesses that take only cash, I have found it’s a bit harder to go cash-free when in a different city (or country). Example? I once tried to haggle with a street vendor while only having plastic. It didn’t work out.

Street markets, buses and taxis are some travel spots that may not accept credit cards. Having learned this through experience, now I always take out some extra money at an ATM before I embark on any adventures.

Overspent due to sloppy math
I’m no math whiz, which is why I now rely on currency conversion apps on my phone when traveling abroad.

While I’ve become smarter about the difference between a dollar and a pound, I’ve been lazy in the past about “doing the math” before making a purchase in a foreign country. This came back to haunt me after I waited for the bill to come in the mail to figure out exactly how much I really spent in U.S. dollars during a vacation in Montreal, Canada.

I wouldn’t recommend this practice unless you enjoy a costly surprise. Use the conversion apps. They’re easy to download and use on your phone.

Forgot to sign the back of the card
Ever get that shiny card in the mail and forget to sign the back of it? I did. I was at a checkout where a cashier refused to take my new card because the signature space was blank.

This is an easy fix. When you call to activate a new card, be sure you sign the back of it before you put it in your wallet.

Missed out on perks
I’ve been guilty of not using the perks on my travel and airline credit cards. I hate to admit this, but I went online to purchase flights and got so excited the price dropped that I grabbed the first card in my wallet (a debit card!) and forgot to use my Southwest Airlines Visa credit card to pay for plane tickets.

This silly mistake cost me travel points. And using my debit card instead of Southwest card meant I didn’t have travel insurance, covering baggage delays, lost luggage or a travel accident (hope I never need this last one).

Forgot to tell the card company about travel plans
When I forgot to alert my card company of my travel plans, my card was blocked at the worst time – I was at a shopping mall outside of my home state and I had gone a little overboard  at a maternity clothes store.

I went up to the cashier with about $300 worth of clothes and a big smile on my face (much of my haul was on sale). I was thrilled to have a wardrobe for the next nine months of my pregnancy, but then — my card wouldn’t work.

It was declined due to suspicious activity. I was so embarrassed! I called the card company on the spot, and I was able to get the card unlocked. But I never want this to happen again.

Now, card companies are known to flag any activity that looks fraudulent — so if you tend to be local shopper and then one day start charging up a storm while on vacation in St. Maarten, your card company will likely view this as abnormal behavior and take action. The card company might try contacting you or just put a freeze the card until you tell them it’s legit.

Best thing to do? Let your card issuer know about your travel plans before you leave home, which can usually be done through your card’s online portal.

Left other cards at home
Maybe that fancy restaurant in Paris doesn’t take American Express. Bringing along extra forms of payment is a smart way to avoid this travel mishap.

You never want to be stuck without a second way to pay. Bring backup plastic so you have more options.

Was charged foreign transaction fees
Foreign transaction fees can tack on an extra 1 to 3 percent to your purchases made abroad. Who wants to pay more? I don’t.

This is one bad travel experience I’ve been able to avoid. My only cards abroad are ones that charge no foreign transaction fees.

So, there are some of my worst travel mistakes. Luckily, I haven’t made the same mistake twice. And if you use the above as a checklist, you’ll avoid all of these credit card travel mistakes.

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