5 Prep Tips For Wallet Theft Or Loss On The Road
My heart dropped as soon as I realized my wallet was gone. Even worse I had no idea where it had happened so I couldn’t even go looking for it. We’d been sightseeing around Lake Havasu City all day and it was definitely gone…lost…vanished. Oh bum!! My cards, drivers licence…everything would need to be replaced. Thankfully I had been prepared for this eventually for quite a long time so I was somewhat ready, but the event nonetheless made me think about how I could do this better and how I could help others do this better.
What would you do if you lost your purse or wallet on the road? Would you be prepared? How quickly would you be able to cancel/close your cards? How would you handle the time between losing all your cards/money and the time you’re able to get new ones? What if you’re out boondocking and nowhere near your bank or a shippable address for a few weeks? What if you can’t remember what’s in you wallet?
You never want to hope to lose your wallet, but you have to be prepared for it. It could happen as an accident, or via malicious intent (theft). In my case it was an accident -> it slipped out of my hiking pants side-pocket. As it so happened my wallet was picked up by a kind van dweller and returned to me several hours later, but by that time I had already cancelled all my cards. I was overjoyed to have my drivers license back, but still very happy that all my cards had been closed and protected in a timely manner.
So, in the spirit of passing all good karma along, here’s my prep tips for wallet loss, something everyone should think about:
1/ Keep A Small Wallet
I think one of the best pieces of advice I can give any traveling nomad is to keep a small/manageable wallet. By that I don’t mean size (although small is nice), but I mean with regards to how many cards you carry with you. One debit card, one credit card, your health insurance card and your drivers licence should pretty much cover the majority of what you need everywhere.
If you lose it, you won’t have much to worry about. Just a few cards to cancel and get re-issued. Many folks keep a bunch of “extra” stuff in their wallets including their grocery cards, membership cards, old credit cards (never used), photos, trinkets etc. all of which create more hassle in case of loss. Just bring the basics and leave the rest at home.
I use a small credit card holder for my cards in which I only keep the basics. Cash is kept separately. When I travel internationally I keep everything in a money belt (which I strap on my body), but here in the US I typically just put the card holder in the side-pockets of my hiking pants, which are usually zippered shut (and for the most part this works flawlessly except when you forget to zipper and/or you take something out of said pocket and the holder slips out with it, duh!). I rarely carry a purse and I never put money/cash in an easily accessible location (e.g. jeans back pocket or open jacket pocket).
2/ Keep Details & Pics/Copies Of On All Your Cards Online
Several years ago I managed to leave the US on a trip to Peru without my Green Card. It was an incredibly stupid thing to do and when I got back into the US it took me three hours before they released me from the interrogation room. The only reason I wasn’t held any longer than this was because I had the foresight to take a picture/photocopy of my Green Card and keep it in a secure place online. While I was in Peru I managed to access the picture at an Internet Cafe and print it out so I was ready for my trip back home. Without this little detail my ordeal would have been a lot worse.
Since that time I’ve kept an online copy of ALL our important documents (drivers license, credit cards, passports, medical info, pet vaccinations etc.) and it’s come in handy more than once. We currently use Dropbox* with added security**, but any good online storage will work. I can access this storage from anywhere, on any device, or from any computer (e.g. in a library or Internet Cafe) which means I always have my card info on hand if something should happen, here or abroad.
In the same vein it’s helpful to keep a list of all your bank and credit card customer service phone numbers online. Every single credit card company I’ve ever dealt with has toll-free numbers and 24 hour service (many even offer international collect call numbers), but getting/finding those numbers while you’re panicking about your lost cards can be super stressful. By keeping a list online in a simple document file (together with your card details), you’ll have an easy reference in case your stuff gets stolen.
A last idea, although it’s not really too necessary if you follow tip #1 is to take a picture of everything you have in your wallet and put that online too. That way you can tell, at a glance, what you had with you.
* My Dropbox login info as well as all my other important passwords is kept on LastPass which I can also access anywhere, from any computer or any device. For those worried about using a password program on a non-trusted computer such as in a library or Cafe (because of potential keyloggers, for example) Lastpass offers two-step authentication and/or allows you to create one-time passwords which can only be used once.
**For sensitive personal stuff there are many ways to beef-up online security including 2-step authentication and encryption with services such as TruCrypt and BoxCryptor. Read more about beefing up Dropbox security HERE.
3/ Have A Back-Up Credit Card
One of the things which “saved” us this week was the fact that we had one emergency backup credit card (in a different spot from my wallet) which was not attached to any of the accounts I had to cancel.
This meant that even though we had to cancel ALL of our main bank & credit accounts (which are all joint), we still had a means to pay for groceries, gas, recurring bills etc. Since we are not near a shipping address in our current location (and besides which, many credit cards will only ship to your “home” address), it’ll take at least a week (or more) to get our new cards. So, having this back-up will help us to get through the next week or so without any issues.
These days it’s super easy to get an extra credit card which has no yearly fees. Just keep it somewhere safe and easily accessible (i.e. in your rig and not locked up in your storage unit in Phoenix). This way you always have a back-up no matter what happens to the rest of your cards.
4/ Keep A Checkbook
Checks are passé, and most folks don’t even own a checkbook these days, but I consider it an extremely good backup to have. We keep a checkbook stored in a safe place in the rig, and end up writing at least a few checks each year (for campground fees and such). If you are forced to cancel your credit card most places (e.g. grocery stores, RV parks, gas stations etc.) will still accept good-old fashioned checks**.
Also, if you cancel your debit card and need cash you can use a check to write yourself some cash! Checks can be cashed in at a bank, and at many retailers, such as 7-Eleven, Walmart and some supermarket chains (usually there is a fee), so even if you are far away from your home bank, your checkbook can still get you cash.
**For payment by check some places require you to present picture ID too, so if you lost your drivers license with your wallet your passport is a good alternative.
5/ Bank With Good Institutions & Set-Up Auto Alerts
Every good bank out there offers some kind of fraud protection on their cards as long as you report the card lost or stolen in a timely manner. Once you report the loss or theft, the law says you have no additional responsibility for charges you didn’t make. I always check that my credit cards offer this protection, and would never accept carrying a card that didn’t.
I also always take the additional precaution of setting-up automatic alerts on my cards, usually for any charge over a certain $$ limit (say $100), so that I get an e-mail and phone text whenever those limits are exceeded. This way, even if I didn’t notice my wallet was gone I would still get an alert if any of my cards were used for anything above that amount. It’s a nice, additional protection to have for fraud prevention and most cards offer this service for free in their online settings.
So, how are we handling the loss, besides me kicking myself in the head of course? Thankfully I got my wallet back, but since I had already cancelled all my cards we’re just using our back-up credit card (and checkbook) until I manage to get new ones sent to me. We were lucky enough to have ALL the credit card phone numbers on hand, so as soon as I noticed my wallet was gone we called and cancelled all of them within 1/2 hour. Also since I had auto-alerts set on all my cards beforehand I knew (for a fact) that none of them had been used.
When I get my new cards I’m going to photograph them all and put those pics online, plus I’m going to re-evaluate how much I keep in my carrier (I’d been getting lazy lately and had a few too many cards in there…my bad). The entire thing is a bit of a hassle, but it could have been much, much worse and if the person who found my wallet had malicious intent I would have been protected right away.
What about you? Have you lost your wallet on the road? Any of you have any additional tips? DO share and comment below!
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