My husband and I will be traveling to Playa del Carmen to stay at our time-share on the Riviera Maya. In the past, traveling to Mexico, we have used traveler’s checks. AAA says they do not issue them anymore as they were found not to be as safe. They suggested a bank card. What are your thoughts? I am concerned that at smaller towns and shops they will not accept it. Also, would this be a safe way to travel with money?
- Michele, Santa Clarita, Calif.
A: I checked with AAA and learned that some branches still sell traveler’s checks, but not all. Since AAA is a federation of independent auto clubs, each regional club can decide which products they will and won’t sell. AAA doesn’t have an official position on the safety of traveler’s checks versus other forms of payment, but agents at individual branches may have their own opinions based on personal experience in particular locations.
Playa del Carmen is a fairly busy, built-up area about 30 miles south of Cancun on the Riviera Maya. It has no more or less crime than any other popular resort town in Mexico. With this in mind, I’d say you’re probably OK to use traveler’s checks without fear of being ripped off. If you like them and are accustomed to using them, go ahead and take some with you. You’re right that some smaller merchants and vendors might not accept credit or debit cards, but bear in mind that those merchants probably wouldn’t take traveler’s checks either.
My advice would be to bring multiple forms of payment: traveler’s checks, a credit or debit card, and some foreign currency. It doesn’t hurt to have backups. That way you’ll be covered for all possible situations. Just don’t keep all your cards, cash, or credit cards with you at the same time. When you go out, bring one card, a couple of checks, and a little cash. Put the rest in a hiding place in your time-share. That way if something were to happen, you wouldn’t lose everything.
If you intend to use a credit card abroad, it’s always a good idea to call the issuing bank before you leave to let the bank know. Otherwise its fraud-monitoring systems may assume your card has been stolen, and they may block you from using it. And since debit cards allow money to be drawn directly from your bank account, make sure that there is a daily limit on how much can be withdrawn, in case it falls into the wrong hands. That way, you won’t get cleaned out before you have a chance to report it stolen. Write down the phone numbers for both your debit- and credit-card companies in a separate place from the cards, so that you can call to cancel it if necessary. And remember that the toll-free number on the back of the card won’t work if you’re calling from a foreign country, so find a regular number before you go.