¿Tomas tarjetas? (Do you take cards?)
Now that the stress of this experience is well behind us, I feel better writing about it. As many of our friends and family can attest to, we spent months (maybe years) planning for this trip. For awhile, we had weekly meetings (Travel Thursdays) just to make sure we were crossing items off the ever-growing to-do list.
One of the primary things we had to figure out was money (obviously). You can't travel the world for a year without spending money - like all the time. So, we did our due diligence and researched which credit and debit cards were the best for international travel, which banks would be the friendliest to ATMs all over the world, and optimized the cards we would bring to protect ourselves if our stuff was lost or stolen.
If you're interested in what we decided to bring with us (and what stayed behind) check out our list at the bottom of the post.
However, even with all of that thought and planning, we managed to make a few mistakes that we hope to help you avoid.
LESSON 1: Money should be one of the first things you handle, not one of the last things
It turns out that you can prepare all you want, but if you don't have access to cash while abroad, you aren't going to be able to enjoy the world much. We did open the Charles Schwab account a few weeks before we left to ensure we got the debit cards in the mail in time; however, since we budgeted out all of the money until we left so closely, we decided we would procrastinate on actually funding the cards until our last paycheck before the trip.
Once we were ready to fund the Charles Schwab account, we tried to link it Capital One a couple days before our flight. It said it would take a couple business days for the accounts to link, which we calculated would happen on that coming Tuesday. The same day as our flight to Ecuador. We weren't super stressed because it should have been an immediate process on Tuesday. However, while in the airport that morning, we checked our Charles Schwab account and the accounts were not linked, meaning we had no access to cash. Which, coincidentally, is what the majority of businesses require.
Had we gotten these accounts linked earlier, we would've been able to dodge this whole issue.
LESSON 2: As Soon as Something Goes Awry, Call Your Bank!
We decided to give it a couple days before we called the bank in case the link was simply processing. It was not simply processing. Come Thursday, we still didn't have linked accounts and we were running low on the cash we brought. It was time to call the banks.
On Thursday, we finally called Charles Schwab to see what was going on. It turns out they flagged my account for verification since I did not apply for the account in the same state that I live in. Fun fact: I did apply for it in Texas. But, I was using my VPN since I was on a public WiFi hotspot and therefore the bank thought I was in some random state instead of Texas. Due to the account flag, we couldn't link external accounts until they talked to me. While I do think they should have called immediately to remedy the flag, we were stuck with verifying on Thursday and waiting another 2-3 days until the account was ready to go. (That means we had another weekend without cash..).
Which brings us to lesson 3.
LESSON 3: Bring More Than $80 in Cash When You Leave The Country. For. A. Year.
Funny aside, the only cash we brought was supposed to be fun money for the first couple days. It was just the cash we had accumulated in spare change over the past couple years (~80 dollars total).
Luckily for us, we were in Quito and we were able to find places that take card. However, it was still an endless game of walking up to every single place and asking "¿Tomas tarjetas?" (meaning, do you take cards) and hoping they said yes. There were a few more panic/stress-inducing moments when we thought we had enough cash, but didn't and had to return to a restaurant a few days later with cash. Or when a restaurant said it took card, but then couldn't process the Chase (because of the international/US chip difference!) so they had to ask their neighboring salon to process the payment for us...
But, at the end of the day we made it work! We made it a week or so with 80 dollars in cash, and we now have tons of systems set up to ensure it doesn't happen again.
FINAL LESSON: Shit happens!
And luckily this was not the end of the world. The worst things to happen was some mild embarrassment when cards failed and some stress about where to go. However, if needed, we could have only grocery shopped or only gone to one restaurant that was tried and true with debit cards. When possible, take things in stride because during a year of traveling abroad to different cities and different countries there are bound to be countless moments like this. (Or, plan better and bring way more cash.)
My favorite card, by far. It has some of the best customer service. It does a kickass job protecting you if your trip is delayed or cancelled. And it has great rewards for traveling. There was no way I would leave this behind!
We applied for this card right before we left since it has no interest for the first 15 months. We wanted a card we could use throughout the trip when we needed to buy something, but couldn't immediately pay it off and that wouldn't incur interest until after we return to the States. As an added bonus, it also came with $150 cash back after spending 500 (which we did immediately on travel insurance) and 1.5% cash back on all purchases (with a 10% anniversary bonus on annual cash back). And it doesn't have an annual fee! All in all, it's a solid card that is respected and used all over the world. It also is the only international card we have that can be chip-enabled. (The reason that this is important is because in other countries, chip cards need a PIN to function, not a signature.) So, we can use this at any ATM if we ever needed to take a cash advance out--let's hope never, but at least its an option
We got this card last year to assist in paying down credit card debt. It had no interest for the first 18 months, and then it has a really low interest rate. It does not have anything else in terms of perks (besides the MasterCard basics), but it is worth it to have a card with <10% APR.
This account/card allows for no foreign ATM fees all over the world. We are using this account to access our cash for going out/daily expenses (and that is it).
We left these at home since they are connected to our paychecks and most of our accounts. In a worst case scenario, if we lose all of our stuff while abroad, the only money that someone would have immediate access to is the cash in the Charles Schwab account. These accounts are great because they let us open up to 25 Savings Accounts (allowing us to partition our money a ton of times to help keep all of our different saving/funds organized).