I believe in defensive traveling. This means things like scanning passports and visas into Dropbox and stashing hidden 50-dollar bills into inconspicuous keychains.
But sometimes, those defenses are eroded one by one. And for some reason, you can't find your debit card. Or credit card. Then the bank says it will take two weeks for one to reach you. Thanks, Chase! My vacation will be over before that happens, and how am I going to feed myself in that time? Is there a crash course in homelessness during all of that?
Thankfully, there are ways. Not so thankfully, I have been in there. Through some creative financial jump roping, it's possible to end up with some cash, sanity and some semblance of a vacation preserved intact.
Know exactly how much you need
It is no longer time to wing a trip. It is time to exactly know where you will go, exactly how much will be spent, know what can and can't be paid by credit card, and stick to a budget like your life depends on it.
Because truly, it might mean the difference between sleeping on a bench or an actual bed, and that's not figurative, that's literal.
On top of that, create a 25% buffer for any extra cash allowances because its very possible to end up in the same situation again, and then go ahead forget that buffer even exists, because that is for pure emergencies.
Use Airbnb to cover lodging
If you didn't cancel any bank cards immediately, then you might be in luck.
The beauty of Airbnb is it's most likely already linked to a debit/credit card, and as long as there was some foresight not to cancel the card, this is a good option for offsetting cash purchases.
There's also another built-in failsafe, and even if there's no card stored in a profile, Airbnb allows PayPal as a payment method. (PayPal accounts can be linked to a bank account, in addition to a bank card.)
Borrow a friend's credit card to make online purchases*
Significant others and best friends are there for two things: Helping you move out of an apartment, and being an emergency contact if the situation calls for it.
At any rate, they need to be there for you, or they have failed in their duty to you as a person. This is one of them.
Friends also have credit cards. Charging large purchases like flights and hotels will go a long way toward preserving what little cash may be left. It might be a stretch to ask an emergency contact to charge several hundred to a thousand dollars on a credit card, but as long as it's within a reasonable amount, most people are keen to help out a friend in need.
It might not fly if you're trying to book the Four Seasons in London, but prices are often affordable for locales like South America, Asia, Eastern Europe and many other places in the world. Unfortunately, these are also places where cash may be more paramount than having credit available.
Be a good person, though, and make sure you cover them at the end. Maybe have several emergency contacts?
PayPal, Venmo or Transferwise for cash
Be careful before going this route, and before handing over an entire paycheck to a Nigerian prince.
This method essentially requires transferring money online to someone (a person based where you're traveling) in exchange for cold hard cash, which they can then retrieve for you. In other words, its important to find someone trustworthy.
Even then, the truth is that you can't really tell even then, but there's probably no other choice.
Going through institutions like hotels, hostels, exchange rate bureaus and tourist information centers are going to be the safest and most trust-worthy bet before asking other travelers.
It is helpful to establish these following points before going this route:
- How long will the transfer take to be received?
- At which point during the transaction will cash be given?
- Who's covering the fee? (You should be, to be honest.)
In general, PayPal and Venmo don't have a lot of international users. (Turns out its mostly an American thing.)
But, they are the most convenient for avoiding fees if you can find like-minded users traveling around. The transfer process also is instant, which helps establish trust well. It can be a good thing to have other American tourists around.
TransferWise is a more universal option since it allows direct transfers to almost any bank account worldwide. However, it is less ideal in the sense that transfers are not instant (not good if you are in a bind, and need cash like nOW).
Based on personal experience, processing fees have ranged anywhere from one to three days, but of course, mileage is going to vary. However, its functionality is top-notch: I've used it to send money to bank accounts in New Zealand once and Georgia three times.
Get cash wire via Western Union or Moneygram
The concept of wiring cash may be a foreign idea in this day and age, but these services exist to serve underrepresented communities where cash is by large and far the primary method of payment. So learn to understand these systems, because it may be the only thing standing between eating and not eating.
The thing is that figuring out how to use both is so complicated—especially under duress with less than an hour to catch my next bus—that we'll likely cover it in another article. But if there was anything ripe for a "disruption," international payments might be it.
(Don't forget to pay that good friend back who high-tailed it to the Western Union office.)
Pray you find a good Samaritan
In that case, always remember to pay it forward (or back, if possible).