I am so horrible with cash, they might just title any TV series about me “Have Cards – Will Travel.”
How bad is my money mess? There is always a pool of pennies in the bottom of my purse, and I never seem to count my change right. I crumple paper money in my wallet, especially when I’m in a rush.
This disorganization has led to some embarrassing moments with friends, such as discovering I don’t have “tip money” when the restaurant check comes.
That’s why I use credit cards — a lot. I even hand my 4-year-old daughter a pretend credit card to pay for an empty box of Cheerios when playing grocery store.
I understand many view “cash as king” and the best way to manage a budget, but I have found that using a credit card as a primary form of payment can have its advantages — especially while traveling.
So, while I still bring some bucks along on a trip (just in case), here are my five top reasons why credit cards are way easier to use for travelers:
1. Cards are safer
It’s not just my lack of organization skills that has led me to lean away from a cash-centric lifestyle. As a frequent tourist, I also find cards to be a safer option.
I started to get a little paranoid about cash after being approached by a sketchy man as I was taking money out of an ATM machine. (He had asked me for a handout. I told him to buzz off, and luckily he did.)
Ever since, I feel really uneasy taking out a wad of bills in a public place, and I try to avoid ATMs in unfamiliar locales. I simply got spooked.
I also worry about the risk of money being stolen or lost while credit cards can provide additional protection from thieves.
2. Cards make it easier to manage my money
With my trusty smartphone loaded with my favorite apps for travel, it’s easy for me to keep a close eye on my spending habits while on the go.
And signing up for notification from credit card issuers can help travelers feel like a finance whiz (even me!). I always sign up for push alerts to get instant notices on purchases and how much money I spend each day. This helps keep my spending in check.
3. Cards help me evaluate my spending habits
The online spending trackers now available from most credit card companies can really help minimize overspending.
For me, this is especially the case with food. When I’m on vacation, I tend to spoil my taste buds. Steak and lobster, anyone? Trying out new restaurants is part of the reason why I get so excited to visit new places. (I’m still dreaming about a steak dinner while on my honeymoon in Punta Cana.)
But, when you are someone like me who prefers white tablecloths and pricey vino, dining bills can add up. While I can certainly save paper restaurant receipts to track my spending, I can now rely on my card issuer’s online “pie charts” to tell me exactly how much I am spending on food.
These pie charts have helped me pull the reins on my food spending, and I now limit my fancy restaurant reservations.
4. Cards include helpful perks
You have to pay for your vacation — so why not cash in on your card perks and rewards?
For my family trip to Disney World last year, I put all my expenses on one credit card. I paid off the entire balance the very next month, and I cashed in all my accrued points for gift cards. (Some of these gift cards were later given out as holiday gifts … shhhh!)
If I had used cash or a debit card, I would have missed out on those points turned into gift cards.
5. Cards can give a traveler some peace of mind
Another reason for travelers to pass on the cash in favor of plastic? A credit card can become your get-out-of-a-jam card while on a trip. How? Credit cards offer some insurance protection — rental car, trip insurance, etc. — and also peace of mind that you have a means to pay for any unexpected expense.
And if you arrive at your destination but your luggage goes missing or traveling to another city, the baggage delay insurance with some cards is something you’ll really appreciate.
So before you next hit the road or head to the airport, pack your cards and check their rewards and perks so you maximize your savings. For me, since the whole point of vacation is to get some well-needed R&R, bringing along a few credit cards helps me to rest easier. Why? I know I’ll never be stuck without a payment option, and my cash reserves won’t be depleted.