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American Express Travelers Checks
Don't Leave Home With Them?

I didn't mean to pick on American Express Traveler's Checks in particular, but they are the most well known. They also have that catchy slogan that I get to play with. The question is simply whether to bring travelers checks at all when you are traveling. Times have changed, after all, and there are other options.

Traveler's Checks Versus Debit And Credit Cards

The first time I was overseas, I needed to exchange $200 worth of travelers checks to pay for a mountaineering guide who hadn't heard of American Express. The bank gouged me for $8. Later during the same trip, I used my debit card in an ATM to get $200 from my checking account. Later, at home, I noticed that the charge for this was one dollar. That was the last time I used traveler's checks.

Using Debit And Credit Cards When Traveling

I carry two debit cards, or a debit card and a credit card when I travel now. I try to keep them well-hidden in two separate places. I haven't yet lost one or had one stolen. If they are stolen, they have either a zero liability, or a fifty dollar liability limit for any unauthorized charges (Ask your bank or credit card company).

When a local Automated Teller Machine (ATM) won't take one of the cards for some reason - and this will happen - I try the other card, which usually works fine. Credit cards are probably safer than debit cards, because while your liability may be zero if the card is stolen, but you might not have access to your account until the matter is sorted out. Then again, on longer trips it may be a hassle to pay the credit card bill on time, which isn't a problem with debit cards. That's why I like to carry both, and hide them well.

One of the advantages credit and debit cards have over travelers checks, is that when you need to obtain some of the local currency, you'll almost always get a better exchange rate with your credit or debit cards. Also, the cash you obtain from the local ATM will truly be accepted everywhere, something even American Express Travelers Checks can't promise.

Finally, an apology to American Express. Once many years ago, they very quickly and courteously replaced my stolen traveler's checks when I was seventeen and was robbed in Mexico. Also, maybe at times it is appropriate to carry money in several forms, including theirs. Times change, however, and ATMs are everywhere. My policy for now is : Travelers checks; don't leave home with them (take an American Express credit card instead).

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