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Opening Credits

Avoid headaches with this 5-step plan for traveling with credit cards


You may think about how to pay for a trip, but do you think about how to pay for things during your voyage? These 5 steps will get you and your credit cards abroad and back safely.

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Dear Opening Credits,

I’m going on vacation for the holidays and will be out of the country for about two weeks. What should I do with my credit cards? Which should I take and is there anything I need to know before I use them abroad? — Karyn

Dear Karyn,
I’m so glad you asked! It’s common for eager vacationers to leave without doing any credit card prep work. That can expose them to costly and highly inconvenient problems. To reduce the chance of troubles erupting while you’re off having fun, follow this easy five-step plan:

Take the right cards

First, go through your wallet and determine which cards you won’t be using your trip. For example, you may have some retail or gas accounts, but the chances you’ll need them are slim. Remove any extraneous cards and stash them in a safe place in your home.

After that, identify which cards you do want to have with you. Make sure they are general purpose cards that can be used anywhere and that you have a large enough available credit line for your charging needs. Careful not to pare your cards down too far, though, says Ken Clark, certified financial planner and author of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Getting Out of Debt,” who explains that having a spare can provide a crucial backup in case one stops working.

Make copies of those cards

Once you know which plastic you’re taking, do what the U.S. Department of State recommends: Make two photocopies of the credit cards as well as your passport identification page, airline tickets, driver’s license and other important documents. Leave one set of copies with someone you trust at home and pack the other set separately from your wallet or handbag. In the event of theft or loss, you’ll be grateful for those copies, as you’ll need them for reporting purposes.

Alert your credit issuers of your itinerary

Why does your creditor care about your exotic journey? Well, they don’t, really. What they are concerned about is whether it is you who is charging all that duty-free rum at the airport. If you use a card at a few ATMs or stores where you’ve never charged before, it could trigger a fraud alert and cause them to shut down that card. Specifying your itinerary will prevent that from happening. Oh, and this goes for your bank’s debit card, too. I found this out the hard way when I was on vacation and tried to buy groceries at an unfamiliar supermarket. The checker said my account was compromised — and though it was just a temporary fraud freeze, those are mighty scary words no matter where you are in the world.

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