Although you see lots of "don't leave home without them" lists of things you need on a trip, only a few are truly essential. When you're outfitting your wallet or purse for your upcoming spring or summer trip, you need to carry no more than six cards.
ATM CARD FOR CASH. Don't run the risk of carrying a lot of cash or the hassle of getting and signing endless travelers' checks. Plan on using an ATM (debit) card for whatever cash you need along the way. If you normally check with a nationwide bank, use that card in its branches for no-fee withdrawals. If your bank doesn't operate where you're heading, open a small account -- enough to cover your trip -- at a bank that does. If you're heading out of the country, consider an account with Bank of America, which allows no-fee withdrawals from ATMs operated by Scotiabank in Canada, Santander Serfin Bank in Mexico, Barclay's Bank in Britain, BNP Paribas in France, Deutsche Bank in Germany, Westpac in the South Pacific, ABSA in South Africa, and China Construction Bank in China. For other countries, seek out a small bank credit union that doesn't assess charges for foreign cash withdrawals.
MEDICARE CARD AND SUPPLEMENT CARD (OR OTHER MEDICAL INSURANCE CARD IF YOU'RE UNDER 65). Obviously, you'll need ID if you should need medical attention while you're traveling. Beyond that, however, transit and commuter systems in around half of the major U.S. cities offer significant senior discounts, and most accept a Medicare card as ID. Many senior transit discounts are 50 percent; public transit is free to seniors in Pennsylvania, except during rush hours. Medicare doesn't work outside the U.S., so if you're traveling abroad, take your supplement card. Even better, buy travel insurance with medical benefits, and go for a policy with primary benefits.
AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL SENIOR PASS. This pass, which replaces the Golden Age Passport, is arguably the world's best travel value: For travelers age 62 or over, the pass provides no-fee entrance to more than 2,000 federally-managed recreation sites, including all U.S. national parks, monuments, historic sites, recreation areas, and wildlife refuges, as well as sites managed by the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, Fish and Wildlife Service, Forest Service, and some Corps of Engineers and TVA sites. Where admissions are based on vehicles, the pass covers the holder plus any others in the car; where admission is per-person, it covers holder plus up to three others. The price? A one-time fee of $10, and that's for a lifetime. Without it, you pay far more than that for just a single entry to such blockbuster parks as Grand Canyon and Yellowstone. The pass also provides discounts on a lot of in-park facilities and activities. Buy it at any participating federal locations. If you're under 62, check out the America the Beautiful Annual Pass, which provides essentially the same features to travelers of any age for $80 per year.
AARP CARD. As I've noted, AARP hotel discounts, for the most part, are underwhelming; you can often do better through a range of discount programs. Still, sometimes AARP is as good as you can get -- especially at low-cost accommodations along the interstates and major highways. Although no hotel has ever asked me to show an AARP card, you never know when someone will.
ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE CARD. If you plan any driving -- in your own car or a rental -- you need a roadside assistance program. Although AAA is probably the biggest program, these days you can enjoy roadside benefits through lots of programs. I still like AAA because of its hotel discounts, directories, and maps, but you can benefit from any good program.
(Send e-mail to Ed Perkins at eperkins(at)mind.net. Perkins' new book for small business and independent professionals, "Business Travel When It's Your Money," is now available through www.mybusinesstravel.com or www.amazon.com)
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