Saturday, October 20, 2007

Finances on the Road

Various people have asked me how I handle finances on the road. I need to take extra precautions because 1) I am traveling a lot of my trip by myself, 2) moving around to a lot of countries and 3) away from home for a long period of time (> 6 months).

I maintain three separate bank accounts (not brokerage accounts) with three separate ATM cards. I can transfer money among these accounts via the internet (I will have a separate post later for "Technologly on the Road"). I do a monthly auto-transfer from a brokerage account to one of the bank accounts (e.g., if one of my accounts got cleaned out by a hacker or some kind of fraud, it would not hurt that much). I also have one credit card which I rarely use due to high fees and fraud issues related to using any credit card in a developing country. All of my banks are aware that I am traveling in Asia.

I try to never carry all of my ATM cards at once. I usually leave at least one locked up in my room -- my pack is always locked when I am not with it and or anytime I am carrying it outside of my room. And usually I carry an ATM card on my person but not in my wallet.

As a backup, I also have traveler's checks that I hopefully won't need to use on this trip. I also keep some US dollars at all times -- this is the international currency. If you arrive in a country and have trouble with the ATMs or can't get cash before you need to pay for a taxi to your hotel room, you can almost always pay in dollars as a backup. When you are moving around countries, having some US cash available when you first arrive is much more important than I first realized.

A couple of folks have assured me that they could quickly wire me money in an emergency if all of my money and cards were stolen (thank you!).

I also maintain a Paypal account that funds my Skype account. And I figure it might be handy if I need to pay a fellow traveler or receive money from him. Also, the one time on this trip that I reserved a room in advance before arriving in a town I used Paypal to pay for it (that was all that they accepted, which was fine with me).

I keep photocopies of all my documents in a secret email account that I never access from internet cafes. I also keep a written record, all in code, of all of my card numbers and the phone numbers for contact for things like American Express for each country I am visiting as well as the direct phone numbers for my various brokerage accounts.

My "overhead" back home, which includes health insurance, car insurance, car storage, car depreciation (car is sitting there decreasing in value a little every month), etc., is around $150/month or $1800/year. All my bills are on-line and automated. I paid my estimated income taxes via snail mail before I left the US, although I plan to put these payments on-line when I return.

Later, I hope to add some figures for actual spending for my travels. But it is not that high -- so far, I am spending less traveling the world than when I was living in the US and not traveling.

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