And I’m not talking about the usual stuff (guns, SHTF supplies etc.): it concerns overseas travel.
I’ve been following The Zman’s adventures in Scandinavia, Russia, and parts between with some interest. (Go ahead and read them first, if you want, starting with the Out Of Lagos post — I had no idea he’d been living there for years — and his point about London’s Heathrow Airport is absolutely spot-on.) I’ve never been to any of the countries he’s talked about so far (Finland, Estonia, Russia), so I was of course interested in his observations.
Then something which happened to him in Tallinn caught my attention:
In Estonia, I realized I had no cell service at all. I was not worried until I tried to buy something and all three credit cards were declined. To make matters worse, I had no cash of any type with me, as I planned to just charge everything. That meant I had no money and no way to call the credit card company to get the issue resolved.
I don’t care how much you think the rest of the world has modernized: it often hasn’t, and sometimes that realization hits you hard, with a potentially-serious outcome. In those situations, you need cash. Hence my admonition:
Never travel overseas without cash.
How much cash you take is up to you — I usually take about US$100 (or £100, or 100€) per day I’m going to be out of the country, mostly in small bills (5s, 10s or 20s). Don’t piss about with some piffling sum like $10, either: it won’t get you diddly Over There except maybe a couple bottles of water and some chewing gum. Back in 2017 when I went over to Britishland on my extended sabbatical, I didn’t take that much because a.) I didn’t have that much available and b.) the UK is pretty much a cashless society anyway, so I only carried a few hundred or so, in total, some of which went towards buying a burner phone to escape the ruinous roaming fees. But when I go on my next trip to a place where nobody speaks English, French or German, I’ll be cashing up beforehand, you betcha.
Now a lot of seasoned travelers are going to throw up their hands in horror because “you’re a target” / “you’ll lose it all” / “blah blah blah”. Of course you have to be smart about this: I have two wallets, a well-hidden one with my real cards, ID and maybe a quarter of my cash in it, and another in an outside pocket with fake ID (got it in some junk mail, a reasonably-accurate facsimile of a California driver’s license with another guy’s photo), a couple of “sample” credit cards (also courtesy of junk mail) and maybe $50 (small bills, to make it look thicker with cash than it actually is). If I do get mugged, the fake one will be handed over quickly. Most of my bring-along cash is hidden elsewhere on my person, to be found pretty much only if I’m dead and the money has become irrelevant. (I also carry a fake phone: an old, decommissioned cell phone with a stone-dead battery, which I use only as an alarm clock, plugged into the wall socket at night. Good luck stealing that one and expecting to get anything out of it.) And of course you have to be cautious — to top up your on-hand cash, you only resort to the “roll” at night in your hotel room or in the train toilet, for example.
Here’s the thing. I have been poor a couple of times in my life — I mean, no cash, no job, sleep-in-the-car-soon-to-be-repossessed, only a small suitcase of clothing / possessions kind-of poor, and the only thing I fear about being this poor again is to be in this situation in a foreign country where I don’t have any friends I can call on somehow. For those who’ve never traveled in a country where the language is completely unintelligible (in my case, that would be Finland,Russia and Estonia, to name but three), nothing beats the feeling of helplessness at not being able to hail a cab / catch a bus to the U.S. Embassy, buy some street food, buy a burner phone, or check into a cheap hotel. Take my word for it: being broke and on the streets in a strange land fucking sucks, Bubba.
Oh, and by the way: this is especially important if (unlike Zman) you’re not traveling alone. By yourself, you can get okay with pretty much nothing for a short-enough period of time. With a wife, girlfriend or (eek) kids? The dangers of short-term poverty become exponential.
People always talk about safety when you travel: avoiding skeevy areas, staying with crowds, having complete situational awareness and so on. But you only have a modicum of control over those things, especially in an unknown country. How much cash you can carry, however, is completely under your control. So control it, and minimize your vulnerability in a place where nobody knows your name (or speaks your language).