what to carry in travel wallet

Don’t forget to repack your wallet especially for your vacation. Photo by Sir Stig.

Most of us spend a lot of time obsessing about what to pack for our upcoming vacations, yet we rarely stop and think about what we pack in our wallets. We tend to just grab and go – taking the same stuff we carry around everyday and transporting them halfway around the world. But that’s not exactly a good idea.

Why? For one thing, your chances of being pick pocketed are higher when you’re in unfamiliar terrain, and for another, losing your wallet is much more of a catastrophe when you’re far from home. But negative things aside, it’s worth thinking about what you keep in your wallet because some of the items inside can make life a lot easier when you’re on the road. Want to know how? Read on to learn the 11 things all travelers should keep in their wallets, and why.

1. A baby picture…even if you don’t have a baby.

If you’re scratching your head on this one, here’s the deal. Studies have shown that when a wallet is lost, it’s much more likely to be returned to it’s owner if there’s a baby picture inside. Researchers in Scotland scattered “lost” wallets all over the city, and found that a decent number of them were returned to their owners – about 42 percent. However, wallets that had a photo of a baby in them had more than double the return rate, with 88 percent of those wallets making their way home. Experts think it has something to do with a sense of compassion people feel when they see a photo of a vulnerable child. So crazy as it may seem, go ahead and pop a picture of a cute bub into your wallet – it certainly can’t hurt.

2. A currency converter cheat sheet.

It’s really easy to get the value of foreign currencies mixed up in your head when traveling – you look at the price tag of something and delude yourself into thinking the item is more or less expensive than it really is (usually the latter, unfortunately). And since no one wants to run out of money or have to do a ton of math every time they make a purchase, it’s really useful to carry around a currency converter cheat sheet. You can customize these cheat sheets based on your home and destination currency and even the exchange rate you want it to show. It’s pretty nifty stuff.

3. Your contact information.

It’s a good idea to keep a slip of paper with your email address or phone number tucked away in your wallet in the event that it gets lost. If a good samaritan happens to pick it up, you want to make it as easy as possible for them to contact you. It’s especially useful when you’re traveling abroad and local authorities aren’t able to easily track you via your driver’s license or foreign ID. A business card (see below for more on this) can also do the job.

4. A student, teacher, senior, or military ID.

If you belong to a group or industry that typically receives discounts at museums and attractions, be sure to carry those cards with you when you travel. Not all countries will accept foreign ID cards for discounts, but many will. Some companies also offer internationally recognized ID cards, such as ISIC for students and ITIC for teachers.

5. A band-aid.

Cuts, scrapes and blisters seem to happen much more when you’re traveling and walking around all day. Keep a band-aid or two handy in case your shoe starts cutting into your heel or you trip and fall. I’ve actually found I’m allergic to the glue in certain brands of band-aids, so it’s worth it to me to carry around band-aids safe for my sensitive skin rather than relying on whatever’s available locally.

6. Your travel or medical insurance contact number.

Most travel and health insurance companies will give you a phone number to call in case of an emergency. In some instances, you have to call this phone number to get authorization before seeking medical treatment. It’s a good idea to have this contact information in your wallet so you don’t have to go back to your hotel to fish for it in the middle of a crisis. Make sure you also note down any ID or reference numbers that you’ll have to cite if and when you call the insurance provider.

7. Business cards.

You never know who you’ll meet when traveling, so have a few business cards on hand in case you happen upon a potential client. They’re also useful for exchanging with new friends you meet on the road who you hope to keep in contact with. Business cards can also double as the contact information mentioned above.

8. Frequent flier status cards.

Ideally, you’ll have your frequent flier number printed on your boarding pass, but sometimes these things get lost in airline computer systems and you’ll have to tell the airline your member number at check-in. I’ve also had instances where the receptionist at the frequent flier lounge has insisted on seeing the membership card, so it’s worth having it on hand, just in case.

9. Your hotel’s business card.

It’s easy to get lost in a foreign city, especially when you’re jet lagged and all the street signs are in another language. If you carry the business card of your hotel with you, you can always show it to a taxi driver who can get you back to your accommodation quickly and easily.

10. As few other cards as possible.

Don’t keep every credit card, loyalty card, ID, membership card etc., in your wallet. If you don’t plan to use the item during your trip, take it out and store it at home. If your wallet gets lost or stolen, you don’t want to have to replace every card you’ve ever owned. Plus, a fat wallet might look tempting to thieves.

11. Enough (and only enough) cash for the day.

Especially when traveling with foreign currency, most of us tend to carry around more cash than we would in our everyday lives – after all, who wants to visit the ATM every single day? The danger with this is that you risk losing all your cash if your wallet disappears. Leave the majority of your cash in your hotel safe or money belt and only carry around what you’ll need for the day’s expenses. Note that even if you plan on mostly using cards for payment, it’s always good to have some cash on hand since not all places in the world accept credit or debit cards (or your foreign card may not work properly for that matter). Cash is also handy for markets, street-sellers, and other transactions that are typically cardless. Plus, there may simply be times when you don’t feel safe handing over your credit card.

What do you think? Do you carry these things in your wallet? Is there anything else you’ve found to be really useful?

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