When I first started traveling, the prospect of accidentally going broke abroad was one that weighed heavily on my mind. Back then, I feared being robbed or mugged as if it was an everyday occurrence for travelers who choose to stay in hostels. I worried about credit card fraud. I worried I'd end up having such a good time that I'd forget to keep track of my money and one day come to the horrible realization that I'd run out of it.
I worried about a lot of things when I first left to travel.
Fortunately, travel isn't dangerous if you remember to pack your common sense in your backpack, and the odds of you ending up broke are very, very slim. In six years of travel, I've yet to hear of it happening to anyone.
But that doesn't mean that it won't happen.
If you do end up losing all of your cash while traveling, though, it doesn't have to be a total disaster. The U.S. government does offer financial assistance to broke travelers, including repatriation loans, so you'll always have that as a last resort.
Let's look at avoiding that whole becoming destitute while traveling thing, and where to turn for help if you do go broke abroad.
How to Avoid Losing All of Your Money in the First Place
The first step is avoidance, and there are plenty of steps you can take to make sure you don't run out of money overseas. Just some simple common sense practices is all it takes to keep your money in your account and out of a mugger's hands.
Follow general safety practices while you're on the road, like splitting your cash into separate places, not wearing a money belt with everything important to you in it (it's often the first place a mugger will check), not wandering around unsafe neighborhoods, and keeping your belongings on your person and with you during travel days. Keep some cash in the bottom of your shoe in case you're mugged and need to get a taxi to bus to your accommodation in an emergency.
Don't carry a lot of cash on your person when you travel, and especially not hundreds or thousands of dollars worth of currency. In the vast majority of every country, there'll be ATMs and you won't be charged a fortune for withdrawals. Just take out as much as you need, and you won't have to worry as much about being robbed. If it happens, it won't be your life savings -- it'll be $200 at the most.
It's worth checking your bank account regularly so that you have a good idea of how much money you have left in your account. The last thing you want is for you to run out of money, but have no idea, because you were just having too much fun. I make sure to check my bank balance using online banking at least once a week, and often when I am withdrawing money from an ATM.
I also recommend traveling with several different debit or credit cards that are linked to different bank accounts -- all of them with money in. Sometimes your bank will block your card while you're abroad and the easiest way to unblock it is to find some Wi-Fi and Skype with them from overseas, but that isn't always possible. If it's an emergency situation, you'll be grateful to have extra cards that you can use as a backup. This happened to me in the Maldives -- my bank blocked my card and I had to use my backup in order to get cash.
Within Wi-Fi, I would have been stuck at the airport and unable to get anywhere without my cash.
GoFundMe Might Be an Option
GoFundMe is excellent in emergencies, as you'll be able to crowdfund from friends and family, who will want to help you out. Use this if somebody stole everything and you have nothing left. People will want to help you financially in this situation. Don't do this if you just spent too much money and now can't afford to get home -- you got yourself into that situation, so now it's time to get yourself out.
U.S. Government Emergency Financial Assistance, Repatriation Loans
So, what happens if the worst happens and you suddenly learn you're overseas with no money to your name?
Overseas Citizens Services (OCS) is a division of the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs and is responsible for the welfare of U.S. citizens traveling abroad. American Citizens Services and Crisis Management (ACS) is one of OCS's divisions. ACS is tied into U.S. embassies and consulates worldwide. From the U.S. Department of State:
"If destitute, Americans can turn to a U.S. consular officer abroad for help. ACS will help by contacting the destitute person's family, friends, or business associates to raise private funds. It will help transmit these funds to destitute Americans.
"ACS also approves repatriation loans to pay for destitute Americans' direct return to the U.S. Each year over $500,000 is loaned to destitute Americans."
With repatriation loans, just like when calling home for help with money, you'll have to wait overseas for the money to arrive and eventually repay the loan.
ACS can be reached at 1-888-407-4747 in the U.S. (in case someone from home needs to make the call to find out where you should go for help) or at 1-317-472-2328 from overseas. They'll tell you where to go, what to do and, hopefully, solve your financial problems temporarily.
More Government Help
The government's actually got a whole host of helpful websites for travelers, where you can get plenty of assistance when you need it most, whether you've lost your passport, your money, or simply want to find out where you can travel to with your dog.
This post has been edited and updated by Lauren Juliff.