Karla Krehbiel



Finally taking that dream vacation?

Whether planning an African safari, a river cruise through a rain forest or sightseeing in ancient or faraway capitals, seasoned travelers know their preparation goes well beyond hotels, restaurants and guided tours.

And based on data from the U.S. Department of Commerce, growing numbers of vacationing Americans are choosing foreign travel.

The most recent statistics available show that both international and overseas travel in 2017 increased 9 percent year over year. Top destinations other than Mexico and Canada were the United Kingdom, Dominican Republic, France, Italy and Germany.

A glance at American Express Travel’s latest list of Top Trending Travel Destinations shows that popular destinations increasingly are among the exotic.

Consider the top five: Barcelona, Spain; Doha, Qatar; Hamburg, Germany; Marrakech, Morocco; and New Zealand. All had year-over-year travel increases of 25 percent or more, with Marrakech at a whopping 89 percent.

Regardless of your destination, in addition to planning your transportation, lodging and itinerary, it’s vital to take a few steps to protect your finances, especially credit and debit cards, while you are away.

That will help ensure a stress-free getaway for you and your family or travel companions.

Here are a few ways to safeguard your finances and prepare for your trip:

Notice. Be sure to notify your bank or your other card issuers of your travel plans and itinerary, and that you likely will be making purchases in those locations. That will greatly reduce the chance that a card will be declined or suspended because of “suspicious” activity.

Update. Make sure your bank and card issuers have your current contact information in case they need to get in touch with you while you are away.

Set up alerts. If your card or account has been compromised while you are traveling, you can receive emails and notifications via a Wi-Fi connection even if you have suspended cell service during your trip. This will allow you to act quickly should any problem arise.

Are you covered? Many travel insurance policies provide medical care for an illness or injury in addition to coverage for trip cancellations or such things as lost luggage. But check with your insurance agent to make sure you have adequate coverage for emergencies such as medical evacuation, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars.

You need chip-AND-pin. Although most U.S. credit and debit cards are embedded with EMV security chips, transactions are verified with the user’s signature. However, outside the U.S., many transactions require a PIN rather than a signature. If you will be traveling internationally, you can request a PIN for your cards.

Paperwork prep. Most countries require passports to have least six months of validity remaining at the end of your travel, so check expiration dates well in advance of your planned departure in case you need to renew. In addition, some countries require visas, or even birth certificates for minor children, or other authorizations, for entry. Rules can change frequently, so it’s best to check well in advance.

Stay connected. Open an account in the free Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, run by the U.S. State Department, if you will be outside the United States. With STEP, you will receive the latest security and safety information for the areas you will be traveling in, as well as alerts as they occur. This program also allows a U.S. embassy or consulate to contact you if your family or friends at home need to get in touch with you in an emergency.

Additional tips for traveling smart:

Travel with at least one credit card and one debit card for maximum flexibility. Keep a record of the cards’ customer service numbers in case you need to contact them.

Make copies of passports, bank contact info and other vital documents in case your wallet, cards or other items are lost or stolen, and consider leaving a set of copies with family or a friend as an extra precaution.

Obtain currency for the country or countries you will be visiting in advance, to reduce the need for ATM withdrawals. If you need more currency during your trip, use a bank or ATM to make sure you receive the correct exchange rate.

Consider buying an RFID-blocking wallet, which prevents thieves from using electronic devices that employ Radio-Frequency Identification to steal data from your credit and debit cards.

Use only secure Wi-Fi networks, especially if you are checking your accounts or otherwise working with your financials.

Avoid ATMs at retail stores, restaurants, airports, convenience stores or kiosks, which carry a higher risk for fraud. Cover your password with your hand, so hidden cameras can’t pick up your password.

Never rely on “helpful” strangers who offer to assist in retrieving a confiscated card and never use an ATM when other people are lingering.

Use an ATM under video surveillance which can be safer. Retrieve your cash and card quickly — some ATMs pull back cash as soon as 30 seconds.

Be aware of limits on cash withdrawals or transactions. If you encounter problems at an ATM, try withdrawing a lower amount in case there is a limit; try a different ATM; or try later — your card’s 24-hour withdrawal maximum is based on U.S. time or the network may be temporarily down.

Karla Krehbiel is regional president for Johnson Financial Group