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Worried About Lost or Stolen Cards on Vacation? Try This Simple Hack

Having an alternative payment method can be a lifesaver.

While the most common piece of financial advice for traveling is to contact your bank to get a travel notice placed on your card, sometimes, you can’t avoid fraud. You also can’t be certain that you won’t lose a debit or credit card somewhere along your journey.

And the worst-case scenario? Having your credit card stolen while you’re traveling. So, what happens when you lose access to your debit or credit cards during your vacations? How will you be able to dine or take in a show? What about the ability to use a ride-share service? Can you still check into your hotel? Having an alternative method can be beneficial, especially if you are prone to travel mishaps.

Peer-to-Peer Mobile Payment Apps Are My Pre-trip Money Hack

Even with all of my planning, things happen. For me, this has included misplacing bank cards, missing the notification to confirm a purchase or declare it fraud, and erroneous charges—all of which can have a significant impact on a travel experience. Once, I arrived at my destination, only to find that I had left my one card behind at the airport coffee shop. Another time, a hotel accidentally ran my debit card for the price of the penthouse for my weekend stay. I was booked in a standard double room. It took the hotel a day to get the charges reversed, but my bank took almost 10 days to get the funds back into my account.

Several years ago, I got the notion to use peer-to-peer mobile payment apps in addition to traveling with a small amount of cash for emergencies or instances where I may no longer have access to my primary banking sources. But at the most random of times, it’s a hack that has saved me countless times. Most expenses are pre-paid and covered on my debit or credit cards. Spreading my spending funds across peer-to-peer mobile payment apps helps me to stay in motion if my cards are lost or stolen.

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What’s the Benefit of Money Apps During Travel?

Long story short, it keeps your vacation flowing. Losing access to your money, even when you’re just a city or two away from home, can drastically alter your plans. Your banking institution can issue a replacement card, but it can take a few days to receive it, depending on your location. If you think your card is lost, you can temporarily freeze it. But, while you’re waiting, you may still need to do things like eat, pay for a show ticket, or request a ride-share. That’s where peer-to-peer mobile payment apps come in handy.

Services like CashApp have a digital bank card, which you can use for any manual-entry transactions or contactless payment options. If traveling with friends, cash apps allow you to still cover your portion of any shared expenses by transferring money directly. Available funds on any third-party app can still be accessed, even if you remove your primary banking information. And in addition to being able to make payments, you can receive funds through peer-to-peer mobile payment apps if necessary.

Travel advisor Dana Brown of Wild Hearted World shared that her biggest win for using third-party apps for travel has been the savings on exchange rates. Plus, transactions are fee-free. She also finds it beneficial that transfers are instant, and peer-to-peer payment methods make it easy to seamlessly split payments among other travelers.

Courtesy of PayPal

PayPal, CashApp, and Venmo each offer a physical debit card. For extra security, store these cards away from the others. It ensures that they will be accessible should you need them. As a pro-tip, add them to your Apple Wallet or Google Pay for contactless payment options, both of which are increasingly common ways to pay for goods and services without the use of your physical debit or credit cards.

How Does Contactless Payment Work?

In the Apple Wallet or Google Pay app, you can enter any choice of credit or debit cards you would like to have quick access to from your phone or smartwatch. When it’s time to pay, you simply hold your device near the reader to complete the transaction.

The service creates an encryption and devicespecific key, so your card numbers are never provided to the merchants. If I know that I am in an area where contactless payment is widely accepted, I typically leave my cards locked up and use my phone or smartwatch to complete any payments. For me, it has minimized the risk of cards being lost or stolen.

Some third-party apps and services are location-based and may be unavailable in certain areas. Before adding money to your respective accounts, check that they operate in your planned destination. However, PayPal may be the best backup plan for people who fancy international adventures. It is accepted in over 200 countries and supports multiple currencies. From personal experience, the company’s process should you need to file a dispute or fraudulent transactions should they occur is easy. Once you log into your PayPal account, you can begin a dispute in the resolution center. There is also an option to speak to a representative if the automated system isn’t answering your questions.

A few months ago, one of my Instagram followers shared that on her honeymoon, she and her husband got robbed. The thieves got away with one of their wallets (among other things), which contained the cards backing their European backpacking adventure. The ordeal resulted in an unexpected fundraising campaign to get them from point A to point B. Situations like this are not uncommon and are just one of many examples of how keeping a balance on platforms like Venmo or PayPal could have benefited this couple.

While I have not personally run into issues storing money on apps, users should be aware that it does lack the same federal protections as regular debit and credit cards. In layman’s terms, you are not automatically insured. If something happens to a service like Venmo where you have money stored, it could be a total loss. One layer of defense is to store only the amounts you need as well as transferring back to your primary banking after your trip.

Courtesy of PayPal

Another downside you may be facing with peer-to-peer and third-party apps, says Brown, is their dependence on internet connections. If you are the type of traveler who avoids buying e-sims in foreign countries or unplugging during your vacations to avoid the hefty roaming charges from your cell phone carrier, you might run into a few issues. At your hotel, you will likely be able to connect to Wi-Fi to help facilitate any transactions or transfers. However, as you navigate the city, you may have to consistently find free Wi-Fi. That can be a bit cumbersome.

I’ve had my fair share of travel woes in the past. In addition to dividing my funds across multiple platforms, pre-paying for services is another go-to “hack.” I avoid options like “pay upon arrival” for lodging or excursions when possible. These little hacks give me added peace of mind during my spontaneous travels.

Phosphorous January 30, 2024

They're not really peer-to-peer apps. They are peer-bank-peer apps as they are centralized applications. True peer-peer would be like crypto currency.

renni January 26, 2024

Great idea!!  Until you lose or have your phone stolen - - then what?!  Too much dependence on "apps" and the need to carry a phone.  During 2 different trips, my companion had their phone
stolen or lost it.  I think it's bad advice to tell folks to depend on their phones more  rather than less.