Catching winter sun? Here’s how to protect your money

When it comes to travelling, how well are you protecting your money? A friend’s experience on a recent working trip to Spain reminded me just how important it is to get the safety basics right when you’re abroad

Have you ever lost anything or been mugged when abroad? If so, you probably still bear the mental scars – and now have a series of watertight protective procedures to ensure it never happens again. At least I hope so!

But if you’ve never had this experience, you probably don’t have that same compelling motivation to have a safety protocol in place. Maybe you do anyway – hey, I’m sure you a responsible guy/gal. But often, it takes something disastrous, or even just a big scare, to make you more cautious in future.

Disaster (nearly) strikes

An extremely level-headed friend recently went to the Canary Islands for work (lucky so-and-so!) but upon arrival at her hotel room, she realised her phone had disappeared. She was sure it must have been on the coach that had taken her from the airport, which was still outside, but a search drew a blank.

Because her regular bank card was in her phone case, she was forced to cancel it, consoling herself at least that almost everything on the phone was backed up.

Amazingly, there was a happy ending. She discovered next day that the phone was in lost property at the bus station – what a relief!

But my friend could have saved herself bags of hassle and worry if she had followed a few basic safety precautions for cards and travel money. This is the first time this has happened to her, either in the UK or abroad, but it just goes to show that it really can happen to anyone.

Needless to say, she has realised this too, and after confiding in me about this episode, we drew up a plan for her travel money in future so things won’t be nearly as bad if she accidentally mislays her phone again. Maybe you’ll find our checklist handy too if you’re catching some Winter Sun over the next few weeks/months, or if you have to go abroad for work. Here it is.

  1. Always keep your cards separate from your phone. Then if you lose one or the other, it’s only half a disaster, not an omnishambles. On a similar note, this is why I would strongly caution against only taking your phone and using a digital wallet app when you travel (or indeed whenever you leave the house). Jemima Kelly wrote a fairly terrifying piece for the FT last year about what happened when her phone died on a bus in London and she was unable to prove she had used her Apple wallet to pay for her fare. Even if you don’t lose your phone, there’s a huge risk that you’ll be left stranded should it die on you.
  2. If you haven’t already, join a bank where you can freeze or lock your bank card. Most offer this facility now and many, like Starling, also don’t charge for cash withdrawals abroad. If my friend had prioritised this facility, she could have started using the card straightaway when she found it. Instead, it took several working days before a new one was sent out to her after she got home.
  3. Make sure you know how to lock/unlock or freeze/unfreeze a card within the app (so there’s no phoning up to cancel). At Starling, you go to the card icon and there’s a simple toggle underneath it.
  4. Consider getting a separate travel card (such as Revolut which has limited free withdrawals abroad) specifically for when you go away. Keep that in a separate place from any other card (ideally on you, in a zipped up pocket within your coat/clothes so there’s no chance you can put it down anywhere or have it stolen). That way, you have a spare card you can still keep using should your main one disappear. Alternatively, you could get a Curve Card, which allows you to store multiple cards on just this one.
  5. Leave your regular bank card at home. This applies particularly if you don’t fancy doing a full current account switch (as my friend doesn’t) but your main card doesn’t offer any particular benefits abroad. Take your travel cards only.
  6. Remember you can transfer money on your phone via your regular bank’s app to your other accounts or cards – it takes a couple of minutes.
  7. Check if your current account offers travel insurance – e.g. the FlexPlus account from Nationwide. If you are ever unlucky enough actually to get your phone pinched, it should be covered by travel insurance offered through certain current accounts, which is one of the few really useful perks you can get in return for paying for a current account. But in order to qualify, you must report the theft to police promptly and crucially, get a reference number.

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