Another installment of Suzando's Travel Tips! In this issue: ATMs for local currency, Credit Cards – Visa is the winner, and Vigilance!
ATM for Local Currency
We generally don't bring any foreign currency from the USA (i.e. Peruvian Soles, Brazilian Reals). We call our banks and credit cards and tell them we will be traveling. Then, when we arrive in the country, we pull out money from the ATM at the airport. This time, Fernando pulled out money but it gave him two 100 bills – he then stood in line at the currency exchange (next door at the airport) and asked for small bills. We find the smaller the better; you're less likely to get cheated if you give nearly or exact change. Just think, who carries around $100 USD in the US — they'd be hard to break for snacks, etc. We also find that in using ATMs, you will get the best foreign exchange rate rather than go to a Casa de Cambio and pay fees, etc.
Traveler's Checks are passé.
We've been using Fernando's Charles Schwab debit card, which doesn't charge any fees. The local ATM says it will charge a fee, but his bank reimburses him. My Wells Fargo debit card charges $5 per transaction, so we don't use that unless necessary. I've found that credit unions generally don't charge. Just check with your bank.
I do bring some $USD to stash as emergency funds, about $200. I haven't had to use this yet (i.e. if we lose credit cards or debit cards).
We pull out S/.100 out each time (~$38) or as much as needed for the activities of the day. Otherwise, we use credit cards as much as possible (see next item).
Credit Cards – VISA is the winner!
We tell our credit cards we are traveling (“Travel Notification”). We generally use our Capital One Credit Cards, as they don't charge any foreign transaction fees (which can range from 1% – 5%, ask your bank).
We've found that American Express is not widely accepted, although some places do. VISA is accepted (it seems) everywhere that accepts credit cards. MasterCard is not accepted all places, but more than American Express.
Most restaurants, places in the airport, chains and supermarkets accept credit cards. Smaller places don't accept credit cards and you generally need to carry cash with you.
Day-to-day, we only carry the following (each of us) and plan accordingly:
- 1 credit card
- 1 copy of our passport (NEVER the actual passport unless absolutely necessary, such as in transit to and from airport, etc. or going to Machu Picchu)
- Some local currency, like S/.50 (~15-20)
If you don't carry much, you won't be worried or have much to lose!
Luggage Lock, Hotel Safe, and Vigilance!
We learned that a hotel safe is called Caja Fuerte or Caja Seguro here in Peru. We have a small luggage lock where you enter a code. In our hotels, we put our electronics (laptop, iPad, mobile phones) into the backpack or rollie bag, and lock it up. Yes, this doesn't prevent someone from taking your entire backpack or bag (you'll need a cable lock for this, and lock up all your stuff to furniture), but come now, we need to have some trust. It just prevents someone from stealing your items in your room that might be laying around. We lock up the bag every time we leave the room.
We put our other valuables in a zippy bag and put it in the hotel room safe. If you don't have a hotel room safe, we might put our passports with the front desk, that usually might have a safe to use. Or, we will just lock it in the backpack as we described above.
- All our USD $ and wallet
- Passports (when you get down to it, this is the MOST important thing)
- Any excess local currency not needed for the day
- Extra credit cards (back-ups, incase we loose the 1 we carry)
Again, we carry the minimum necessary on us day-to-day.
Day-to-Day and In-Transit
My Cross Body Purse
After living in Barcelona, I've learned you've got to be vigilant! Vigilance, I say! You let your guard down for 1 minute, and that is when your shit going to be stolen! I've heard and witnessed that Barcelona and Madrid are the pickpocket capitals. They are professionals there – you might not even notice it. They are not dangerous places, but you might get your bag stolen. To prevent this from happening, I ALWAYS use a cross body purse. I carry this on me at ALL TIMES, even at restaurants. I just put it on my lap or on the side, but the strap is always around me. AT ALL TIMES, I repeat! I carry my money in a little coin purse and put that inside my purse, in the inner zipper. That's right.
Ladies, we've witnessed purse snatchers taking purses hanging on shoulders. We've also seen robbers trying to take purses hanging on a chair at restaurants. I've heard wallets being taken out of backpacks (while on the back). I've heard wallets being taken out of cargo shorts. I've heard a coat being moved to open a purse and take the wallet and passport out, which was hanging under a table with a group sitting around it (in Madrid). Vigilance, I say!
One time I had something stollen from me, and I won't let that happen again. I let my guard down. I had my point and shoot camera in my loose shorts, with the strap hanging out. I was relaxed and enjoying a handicraft market in Xian, China. I didn't know it had been taken until like 5 min later. I felt like such a dumb tourist! Never again! Vigilance, I say!
Since we haven't traveled in over a year (oh boy!), we do feel a bit rusty/dusty. So, I am extra vigilant! We spread out our credit cards and USD in 3 places and carry them. We don't put all our “eggs in one basket” as if we loose that, then that'll be it.
Fernando doesn't like using the money belt (says it is uncomfortable), but he will use it while we are in transit. He might hold some credit cards, USD, and maybe our passports. I hold some in my purse, and then stash some away in my backpack or something.Then we unload, unite the stash in the hotel, and place into the safe.