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by Courtney Caldwell

How to Ruin a Vacation with Your Credit Cards

So you're finally going on that long awaited vacation that you deserve, and Lord knows, worked so long and hard for. You've been planning it for years and want everything to be perfect. You've made a check list of everything you need to do before you leave, what needs to be done while you're gone, and everything you need to bring. You've brought enough cash and travelers checks, and haven't forgotten your credit card. All is well. Think again.

One of the biggest challenges travelers face on the road is credit card theft often leaving them high and dry and pissed off. Not the happy vacation they planned.

Don't become one of the many stranded travelers who find themselves in credit card hell when 5,000 miles from home. Here are a few tips to add to that "things to do before I go on my trip" list that will ensure your vacation or business trip will go smoothly.

1. Always take at least two credit cards with you.

2. Check the balances on your credit cards before you leave. Be sure to take credit cards with at least $500 or more open on each. Determine this based on your vacation's fixed costs which are already paid in advance, and on your projections of what you think you'll spend. We always spend more than we think we will, so account for that.

3. Check with the hotel at which you'll be staying to find out which cards they do and don't take. Don't assume all places take American Express or Discover. They do not. Ask specifically if they take Visa, MasterCard, American Express, or any other. You may also want to ask them if they have an ATM or if there's one nearby.

3. Ask your hotel if they put a hold on your credit card for a particular amount during your stay. Most upscale hotels will block anywhere between $200 - $500 on your card when you make the reservation and will not remove it until you pay your bill. Check on that BEFORE you leave home. You may want to request an increased line of credit from your bank.

4. At check-out, ask the front desk or manager to remove the hold on your credit card. Most hotels will keep the hold on the card for up to a month to ensure they receive payment from the bank, and/or just wait until the next billing/credit cycle of their accounting department. The hold on that money could deny you all those souvenirs and extra goodies you were planning to buy for family and friends.

5. Make sure you have with you the correct phone number of exact places you need to call, and your credit card account numbers, in case your card is lost or stolen. Keep these numbers in a separate place from your credit cards. For example, if you keep you cards in your purse, keep the number in your jacket pocket, hotel room, or shoe if you have to. Your purse or briefcase could get stolen or lost with your credit cards in them, and if the lost/stolen reporting information is with them, you'll lose the number to call and valuable time. Thieves could spend hundreds of dollars by the time you track it all down again, especially if you're in another country.

6. Let your bank know ahead of time that you're planning to travel, and to where, and which credit cards you're taking. On trips, we spend more than we normally do. Bank personnel is trained to decline cards that show unusual spending sprees to protect their customers. It won't be a fun trip if that fabulous and expensive restaurant you just enjoyed declined your card. You'll spend a half day of your vacation calling your bank to prove it was you, not a thief.

7. Make sure you have your passwords, pin numbers, social security number, or any other ID with you that will allow you to access your account if you have to call to report a lost or stolen card. If you call your bank to report a lost or stolen card, the first thing they'll want is your password or social security number so they can be sure it's you, not the thief. If it's not memorized then bring it along and keep in a safe hiding place away from the cards. By the way, report lost or stolen cards immediately. Do not wait. And ask your bank how much you'll be responsible for if someone uses your card. Most banks have limits. Or you may want to ensure a limit.

8. If you're going out for the day and don't plan on using the cards, leave them in a safety deposit box at the hotel, or room safe. We do recommend, however, that you always take one card with you. You never know.

9. Try to keep cash, travelers checks, and credit cards separate when all are with you. We strongly recommend body belts that wrap around your waist under your clothes. Or if with a companion, split up the property.

10. Don't flash your cash or credit cards around at any time.

11. Get receipts for everything even if you can't write it off.

12. Find out the location of a Western Union or wiring service both near home and at the hotel. Think Murphy's Law. If it can happen, it will. Leave some cash with someone you trust, the address of a local wire service near home, and the hotel information. Ask your hotel if they offer a wire transfer service, or who does, get the transfer information and leave it with your trusted friend. In the event your credit cards or currency is stolen, you can call your friend to wire cash immediately. Being prepared up front will prevent the hassle of trying to find all the information you need from a foreign location, under stressful conditions, which could take all day. Happy Trails!