AVOID TRAVEL CASH WOES ON YOUR SUMMER VACATION

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It's summer (well, almost) and the living is easy - and so is the spending.

For those heading out to vacations soon, there's plenty to consider, from packing correctly to ensuring you arrive at the airport in plenty of time, which these days seems to be several hours before the sun rises.

But consider one more thing: your financial safety. Being on vacation and realizing your cash has been stolen or you didn't bring enough money can spoil even the best of intentions.

Steve Lasek, a staff assistant with the AAA organization in Connecticut, says financial emergencies while on vacation are "more common than most people realize."

And, he says, losing your credit cards or cash while thousands of miles away from home can be your worst nightmare.

"I've spoken to many travelers who have at some point been victimized abroad," says Lasek. "It is an intense and stressful experience if it happens to you."

Lasek, who works in the AAA's Manchester customer service center, says there are many ways to lose your funds: pickpockets, disho-nest employees, "even a passerby who finds your lost wallet."

And, he adds, "we're perfectly capable of creating our own crisis by forgetting or misplacing a card, wallet or pocketbook," he says, and foreign ATMs are known to swallow debit cards after only one or two incorrect PIN entries.

He advises that travelers never rely solely on cash - "when cash is gone, it's gone!" - and he says credit and debit-type cards offer a small amount of protection by checking for out-of-the-ordinary spending. But if those cards are lost or stolen, you could end up with multiple bogus charges.

Lasek advises using money cards that are specifically designed for travel. They feature international phone numbers, worldwide replacement (often within 24 hours) and emergency cash, if needed.

In addition, he points out that such cards don't carry personal information, and they can be "reloaded" with additional funds, if necessary.

As for travel precautions to help prevent fraud or theft, the AAA travel expert advises "to simply be aware of your surroundings."

"Your finances are your lifeline," he says. "At home, a lost credit card is an inconvenience. Overseas, it can be crippling. I've heard more than once, 'I only put my bag down for a second.' "

He also suggests keeping passports, travel cards and backup cash in a low profile safety wallet or pouch. And he says you should notify your bank or credit card company if you take along their card. Banks and credit card companies, he says, can monitor your spending habits and can flag a foreign tran-saction as possible fraud.

Those companies also have the ability to "lock up" your credit card until they can contact you to ensure it was a legitimate purchase.

Lasek says travelers generally should secure their finances before they travel. "I'm always surprised when I discover travelers have been planning a trip for months or years, yet don't consider foreign currency until the last minute - or not at all."

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