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How to Travel Without a Credit Card

Think you can only travel with a credit card? Think again! If you’re like most people, you may have bought into the belief that you just can’t use a debit card when you travel.

Guess what? Debit cards work just as well (no—better) than any ol’ credit card. The fact is that you’re using your own, hard-earned money, instead of borrowing from Visa or Mastercard on interest.

We know, we know. We’ve heard it all before—things like:

  • Credit cards have a lower risk of identity theft.

  • Rental car companies just don’t make it easy to pay with a debit card.

  • I don’t want the hotel to put a hold on my debit card.   

Sure, these things are all common concerns when traveling. But are they valid? Nope, not in the least. Hear us out on this one: A debit card is just as safe and easy to use as a credit card when you’re traveling. Check out these tips on how you can travel worry-free (and debt-free) with your debit card.

1. Hotels

Yes, you can (and should) use a debit card the next time you’re booking a room at that home away from home too. For most, the hesitation is that some hotels (or Airbnbs, VRBOs or Homeaways) place a temporary hold on your account for the amount of the bill to cover "incidentals."

In other words, if you invite the latest and greatest rock band to hang out in your hotel room and they make a mess of the place, you can expect the incidental (maybe more) to cover any damages.

It’s important to be aware of how much money you have in your account before you travel. Here’s a tip: Avoid those “accidental” overdrafts by budgeting (and saving) for your trip before you go.

It’s also smart to call the hotel beforehand to see if they’ll be placing a hold on your card (and how much the incidental might be). Make sure you have that in your checking account, and you’re good to go!

2. Rental Cars

We know some rental car companies haven’t made it too easy on debit card users in the past. That’s why some people are convinced that they can’t use a debit card to rent a car.

Of course, just like hotels, most rental car companies will likely put a hold on your account (anywhere from $100–500). That’s just in case you decide to go off-roading in your VW Beetle rental—oops, hope your auto insurance covers it! So, if you still believe you can’t use a debit card to rent a car, you’ve bought into an old myth that is hopefully on its last breath.

Give yourself peace of mind by calling your preferred rental car company. Ask if they take debit cards and what the hold on your debit card will be. Renting a car without a credit card is possible!

If you’re not going to be driving much on your trip, consider a ride-sharing app, like Uber or Lyft. That way, you don’t have to deal with a rental car company at all. Plus, you won’t even have to pay for parking!

3. Airlines

All major carriers take debit cards these days, and it’s incredibly easy to just hop on a website—whether it’s a carrier’s site or through an online broker—and book a trip. That’s the cool thing about debit cards. The money you use is your money, not a bank’s money.

4. International Travel

If you’re traveling overseas, it’s good to expect some additional fees (depending on who you bank with, of course). Some banks charge a small fee for each transaction you make or an exchange surcharge for withdrawing money from an ATM.

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Avoid the traps and manage your money the right way with Financial Peace University

Check with your bank before you travel, and make sure you clearly understand their policies and charges so you can plan ahead.

You’ll also want to let them know where you’re traveling (and when). If your bank starts seeing transactions coming from Croatia, they might freeze your account, thinking your card was stolen. That would not be a happy vacation.

Make sure to ask your bank about in-network ATMs in the city you’re traveling to, or get plenty of cash exchanged from your bank before you leave for your trip. If you’re worried about keeping your cash secure, buy a cheap money belt (Amazon for the win!) or neck pouch, and wear it hidden under your clothes. 

As always, cash is king, and money is money, no matter what country you’re visiting. Plan ahead, and you’ll be just fine! 

5. Identity Theft

Identity theft is definitely a valid fear. Who wants to deal with bank holds and scouring bank activity for suspicious activity? 

But if you let your fear of identity theft stand in the way of living your life, you’ll never leave the house (and you might end up being the guy burying his cash in the backyard)! No need to take it that far. By taking just a few precautions, you can use your card—debit, that is—on your next trip without worry.

Let your bank know where you’re going before you leave, and check your bank statements often. The last thing you want is a freeze on your card right when you’re about to pay for that steak dinner. 

If you do find that your debit card has been compromised, know that you’re protected under Regulation E by the Federal Reserve. If you let your bank know as soon as possible, your liability is limited to $50! But the longer you wait, the harder it is to prove.1

It’s also a good idea to protect yourself with identity theft insurance. Not only does this give you peace of mind, but it also protects you from those lurking cyber bullies. If you have identity theft insurance, someone will be assigned to your case and do the hard work for you!  

See? It’s really not difficult (or unsafe) to travel without a credit card. Don’t allow that decades-old myth to hold you back from cutting up those credit cards forever and committing to a debt-free life!

Speaking of a debt-free life, you can learn how to get there with Financial Peace University. This nine-lesson course walks you through how to save money, get out of debt, and build lasting wealth. Almost 10 million people have taken it already, and the average household saves up $2,700 in 90 days.

Ninety days! You could put that in the bank, spend it on your vacay, and not think twice about a credit card on the trip. All the memories. All the security. None of the debt. Yes, please. 

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Ramsey Solutions

About the author


Ramsey Solutions has been committed to helping people regain control of their money, build wealth, grow their leadership skills, and enhance their lives through personal development since 1992. Millions of people have used our financial advice through 22 books (including 12 national bestsellers) published by Ramsey Press, as well as two syndicated radio shows and 10 podcasts, which have over 17 million weekly listeners. Learn More.

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