I have been back in the States now for over a month and thought, with a bit of reflection, that it might be a good time for me to start blogging about some travel suggestions I have for people that are about to do some international traveling. My first tip in this area applies to everyone — backpackers, rich tourists on guided tours, and everyone in between.
Know your banker.
When I say, know your banker, I mean that you need to know an actual person at your bank that is going to help you if something goes wrong. You need to have met them before in person, and preferably bought them food and/or drinks. You need their personal email. The email account they will look at on the weekends or in non-business hours. Your banker might not be your friend now, but he or she should be soon. Then can save you from travel hell.
My bank friend is Donna with the Bank of Fayetteville. The Bank of Fayetteville (BoF) is a very small bank in my adopted hometown of Fayetteville, Arkansas. They have all of five branches, I believe. I doubt they are one of the 300 largest banks in the United States, but in these times, size actually does not matter in terms of banking. My ATM/credit card with the BoF operates on the Shazam, Pulse, Cirrus and VISA networks. I was able to use it successfully all around the world. There is no need to have your money at a big bank these days, in order to get money out while you travel.
The advantage to banking at a smaller bank is that I actually know the people I bank with, and more importantly, they know me and will help me immediately if I have a problem. On this trip, I either lost or had stolen my credit cards on three different occasions. Each time it happened, I emailed Donna, she had the card immediately canceled and then shipped a new card out to me (along with the paperwork to report any fraudulent charges incurred). Since I was moving around without reservations, having a card shipped to me wasn’t that easy, but she always immediately replied to my emails and sorted out the details of the when and wheres.
When I was having horrible problems finding US Dollars in Ethiopia, Donna was talking to Western Union contacts in the States about finding a way to get me US Dollars. She couldn’t, ergo my visits to the black market in that linked blog, but she was great for trying. When both my credit cards were stolen from a Bangkok hotel room when I wasn’t there and each had thousands of dollars of fraudulent charges incurred before I discovered their disappearance, Donna did up the paperwork for me back home and made sure none of charges passed through to me — my other credit card with the mega-bank Citibank said everything was fine, only to threaten to sue me for more than $8,000 once I got back — a situation that is still not resolved. I was never in a money situation where I needed any money wired to me, but Donna and I talked about that possibility before I left and she was ready to push that contingency through, if need be.
Seriously, I think it is vital to know your banker. Personally, I suggest banking in a small bank also, because meeting someone that is going to be your person at Citibank or Barcleys isn’t going to happen. You might not need this travel tip — I hope you never run into a money crisis on the road — but if you do get into any sticky situations, like many travelers I met have happen, knowing an actual person at your bank is a godsend.