Money Clip

Cash & Plastic: A Peek Inside My Money Clip

Derek Travel Tips & Advice 32 Comments

Money Clip

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the method(s) I’ve used over the years to carry my money while traveling, mentioning that the money clip is generally my preferred method. However, what I failed to mention in that post is what exactly I carry around with me, clipped in to that money clip of mine.

Obviously, I carry some money, but as several readers pointed out, that’s a bit vague. Do I walk around with $500 in my pocket or do I keep a much, much smaller amount on me, such as $10 bucks worth of local currency? And what about those cards? Do I use credit cards, debit cards or maybe the only cards I carry are playing cards?

CASH

Normally, I carry about $50 USD worth of local currency with me while I’m wandering around each day. But I don’t carry it all in one place. I’ll stick about $40 worth in my money clip and throw the rest either in my other pants pocket or in a shirt pocket if I’m wearing a shirt that has one. This way, whenever I’m about to purchase something small, such as a roadside snack or a tube of toothpaste, I don’t have to pull out my entire money clip. And whenever I use up the money in my shirt pocket, I simply add some more.

I also travel with about $100 US dollars in cash, however, this is only for emergencies and I always leave this money in my hotel/guesthouse room.

And I think it’s been about three years or so since I’ve visited currency exchange booths on a regular basis. ATMs are a much easier way to get cash nowadays as you can obviously withdraw only the amount you need, which helps travelers avoid having to carry around large sums of moolah. Although, the amount I withdraw from an ATM depends on the fees that the local banks charge for each withdrawal. If no fees are charged, I’ll typically take out $100 or less, but if fees are charged, I might take out as much as $200 at a time in order to ensure that I don’t have to pay that fee too often.

Many travelers must also take into consideration the fees charged by their home banks as well, which in most cases are quite significant when withdrawing money overseas. Luckily, especially for US citizens, you can avoid such costs by putting your money in one of the handful of bank accounts that does not charge any international ATM fees (see below).

As soon as I arrive in a new country, the first thing I do is make a trip to the ATM, preferably one inside of the airport. Of course, if I’m crossing a remote land border, say between Bangladesh and India or Turkey and Iraq, where ATMs are nowhere to be found, then I will change some money into the local currency before crossing, but usually just enough to get me to the closest major town.

And when I do need to exchange some money, I personally am not too fussy. I don’t spend full days roaming around comparing every exchange booth in the city in search of the best rate. As long as they don’t charge a commission and the rate is reasonable, I’ll take it.

PLASTIC

In addition to cash, I also carry the ATM card for my Capital One Savings Account, which is one of the US bank accounts that does not charge any fees for withdrawing money overseas. (Capital One has a variety of savings accounts that are attractive to travelers.)

I also carry around one more ATM/Debit card from another bank account as well as two credit cards, which I generally only use when I’m booking a flight online.

One of these credit cards is a Capital One Rewards Card because this card also doesn’t charge any international transaction fees. And my second credit card is a United Airlines Mileage Plus Visa so that every dollar I spend with it increases my United Mileage Plus Frequent Flyer account by at least 1 mile.

(*For US Citizens, Charles Schwab also offers bank accounts without international transaction fees. Also, if you have a Bank of America account, you can use your ATM card at any bank within the Global ATM Alliance without racking up any fees. For citizens of other countries, it might pay to look at the Global ATM Alliance as well to see if you have an account with one of the member banks. And if you know of any fee-free accounts in Europe, Canada, Australia or elsewhere, please let us know in the comments!)

SECURITY

Unlike a lot of other travelers, I almost always keep my valuables in my hotel/guesthouse room while I’m out and about every day, and this includes most of my money, the credit cards I won’t be needing, my laptop and my passport. I personally find it much more risky to be carrying these items around with me all of the time than it is to keep them in my hotel room. And in 11 years, I’ve never had anything taken from any guesthouse or hotel room that I’ve stayed in, anywhere in the world.

Hotel Room in Delhi

If I walk into a budget hotel and immediately sense a creepy vibe, I simply turn around and find somewhere else to stay. Rarely do I hand over money for a room unless I feel comfortable with the environment and am somewhat confident that my belongings will be safe in my room, just as anyone’s belongings should be safe in any hotel room.

And if I happen to be staying in a dorm room, then I always lock up my valuables in the safe provided by the guesthouse/hostel. If they don’t have a safe, I don’t stay there. It’s as simple as that.

The main reason why I keep my valuables inside of my room instead of on my person is because, the last time I checked, pickpocketing, or most forms of robbery that travelers tend to face for that matter, tend to occur outside of one’s hotel room. If I don’t have anything on me to be pick-pocketed or stolen, then I have nothing to worry about.

In addition, if I’m carrying everything around with me, I also run the risk of leaving something behind during the day, perhaps at a restaurant or historical site, such as my backpack, with my laptop and passport inside. By walking around with only a small amount of money and my camera in my pocket, I’m a lot more relaxed and therefore more able to enjoy my experiences, knowing the worst that can happen is that I lose $50 bucks and the day’s photos.

And before I forget, I also carry around my driver’s license (we should always have some form of identification on us) and sometimes I even carry around the business card of a hotel that I am not staying at. That’s right, I figure that if I’m robbed or find myself in a sticky situation, one where somebody wants to track me down, I better not give them the address of where I’m actually staying. While I realize that this may be a little over the top, I generally only use this tactic when traveling through regions where I must pay extra attention to my security.


Let’s hear your advice! What’s in your money clip, wallet, money belt, rubber band, binder clip, shoe or bra while you’re traveling?

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Comments 32

  1. Jay

    When it comes to credit cards, how do you handle them expiring? Since you don’t have a permanent address, how do you get a bank to send you one?

  2. Daniel Parks

    Hey Earl! Your writing is great — I went back to the beginning and I’ve been reading from there. Sorry to comment on such and old post!

    I’ve seen you mention using safes a couple of times in dorm rooms — do you mean some sort of traditional heavy safe behind the front desk (or somewhere else centralized), or do you mean the cabinets you can put a lock on inside the dorm rooms?

    I figure the cabinet safes are probably safe enough, but I was curious what you thought.

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Daniel – I was just referring to the normal lockers that hostels usually provide each guest whether under the bed or or somewhere else in the dorm room. I bring a padlock and lock up my stuff there. They’ve always seemed safe enough to me.

      And thank you for reading the site by the way!

  3. Joel Tillman

    Quick silly question: Is that a Florida drivers license I see in the picture?

    Also, I agree with you on the security issue. I have had my pockets picked once in the Philippines (just some cash, nothing important) yet have never had anything taken out of my room even with the cleaning lady coming in every day.

    1. Earl

      Hey Joel – That’s the thing….hotel rooms are almost always safer than carrying around our valuables with us all day. I think it’s worth leaving things in the room simply so that I don’t have to worry about everything all day long and I can concentrate on enjoying my day.

      And yes, that is a Florida license 🙂

      1. Joel Tillman

        Exactly. Plus sometimes they will have those free to use safes in the room. They are rarely necessary even if for piece of mind.

        Very cool about the Florida thing. No wonder you are use to the heat. Coming from Tampa myself it was a little easier to adjust to those hot and humid days while traveling in some of the countries closer to the equator.

    1. Earl

      Hey Michael – I ended up going with the Lumix FZ-38. And while it fits in my shorts pocket I do sometimes have to carry it around in a small case if I’m wearing pants. But as far as being nervous, the more and more I travel, the less nervous I get about things like that. To be honest, the chances of someone running up to me and grabbing my camera in a foreign country are probably the same as the chances of it happening at home. And if I walk into a dark alley to take a photo at night, the chance definitely increases, just as it would at home as well.

      Of course, theft like this does happen but not enough where I feel like I need to worry all the time. I think you’ll find that more people will approach you and ask you to take a photo of them instead of trying to steal the camera!

  4. joshywashington

    On the latter portion of my Southeast Asia trip, after i had been teaching english for 6 months and being paid under the table, I was carrying around $2,500 in Vietnamese dong. That’s a lot of dong. I broke up my stash into pockets of dough, a little in my money belt, a little taped in my book, a little stuffed with my underwear at the bottom of my pack…

    1. Earl

      Hey Joshy – Sometimes we are just stuck with a ton of cash, especially in countries that don’t really have many bills of large denominations, such as with the dong. I think keeping it in several places is the way to go in these cases in order to minimize any chance of losing it all at the same time. Of course, such as I did during a visit to Laos, we might end up forgetting about some of the money that we hide, only to find it four months later where it is pretty much useless 🙂

    1. Earl

      Hey Jill – The binder clip is a great option and if it’s ever misplaced, it’s quite easy to replace. We certainly don’t need anything fancy while traveling around!

  5. Mark Wiens

    Hey Earl, great advice here. At the moment I’m still using my US credit union bank that my Mom signed me up for when I was 18 (7 years ago). It’s not working too well for my needs anymore, so I’ve been searching for some banking solutions – thanks for this advice.

    I tend to be with you in leaving things in the hotel room instead of carrying them around. Sometimes I do feel out the situation, but generally I feel better leaving the valuables behind.

    Computer wise, what do you do when it doesn’t fit in the safe? Do you have a computer lock?

    1. Earl

      Hey Mark – Actually, rarely do I ever end up staying in a place that has a safe. This is not on purpose of course but I’ve found that most budget hotels just don’t have them. So I just keep everything in my backpack or maybe I’ll try to hide my laptop under the blankets (useless I know). I’ve never really worried about my stuff too much. Of course, a laptop lock is a good way to add some additional security and peace of mind. I’ve just never gotten around to buying one.

      And the only times I use a safe is if I’m in a hostel and staying in a dorm room. I definitely won’t leave valuable lying around in a non-private room…

  6. Scott Lehmann

    Hi Earl,
    American Express just started a program for International Travelers where as they will waive Transaction Fees, you have to sign up for that service, but there is no cost. One other thing that I do, which is going to be a bit strange and paranoid. When I go to places that are known for pickpockets I carry my things in my front pockets, but I take it one step farther, I use a safety pin to secure my pockets closed. This way, even the best of them won’t be able to get the items out of my pockets.

    1. Earl

      Hey Scott – Thanks for letting me know about the American Express program. I actually have an Amex card as well but rarely take it with me because of the fees so I’ll definitely give them a call. And I love your safety pin solution! That’s brilliant – so easy to do and it basically guarantees nobody will get in your pockets.

  7. Daniel

    Thanks for the ATM\Debit card info Earl! I had heard of the Charles Schwab option for a card that refunds ATM fees but in looking at the fine print the Capitol One cards may be better (it appears they will refund a higher $ amount per statement than Schwab). I expect I’ll need one or the the other before the year is out as I have the beginnings of travel plans I’m working on.

    As far as no fee credit cards I have the Chase\British Airways card which doesn’t have foreign transaction fees so I’m set in that area (BTW, today is the end of the 100,000 mile bonus offer on that card)

    1. Earl

      Hey Daniel – Capital One actually just added the fee reimbursements quite recently so I think overall that might now be the best option. I’ve been quite happy with my account from them so far and have no complaints at all.

      And thanks for the heads up about the Chase/BA credit card. A 100,000 bonus is quite rare and I’m definitely considering applying for it. I better get over to the site as I guess I only have an hour or so left before it expires!

  8. optionsdude

    I tend to use a money clip as well with my driver’s license, one credit card, and some cash. Nice to know that nothing has ever been stolen from a hotel room. I have always worried about that, but never have traveled as much as you.

    1. Earl

      @optionsdude: My theory is that a hotel/guesthouse is not going to risk the negative effects that would result from staff stealing something from a room. Chances are they didn’t enter the hospitality business just for a chance to steal my laptop. And if they steal everyone’s laptops, well, they wouldn’t be in business for very long. So, my room seems like the safest place to keep my stuff to me!

  9. The Travel Chica

    Great advice! I always keep my money split up in different places on my body, and I usually carry around a lot less (no more than I plan to spend that day with a small buffer).

    One more thing I’ll add to the list of things to carry with you is a copy of your passport. A foreign ID probably won’t matter much to police, and not having a copy of your passport with you is an easy way for them to shake you down for a bribe or take you to jail.

    1. Earl

      @The Travel Chica: While I’ve never done it myself, having a copy of your passport is an excellent piece of advice (and one that I should probably start following). So far I’ve never been in a situation where the police have asked for a bribe or threatened me in any way but I can see how the passport copy could help. Of course, if local police really want to extract a bribe, they’ll probably find a way to do so regardless of the ID we have on us!

  10. megan

    Agree wholeheartedly with the ATM thing. I also very rarely use money changers – generally only at borders and then I know I’m going to get ripped off no matter what so I don’t stress too much about the rate – the important thing is having enough cash to get some snacks and jump on a bus.

    In terms of gear, I brace myself for the possibility of losing everything, even my laptop, before I leave on my trip. Wouldn’t make it hurt less if it happened but at least I know (or I think!!) I’d be able to shrug and say, ‘What can you do?’

    1. Earl

      Hey Megan – It is a good idea to mentally prepare yourself for the possibility of losing some of your stuff during your travels. Stuff happens and as you mentioned, if it does, there’s not much we can do about it. And we’re certainly not going to stay at home just because we might have our laptop stolen!

      And what you said about knowing you’re going to get ripped off is exactly how I feel sometimes. There are just certain times when it is virtually impossible to avoid being ripped off and changing money is often one of those times. Usually, the difference really isn’t that much in the end so I prefer a stress-free experience without worrying whether or not I lost a few bucks in the transaction.

  11. flip

    nice article man! i realized that carrying a business card of another hostel is a good idea in case someone wants to track you down… it might be good if that hostel is far from where you’re really staying…

    i also carry a hundred dollar bill for emergency and just withdrewmoney likme you from the atm since its more convenient and safe…

    1. Earl

      Hey Flip! That makes sense to pick a hostel far from the one you’re actually staying at. Perhaps it’s even better to use a hostel in a nearby town so that you can say you’re only visiting for the day. I doubt anyone wants to take the time to follow you all the way to another town 🙂

  12. James

    I also carry around $50-$75 on me typically (about 100,000-150,000 colombian pesos currently) in a small wallet. I don’t break it up like you do. No shoe or other hidden things.

    I had an inside pocket done by a tailor before my Brazilian trip but I never used it, never felt the need to, so I just use regular pockets.

    Gonna get the Schwab account asap when I get back.

    1. Earl

      Hey James – The Schwab account is a good one and well worth it from I hear. Having no ATM fees at all while traveling is a huge bonus. And as for the hidden pockets, I think travelers often discover that the places we visit are nowhere near as dangerous as we may have thought. Every traveler is always warned about pickpocketing but in reality, very few travelers ever have anything stolen, which is why regular pockets are usually more than suitable!

  13. Nick Berggreen

    Great article Earl!

    Another great bank is Ally bank, which offers a 1% Foreign Transaction Fee and unlimited refunds on ATM owner fees. (Which can be quite high in other countries.)

    I always recommend people keep an emergency cash stash in their shoe. I doubt a mugger is going to take the time to have you remove your shoes.

    Have you ever had a problem with leaving your passport in your hotel room when stopped by local police? This is the only issue I can imagine arising from leaving your passport in your hotel room.

    1. Earl

      Hey Nick – That’s good to hear about Ally Bank. Having those fees refunded is ideal and I’m happy to report that Capital One has also just started doing the same with some of their accounts (but there is a $20/month limit). And during the few times I’ve ever been stopped by local police, I’ve never had a problem not having my passport. I usually just show them my driver’s license, tell them where I’m from and that’s it. But perhaps I’ve been lucky not to have become involved in any situation in which my passport would be necessary!

  14. Sanny

    Thank you very much! You definitely answered my questions.
    I don’t carry that much cash on me in England, so I think I’ll find hard to adjust to it once I start travelling. Do most places accept USD readily? And if so, do they usually charge more for USD than local currency (much like europe during the euro changeover)?

    1. Earl

      Hey Sanny – No problem at all 🙂 As for USD dollars, while there are a handful of countries that do accept US dollars as well as their local currency, I definitely recommend using local currencies whenever possible. You’ll almost always pay more when using US dollars and often times you’ll receive change in the local currency. When this happens, you’ll often just have to trust that whatever change you receive is correct and as a result, you can end up losing money in the deal. It is always beneficial to also learn the local prices of things (taxis, street food, etc.) in order to lessen the chances of being ripped off, but it really only works if you use local currency.

      I just think that if you travel to a foreign country, we should use their money. Flashing around US dollars all the time just makes us stick out even more as tourists!

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