Before any trip abroad, think about what to put in your travel wallet and what to leave behind. Whenever I travel internationally, I prune the contents of my normal wallet and mindfully pack a travel wallet, which is lighter and less bulky than the one I usually carry at home. Some people prefer to use neck wallets or money belts when they travel.
Why am I so conscious of my travel wallet and its contents? Experience is a teacher. My husband and I were once traveling in Italy. Upon arriving at the railroad station in Rome, we were descending the stairs of the railroad car with baggage in-hand when a stranger stuck his hand into my husband's rear pants pocket. Fortunately, the pants were tight enough so the thief couldn't remove the wallet but we kept thinking about the what-ifs afterwards. A bit shaken, we told the saga both to the taxi driver and to the front desk clerk when we checked in at our hotel. They both shrugged their shoulders and said it happens every day. It does—in Rome and elsewhere.
The risk of losing your wallet to theft is probably no greater abroad than it is in any large, crowded city in the states, but it's definitely a bigger hassle to recoup your losses should you lose it away from home. It's also easier to misplace valuables when you are moving from place to place, psychologically preoccupied with everything new around you, and precariously balancing tickets, maps, phones, cameras, and bags in your hands.
Here are some tips for packing your wallet for foreign travel to minimize potential losses:
Determine how much currency you actually need, and don't take more than you need or can afford to lose. You should take a small amount of local currency along for taxis and miscellaneous expenses, so you'll have it until you have a chance to change money at your destination. Empty your pockets and purse of coins that will weigh you down. Some people prefer divided wallets to separate U.S. from foreign bills. Keep a small amount of emergency cash in a place other than your wallet.
While carrying plastic is preferable to carrying large amounts of cash (a loss will likely be covered by the credit card company), don't take extra charge cards with you. Carry only one or two that are widely accepted in the countries you are visiting. Also determine before you go whether the cards carry hefty foreign transaction fees (not all do) and call the carriers to let them know you will be making overseas charges. No ladies, there won't be a TJ Maxx or A&P supermarket in Belgium so leave any extra cards at home.
Be sure your wallet includes two forms of ID and that one of them has a photo (perhaps, your driver's license). It's best not to take your passport with you on day trips (unless you are shopping for duty-free items) so have your hotel hold the passport at the front desk or secure your passport yourself in your in-room safe.
The odds of needing a checkbook are pretty slim; be sure to pay bills before you go away. Leave the checkbook home, and take one or two checks at most if you feel you must.
Medical and Insurance Information
In case you run out of pills or have any other medical emergency, carry a list of your medications (preferably with their generic names because trade names may vary overseas) along with dosages, and a list of any serious medical conditions. At the bottom of the same slip of paper, include the names and contact numbers for your primary doctor, pharmacy and lawyer. Also list an emergency contact number for next of kin. Carry your health insurance cards wherever you go. I also carry a MedjetAssist air-medical transport card in case I need to be transported for medical care.
Get rid of any bank deposit slips, lottery tickets, store receipts, pictures or other mementos in your wallet. If you collect new receipts while you travel, keep them someplace secure so you can present them to customs, if needed, and reconcile your charge bills when you get home but not in your wallet. Place at least one business card with your cell phone number in your wallet and in any jacket pockets in case you lose them. If someone else recovers them, they'll know how to contact you.
Spending just a little extra time thinking about what to put in your travel wallet before you go can save you from a trip that's memorable for all the wrong reasons. One last reminder: Before you leave home, for backup, make a photocopy of everything valuable in your wallet and a copy of your passport.