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Vacation Money Matters

Vacations are times when you should be relaxing, not fretting.

So, points out Real Simple magazine's Kris Connell, there are some things everyone should do to protect their money and their identity before heading out on trips.

She shared them Friday in the last of a weeklong travel series that The Early Show and real Simple put together.

Connell also had pointers on how to access and spend your money when traveling abroad, and on buying souvenirs!


Alert Credit Card Company

You need to call your credit card company and tell it you will be away from home for a few days. Tell the company where you are going and how long you will be gone, and make sure it is noted on your record. Creditors pay close attention to your charging habits and, with identity theft on the rise, are quite sensitive to unusual charges on cards.

If they know you live in New York but see several high-dollar charges in California, they will try to contact you to verify the activity. But if you're not home, the company may decide to freeze your card, and you don't want that to happen while on vacation.

Pack Wisely

Airlines are very strict about overweight suitcases these days. Although the rules vary by airline, in general you need to plan on keeping bags at less than 50 pounds to avoid a fee. Consider swapping out one large bag for two smaller ones. This will distribute the weight and save you $25 to $50.

Prepare to Lose Your Wallet

You're not going to need your library card, or your individual store charge cards while on vacation. As a matter of fact, there are probably a lot of things stuck in your wallet that you don't need while traveling. Scale back, and bring only the essentials. Not only does that make your wallet lighter, it protects you if your wallet is stolen, because you are giving thieves fewer "tools" for stealing your identity.

Also, make photocopies of your credit cards and other items in your wallet and keep the photos in your suitcase. Again, if your wallet is stolen or lost, you can easily and quickly call your bank/credit card issuers to stop activity and obtain new cards. If you're traveling overseas, be sure to make a copy of your passport as well.


Speaking of traveling abroad, Kris had tips on how to pay for purchases when you're dealing with foreign currency. This can be confusing for people, particularly if they don't travel a lot, so the tips can be quite helpful:

Avoid Exchange tellers

Real Simples says, "Ideally, avoid exchange tellers like the plague." These windows that enable you to exchange your American dollars for other currencies won't give you a good exchange rate, and will charge you relatively high fees. Exchange tellers at hotels and airports have particularly high fees. However, it's a good idea to head to your home bank before you go away to obtain a small amount of foreign currency. It's nice to have this on hand when you land, to pay for a cab or tip a porter.

Get Cash From ATMs

Instead of turning to an exchange teller, get your cash from ATMs. The machines are widely accessible across the world and offer much better exchange rates. Ideally, use an ATM that's attached to a bank and use it while the bank is open. That way, if there's a problem, you can get help.

One word of caution: Foreign ATMs don't always work like ATMs at home. Most of the world uses four-digit ATM codes, while some American banks allow for up to eight. Change your pass code to four digits before you travel.

Use Credit Cards Whenever Possible

Real Simple advises to "charge wherever and whenever you can," assuming, of course, that you are going to pay your bills off quickly! Credit cards give you more bang for your buck by offering the best available daily exchange rates. Also, if your card is stolen and the thief goes on a spending spree, U.S. laws protect you from having to pay those fraudulent charges. There is no such protection available with debit cards.

In case you were wondering: Traveler's checks are outdated. You're better off using your ATM or credit cards to make foreign purchases.


Everyone likes to buy mementos, either for themselves or for friends and family back home. Real Simple has words to the wise on that type of shopping.

First of all, do NOT buy your gifts at the airport. You'll pay more and often wind up with something a bit on the cheesy side. If buying from a street vendor or local shop, try stopping by at the end of the day, when vendors are more likely to bargain.

Not sure what to buy? How about these items:

The local supermarket or gourmet food store is a great place to shop. Examples of location-specific gifts include:

Argentina: bottle of wine
Jamaica: hot pepper and jerk sauce
Paris: Fauchon chocolates
Germany: more chocolates
New York City: Junior's cheesecake
New Orleans: Cafe du Monde coffee

Music and movie lovers might enjoy the sights and sounds of your destination. Examples include:

New Orleans: jazz CDs
New York City: "Manhattan," the movie

Toy stores provide really unique gifts for kids. For instance:

Germany: Steiff stuffed animal
New York City: FAO Schwartz "I love New York" bear
Japan: books/coloring books
USA: National Basketball Association jersey