Quick Tip: The Plastic Shuffle

On our travels, we’re bringing a few forms of payment: credit cards, ATM card, and cash, in small and large denominations. For our credit cards, Sheri will carry two cards, our primary card and one other. I will also carry two cards, our primary card and another totally different card than what Sheri has. That way, if either of us has our wallet stolen, we cancel two cards and still have another credit card that can be used until we can get the others replaced.

We thought about doing the same with ATM cards, but concerns with express kidnappings have made me think twice about carrying another ATM card that kidnappers could also drain. In an emergency, we can get a cash advance on our credit card, but only if we have and know the PIN.

Jumping Through Hoops for a Chip & Pin Card

After lots of research, I finally found a U.S. financial institution that offers a true chip and pin credit card. I didn’t choose Barclaycard because of all the stories of bad customer service, especially when overseas. Instead I went with UNFCU, United Nations Federal Credit Union because their web site actually advertises it as a true chip and pin, the reviews have been favorable, there are no foreign transaction fees, it’s a credit union and not a bank, and applying benefits United Nations programs. Choosing them was the easy part. Now we have lots of hoops to jump through.

In order to get a credit card through UNFCU, you must be a member of the United Nations or a member of the United Nations Association of the United States of America, UNA-USA. To join the UNA-USA, you must make a tax deductible donation of $40 annually for a regular membership. Then we need to include the email of the membership confirmation with a 4-page application to join the UNFCU along with copies of ID and a utility bill. Oh, and we also must open a savings account with a minimum of $50. After we’re “members,” then we can apply for the credit card.

All this just to get a true chip and pin card.

Tortuga Travel Backpack V2

The problem with the travel backpacks that are available is that so few are actually designed for travel. Either you get a rolling suitcase with wheels and some flimsy shoulder straps, but sacrifice a hip belt and comfort, or you get a true backpack with a great hip belt and lots of adjustments for comfort, but sacrifice ease of use and having a carry-on size. My old Eagle Creek Continental Journey LC was nearly perfect, but sadly, after 15 years, it was wearing out. Unfortunately, when Eagle Creek was acquired by a large conglomerate, they stopped making it or anything even remotely like it. Finding the perfect travel bag has been a long, time-consuming process, sometimes involving buying and returning bags. I eliminated a lot of good bags, such as the Tom Bihn bags, because they lacked a hip belt. So far, I have looked at ten bags: Continue reading

Update: New Chipped Credit Card

I just received our new chipped credit cards from Chase today. They aren’t chip and pin. Here’s what their Q&A page on their web site says (colored emphasis added by me):

Q. Where can I use my chip-enabled credit card globally?

A. Having a chip-enabled card allows you to use your card when traveling internationally because chip card readers are already standard in Canada, Mexico, South America, Europe and Asia. We also recommend that you carry an alternate method of payment, such as local currency, in case you encounter an unattended kiosk that requires a PIN.

Q. Can my cash advance PIN be used to make purchases?

A. No. Your cash advance PIN can only be used at the ATM.

Q. What if my chip-enabled credit card isn’t working at an unattended kiosk while abroad?

A. If the kiosk is asking you for a PIN, you may be able to select one of the following to bypass the PIN prompt: “Cancel,” “Enter” or “Continue.” If the card reader still will not accept your card without a PIN code, there may be staff in the area to assist you with using your magnetic stripe. Otherwise, local currency may be needed in this situation.

Wow, that’s really helpful. They recommend carrying an alternate method of payment. How about I carry an alternate credit card that actually works abroad? That seems like the correct answer.

Quick Tip: Don’t settle for the first answer you get.

When you call to talk to the airlines, don’t settle for the first answer you get, especially if it isn’t the answer you’re looking for. Some agents on the phone just aren’t as skilled as others in finding what you need, so call back and speak to someone different. If necessary, keep doing this until you get what you need. This is especially true for airlines, but this can work with hotels and car rental agencies too.

For example, we tried to book our flight to Sydney through United, but were told that no award seats were available because we were booking them so late. After two more phone calls, we got someone who looked at all the partner airlines and found two seats leaving from Vancouver on Air Canada, a partner airline. It cost the same award miles and wasn’t as convenient as flying out of Seattle, but the benefit was that we now have a direct flight with no layovers.