How to Plan for Travel: Credit Cards, Debit Cards and Travelers Checks…Oh My!



This is Part 7 in my How to Plan for Travel countdown series with one blog post per month containing travel tips to get my family, friends, clients and you ready to go for your next vacation overseas. From August 1 through June 30, I’ll be counting down the tips by how far in advance it’s optimal to plan. If you stumble across this blog post in March, and you’re planning a trip in May, you’re not too late. You’ll just have to do things a little more quickly.


How can I get organized for travel: 3-6 months before

How to Plan for Travel: Currency or Cards – how to pay for stuff overseas

Our methods of payments while traveling internationally have changed over the years.

In the 1990’s when we started, we used a credit card and American Express travelers checks that we purchased at our bank. We would cash those at a bank or exchange booth once we arrived in a city, and then we hid our cash in various hard-to-reach places.

We eventually stopped using the travelers checks and migrated to using a combination of credit cards for larger purchases and cash for smaller purchases or those made in villages and small towns that did not accept credit cards. We obtained our cash via a couple of planned stops at ATM machines along the way.

After our credit card information was stolen while traveling in Spain in 2011, we had to go cash only for the remainder of our trip since our card company cancelled our card and couldn’t get the replacement one to us before we left. (Lesson learned: while your spouse may carry an extra card, make sure it’s from a completely separate card company in case something like this happens.)

In 2012 and 2013, we traveled in areas of France, Croatia, Slovenia and Bosnia that didn’t accept credit cards, so we relied almost entirely on pulling cash from ATM machines. We opted not to use a debit card because if that number got hijacked while it was being swiped, it would empty our bank account.

While turning a layover in London into visit family on those trips, we also discovered the growing requirement of using Chip and PIN cards, especially at automated kiosks at train and metro stations. More European countries are moving to accepting only this kind of card, making many American-issued cards increasingly useless overseas. It’s ironic that Americans came up with this technology, but will be the last to implement it. Europeans have been using chip and PIN for years because it’s apparently more theft-proof than our Chip and Signature cards that we use here in the states.

I prefer to use credit cards because purchases are protected, and we get rewards points. I also don’t have to worry about finding an ATM machine. So, I’ve been researching Chip and PIN cards off and on for the last ten months since I don’t want to get stuck in the middle of nowhere at an unmanned station that only accepts Chip and PIN. I’m happy to report that the number of choices has grown tremendously. I only found four when I first began my search; now there are over 20.

You’ll need to choose the card that best fits your needs, but my trifecta for the perfect choice is 1) no annual fee, 2) Chip and PIN, and 3) no foreign transaction fee.

Here’s a great page that lists available cards: He updates the list as he finds them.

If you’re in need of more info, here are some Chip and PIN FAQ pages: AmEx:

B of A:

Rick Steves:



If you’re bored and want to read even more on the subject of credit card choices, here are a couple of articles:


Happy card hunting!


How to Plan for Travel series:

Part 1: Budget

Part 2: Set your travel goals

Part 3: How to choose your accommodations 

Part 4: How to choose your transportation

Part 5: How to develop your daily itinerary

Part 6: What documentation do you need?

Part 7: Credit cards, debit cards and travelers checks – oh my!


Next time: How to avoid being slapped

About Helene Segura

Helene Segura teaches go-getters how to use their time more efficiently in order to have a more peaceful life. For details about her, be sure to visit

  • Kim Oser
    Posted at 20:32h, 31 January

    When I was traveling to Canada last year to speak at a conference, I called Capital One to make sure my card did not have foreign transaction fees (learned that lesson when using my AmEx in Mexico. $50 in whoops!). The first question Capital One asked was if my card had a chip in it. My first inclination was “shouldn’t they know if the card they issued had a chip?”. I replied “no” got my other questioned answered and moved on. Every place I went in Canada when I wanted to pay they asked if I had a card with a chip. They were all surprised that US issued cards do not have a chip. When the news broke about the Target credit card breach, I wondered if using cards with a chip could have prevented it. I looked into ordering a Capital One card with a chip and they are not available in the US. So back to their original question when I called. Why did they ask if my card had a chip if they don’t issue them in the US. We need to make a change quick. We are so far behind in technology and security making it difficult to travel overseas. It is sad. Thanks for the great eye opening post.

    • Helene Segura
      Posted at 08:25h, 04 February

      It’s so ironic that Americans created the technology, but we’ll be the last to adopt it because it’s more expensive to create a card like this. I’m thinking it’s more expensive to have fraud, but that’s just me. That is strange, asking you about a chip if they don’t even have one. Thanks for sharing, Kim!

  • Helene Segura
    Posted at 07:10h, 05 February

    FYI – Chip and PIN cards will soon be standard in the U.S. Check out this article:

  • Helene Segura
    Posted at 13:47h, 02 March

    FYI – Bank of America does NOT offer Chip & Pin cards:

    What’s the difference between chip & signature and chip & PIN? Does my card have a PIN?

    Chip & PIN is a very similar technology, except that you use a PIN to complete a purchase instead of a signature. Both chip & PIN and chip & signature offer enhanced security against counterfeiting compared to traditional magnetic stripe-only cards. Bank of America does not offer chip & PIN technology.

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