What to Do if You Run Out of Money While Traveling

Running out of money while traveling is one of the worst case situations you can encounter on the road. Whether it's a matter of mismanaging your budget, or an unforeseen problem with your checking account while you're abroad (hey, fraud happens), here's what to do if you go to the ATM and find a $0 balance. We hope this never happens, but here's what to do if you run out of money while traveling.

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Budget Wisely

Running out of money because you spent it all while traveling simply shouldn’t happen — and it’s pretty rare that it does. That said, be sure to do your research on how much money you’ll need to spend on hotels, transportation, meals, tips, activities, and fun. If you want to shop for pricey souvenirs or splurge on a big night out, factor those added costs in. Then, use common sense. Budget how much you’ll need to spend for the day and don’t overspend. It’s also smart to keep an emergency cash reserve hidden somewhere secure. If you don’t end up spending it, you’ll have the cash for your next trip.

Plan Ahead

Again, travelers simply spending all of their money while on vacation doesn’t happen often. What’s more likely to impact your bottom line are the following worst-case money-related travel scenarios: your debit card gets hacked and your checking account gets drained; you leave your wallet on the subway; or you’re the victim of a mugging. These tragedies can and do happen to even the most cautious and prepared travelers. The important thing is not to panic. Before you leave for vacation, take an iPhone photo (or write down the numbers) of your bank cards and passport. Store them somewhere or with someone secure, so you can properly alert the bank and fill out a police report if necessary. The faster you can handle the situation, the faster you’ll get your money back.

Always follow common sense money advice to keep your money secure. Don’t place all your cash in the same place — spread it out among a wallet, money belt, and the hotel safe. It’s also smart to make multiple ATM runs (always use secure ATMS inside an airport or bank) instead of withdrawing all your cash at once. And, before you travel, let your bank know where you’re headed so they don’t mistakenly flag your morning coffee run in Paris as fraud and close down your debit card.

Use your Credit Cards 

If you do run out of cash or money in your checking account, you can fund your trip (or get home earlier than expected) with an emergency credit card. Of course, this is a loan you’re taking out and you’ll have to pay it back with interest if you don’t make the full monthly payment. You may even be able to get a cash advance at an ATM or in a bank using your credit card. Just note, this type of transaction comes with a high fee, usually around 5% of the total being withdrawn. And you have to pay the cash back.

Additional reading: 7 Travel Credit Cards with the Best Sign-Up Bonuses and Perks

Get Money Wired or Use Venmo

If you have friends or family who can help you out in a financial emergency, get yourself to a Western Union office or download their app. If you need actual cash in hand (not just money electronically debited to your account), you’ll have to go to the Western Union office in person with a photo ID, like a passport. Of course, the more money you send or receive, the more Western Union charges for their services. Another way? Venmo. The app is free to use for basic transfer service (immediate transfers do cost a small fee), and money can be transferred to your checking account with a few secure clicks. We recommend downloading Venmo before you travel, and note that it won’t help if your checking account is frozen from fraudulent activity.

Get a Job

Manning the hostel desk, waiting tables, busking, babysitting, and English tutoring are all quick and (usually) cash lucrative jobs that foreigners can quickly turn to for some scratch. Just note that working in foreign countries is technically illegal, and your off-the-record employment could land you in big trouble. Proceed with caution.

Go to the Embassy

Are you really in desperate financial straits? As in, you really ran out of money while traveling and have nowhere else to turn? If you’re out of the country, the U.S. government can help. Get to the nearest embassy and find the Overseas Citizens Services (OCS). This division of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs that’s responsible for the welfare of U.S. citizens traveling abroad. American Citizens Services and Crisis Management will contact your loved ones to ask for funds, and help distribute cash when it arrives. If you don’t have friends or family that will send money, the ACS also approves repatriation loans to get you back to the United States. You’ll have to pay this loan back, but can you really put a price on getting home?

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