Moohla Management

Moohla Management

Cash is king, it is the fuel of travel, but how do you manage money on an extended trip such as ours?  Even if you are not traveling as long as we are, this may help you save some money.  In the US, I use only a credit card, it allows me to track my spending, budget, and I get 2% cash back on everything I buy.  Using cash causes me to frivolously spend on little things such as candy or coffee, purchases so small I wouldn’t whip out my credit card for.  On the road though, the options for using a credit card are pretty limited.

Most of the world is cash-only, or strongly preferred.  From the bars of Brugges, Belgium to the computer stores of Singapore to a $2500 mountain climbing trip in Ecuador, Visa is not everywhere I want to be.  This poses a conundrum, you don’t want to carry piles of cash around, you don’t know how safe leaving a few grand at the hotel is, but most banks charge you an arm and a leg for the privilege of withdrawing cash globally.  Additionally, if you choose to carry cash from home you are at the mercy of moneychangers to get local currency.

In preparing for this trip we set ourselves up so that we could access money, but didn’t need to carry much cash on us.  This is a big relief and allowed us to leave for a multi-year trip with $400 USD, versus the $2000 we carried to Africa in 2009.


The most important money decision you will make before a trip is choosing your bank.  You will most likely need to change banks.  Lots of old-school people think they have a “relationship” with their bank and that their history matters.  Those that think they are in a relationship with their bank are in an abusive relationship.  The relationship is one-sided, the bank takes and customers (and taxpayers recently) give.  Statistically you are probably using a big bank, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, JP Morgan, etc, which makes money from you through fees and interest on your loans, then returns your payments with terrible interest rates on your savings.

You may think you’re a high roller and your bank cares about you, but the banks care only about the ultra-wealthy clients in their Private Banks.  The price of admission to get a bank’s attention and top service is $3 million with Bank of America or $25 million with JP Morgan and Citi.  For the proletariat and mass-affluent with tens or hundreds of thousands in assets, you need to choose a bank that won’t nickel and dime you to death.

BANKING TIP: If you need a loan, your credit score, based on your credit history and outstanding balance, is more important than your “relationship.”  If you pay bills on time and have assets for a down payment, most banks will be happy to lend to you.  In fact, you will probably save money by shopping around, rather than staying in your bad relationship.

For traveling, look for a bank that doesn’t charge international transaction and ATM fees.  Many major banks charge 2-3% foreign transaction fees, plus a fixed charge for using an out-of-network ATM.  Wells Fargo, for example, charges $5 for every withdrawal outside of the US, on top of any fees the ATM itself charges.  Over the course of a trip this adds up or causes you to carry a lot of cash to avoid ATM fees.  This is completely avoidable, there are banks that refund ATM fees and don’t assess ATM fees.  Surprisingly, many of these banks also pay higher rates on deposits.

We highly recommend Charles Schwab for banking.  They have offices worldwide, Americans staff customer service, and trades are inexpensive.  Every ATM in the world is free to use as charges are refunded to our account.  The best part of dealing with Schwab is they act as advisors, share their knowledge, but don’t spend their time pitching things to you try.  This is refreshing from other banks’ standard operating procedures of sell, sell, sell.

TIP FOR ATM FEES: Having ATM fees reimbursed will save you money all the time, not just while traveling abroad.  You will now have access to cash in the ma and pa restaurant that only takes cash, or anywhere you may find yourself.

You can find other banks that refund ATM fees, I haven’t looked in a while, but do your homework and you’ll save loads of money on the road.  The one caveat is that it is hard to deposit cash with most of these national banks because there are few local branches.  If you deposit a lot of cash, you will need a free local account from which you can transfer money to your primary, no-fee, account.

Even though credit cards aren’t accepted everywhere, you still need them.  Make sure you have one with no foreign transaction fees or you will be paying an additional 2-3% for everything you purchase abroad (sometimes even if you are paying in USD!).  These fees don’t give you an added service, they just pad your credit card company’s income statement.  We recommend Capital One, which has no foreign transaction charges, though many companies are removing these ridiculous fees on premium cards.


While having a primary account is important, you need a secondary account at another institution.  This is because numbers get stolen, fraud happens, and when it does, you will lose access to your account.  If you only have one account, this could cause huge problems on the road.

TIP FOR TRAVELING AS A COUPLE: have individual accounts for emergencies, so if one person gets locked out of an account you can still access a totally different, unlinked, account.

LOCAVORista and I have 3 credit card accounts.  One shared account and each have individual accounts.  If any one, or two, accounts are suspended as we wait for new cards due to a traveling mishap, we will never be left without access to something.

On the banking end, having a separate checking and savings account (which could be in the same institution), protects you if your ATM card is stolen.  You will need foresight to move money to checking before you need it, but it limits your exposure if your ATM card is lost or copied.  (Seriously, copied, it happened to us, someone got our numbers and made a fake card).


Inevitably, you need to carry emergency cash.  If something happens and you lose all your cards, you need to be able to eat, sleep and communicate to resolve your situation.  It is very important that you have several, separate stores of cash.  This is because one bag could be stolen and you don’t want that to be the one with all your cash.  We carry small amounts of cash ($50-100USD) in discreet envelopes all over the place.  I actually don’t know where they all are, but I know that in an emergency, I could find it, while if we were robbed they wouldn’t be able to find all of them.

TIP FOR PACKING CASH: Carry only small bills ($1s and $5s) in small packages.  Banks have small cash envelopes that perfectly hold USD.  Ask for them when you have them break your bills.  This usually leads to some good conversation with tellers who are interested in what you are up to…

Before leaving for abroad, convert the $20 bills from the ATM to $1s and $5s, as stores and hotels abroad often don’t have change for larger bills.  Additionally, get newer, crisp bills, with no tears, as you may run into problems with damaged bills.  In Africa we often had money rejected because of tears and claims they were fakes.  This was more than an annoyance, especially when you are used to using bills in all sorts of conditions.  The basic rule is, if a vending machine wouldn’t accept it on the first pass, leave it at home.


Once you are actually on your trip, you need to monitor your accounts.  While you may have wifi or access to computers with the internet, there is always the chance that your passwords can be captured and your assets transferred out.  To avoid this risk, set up an account at prior to leaving for your trip.

TIP FOR USING use a password different than all your other banking logins.  This will ensure that if you are at a computer that is capturing your web browsing, they will not be able to reuse your password and bank information to access your accounts. allows you to put all your account information into one repository.  After you set it up, it will give you account information without entering login information for specific accounts (good because evil techies could record your keystrokes).  You will be provided with a one-stop review of your accounts, transactions, investments, and bills.  While you can see your information, you can’t transact, which means that even if someone gets your login information, they can’t access your moohla.

TIP FOR USING FOREIGN COMPUTERS: Before you do anything on a computer at your hotel or an internet cafe, go to preferences and clear all history, cache, and cookies.  Once you have done this, if it is available, go to tools and select Private Browsing.  Newer versions of Internet Explorer, Firefox and Chrome all have this.  Once you are done with your session, repeat the first process and clear all history, cache, and cookies.


In the end, these tips can save you a lot of money wherever you are.  If you find yourself needing a beer at a baseball game in Des Moines, visiting Minnesota and you only have a Bank of America account, or traveling abroad.  Taking control over your money is the first step in Living Your IFs, so start today.

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» Donna :
Jan 19, 2011

Excellent article! Was interested to see what suggestions you had that I can use for my trip to Europe the end of March … altho I won’t be gone 3 years … 3 weeks maybe! Will check out the site … that sounds pretty cool! A lot of good suggestions here for always having money available when needed! Of course, with your spendy ways over there (25¢ beers, $1 meals, $10 hotels) I’m not sure you’re going to need all those hidden envelopes! Keep posting … enjoying every day along with you! Donna

» Mom :
Jan 19, 2011

Excellent steps and not as complex as people might think. Won’t take us all year to do the things we haven’t done yet in prep for meeting up with you at the end of 2011 in Australia/New Zealand. But I don’t think we’ll be finding $1 meals and $10 hotels as often there!

» Mom :
Jan 20, 2011

We will assume that picture was not taken in your back pack!

» dad :
Jan 20, 2011

what about that swell money belt i gave you prior to deprature or is that a secret…..your very saavy… safe…..peace…. love bka

» Ken Tschannen :
Jan 20, 2011

Well done, Some great ideas, will take a look at some of them for my future trips, looking at the picture of all the money, it looks like you have quite a stash of money for the trip, I think your parents better check their bank accounts and investments, I have a feeling that they have been fleeced? Good work! I guess you will be traveling for a long time now!

» Katie :
Jan 22, 2011

Very useful information, Matt. You’ve sold me on getting a Schwab CC.

» Kim :
Feb 3, 2011

This is one of the best articles I have ever read about managing money on the road. Thank you! I’m bookmarking this one and will come back to it when we switch banks and credit cards for our RTW.

» :
Oct 14, 2014

Right here is the right web site for everyone who wants to find out about this topic.
You knokw a whole lot its almost hard to argue with you (not that I
reallly will need to…HaHa). You definitely put a new spin on a topic that has
been discussed for many years. Wonderful stuff, jus great!
Read‘s awesome post

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About the Author

thinkCHUA: Photographing and documenting the world on a 3 year round-the-world trip to help future travelers discover new places, travel longer and enjoy the world's great experiences.

About the Author
thinkCHUA: Photographing and documenting the world on a 3 year round-the-world trip to help future travelers discover new places, travel longer and enjoy the world's great experiences.


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