a close up of a credit card reader

No wallet, no problem? I’ve loved technology for as long as I’ve loved travel. From the early days of digital cameras where I could fit up to 10 blurry photos on a new machine; to present times when my phone takes better pictures than my bulky camera, the two loves are more and more intertwined.

As covid-19 continues to be a part of daily life all over the globe, I wanted to finally test something I’ve thought about for a long time: taking an international trip, without my wallet.

Would it be the most safe and secure way to pay any amount, anywhere I’d shop, or the dumbest idea in the history of travel blogging, despite truly immense competition? No wallet, no problem? Pretty much.

a white buildings with blue domes and a body of water with Santorini in the background

Travels Without Wallet

Yes, I really left London headed for Greece, armed with nothing more than my phone, a Google Pixel, and my passport. Ok, I had a suitcase of clothes too, but that’s it! I figured Greece would be an interesting place to test this ‘no wallet, no problem’ experiment, since the country is notoriously slow for embracing digital or even credit card payments.

Before the chorus of “how dumb can you be” begins, I’m traveling with my partner, who brought her wallet just in case, since we have an infant with us and couldn’t afford for daddy’s experiment to land us all in jail, or without food.

Spoiler alert: the wallet hasn’t left the lockbox.

Virtually any modern card machine can accept payment via Google Pay or Apple Pay, just by holding your phone near the sensor. Fortunately, you don’t even need an active wireless signal or connection for it to work from your end.

a hand holding a phone next to a donut
Chase Android Pay

In covid-19 times, holding your phone “near” the card machine means more than it used to, since nothing actually touches. All my credit and debit cards that would typically be in my wallet, are on my phone, and the card numbers are scrambled by Google Pay, which makes fraud much more difficult to achieve.

Even if my phone were stolen, it would need to be unlocked, which is quite difficult without my physical finger print or 6 digit password. I definitely wouldn’t recommend 000000 or 123456, by the way.

There’s no need to hand over a card, sign a receipt, or worse pay cash, thus changing hands with many unknowns. Cash wasn’t exactly germ free before, and it’s much less ideal now as we battle covid-19. Plus, who wants to carry around exact change, and have to worry about topping up money all the time?

a table with plates of food and a glass of wine

Aren’t there limits?

Contactless chips in physical credit cards are a good start to safe payment in the covid-19 era, but with low limits, it makes big purchases abroad impossible, or at least impossible without pyssically handing the card over.

For example, most UK cards previously had contactless limits of £30, but it was raised to £45 during covid-19. Still, not enough for many of my expenses on a trip. Limits on contactless cards issued in the USA remain circa $100.

Apple Pay, or Google Pay, which I’m using on this trip, has no pre set limit with most machines. If the machine doesn’t integrate with Google or Apple Pay, you can still use it, you’re just subject to the limits of contactless mentioned above. In my experience, there are very few businesses that are subject to limits.

Assuming the machine takes Google Pay, or Apple Pay, you’re just subject to limits or funds on the cards in your Google Pay account. Plus, bear in mind, so many things can be booked online now, or in apps, like Uber, Grab or trip excursions. I was pretty sure it would all work out, and it really has.

As wearables, like tech watches increase in popularity, you might not even need your phone to make payment, and even if your phone dies, you’re not out of luck. And that’s definitely one thing to be careful with: your battery life. You don’t want to live stream all your dishes, only to have your battery run out and not be able to pay for the meal. One point to traditional credit cards there…

I rarely carried any meaningful amount of cash on me when traveling internationally before, and if a merchant didn’t take card, I’d just move onto the next. Of course, it’s good to confirm this sort of thing before sitting down and ordering in many places, but that takes all of 15 seconds.

Santorini, Greece. Oia city with white and blue houses in Aegean Sea. Thira, Cyclades Islands.

On this trip, there was one store selling locals ceramic goods which was cash only, and I gave it a pass in favor of the next store in the row, which took Google Pay. Call me a snob, but I’m far from alone, and with fewer tourists than ever this year, every sale counts. With 4G all over the island, anyone with a mobile phone can take mobile payment, and probably should..

Every restaurant I’ve been to here in Santorini takes credit card, which means they take Google Pay and that’s been a breeze. There are undoubtedly some that don’t, but confirming that before sitting down makes it easy to avoid any hassles, and the places locals have recommended to me over the years all take Google and Apple Pay.

But, some merchants can’t take credit cards?

In a normal year which this is not, I travel about 200,000 miles, to the far reaches of the glob and Even in much lesser developed nations, I hardly ever see a shop owner without a mobile phone in hand, which means in one way or another, they can take card payments.

Even in remote jungles, or the middle of a desert, people have finally embraced the idea that making a sale is better than not making a sale, and fewer and fewer people are carrying cash. Charge a fee, if you must, but just take card payments, for the sake of everyone.

a river with a city and mountains in the background

In these strange times, people just don’t want to pay cash, and smart merchants protect themselves and their customers by refusing to take it. As governments around the world, including here in Greece, crack down on under the table sales, reasons ‘not’ to take Google Pay, Apple Pay or credit card are disappearing.

And yes, you still earn points, just like you would normally!

Should you travel without a wallet? Probably not, yet.

Still, it was fun to do so, without having any part of the trip ruined. Some cash on hand is always good for the unforeseen events life throws at you, but not having to take out huge sums, worried about losing it, or spending it is really wonderful.

I’ve eaten like a king, enjoyed a few bottles of wine, went grocery shopping, bought some little gifts for friends and settled my hotel folio without even a mere question of why I was paying with my phone. For safety reasons, I’ve even had a few thank you’s from people eager to avoid physical contact.

a close up of a credit card reader

Greece, like some other European neighbors, has been slow to embrace card payment in smaller stores or cafes for smaller purchases, but covid-19 is quickly speeding that change up. I’m staying on the far lesser touristy side of Santorini, and even so, contactless or Google Pay and or Apple Pay payment is everywhere.

My point is: if traveling without a wallet can work here in idyllic Santorini, Greece, there are so many countries where it will work even better, where merchants have been far more aggressive in capturing sales via mobile payment, for years already.

Will I take my wallet on my next trip? It depends where, but if we’re talking somewhere like the USA, Australia, or UK, probably not. My phone works just about everywhere money is accepted, and that’s a good thing. At $5 a coffee in New York, I’m not sure I’d ever have enough cash on hand, otherwise.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. Nice experiment. I think the $20 bill in my wallet has been there for over a year. The only time I can remember paying cash in the US is using quarters for a parking meter. That said, without your wife’s wallet, this would be a very risky way to travel, especially in some countries.

  2. this was an interesting experiment but there was a sticking point which I found when I traveled from the UK to the US for a business trip in 2017 and didn’t take my wallet, unplanned 🙁
    I had my Amex loaded into Apple Pay so I wasn’t too concerned but that quickly unravelled when I arrived in MCO to pick up my hire car. Even though I had my passport and I could provide the credit card details for the charges they refused to let me take the car without a physical card being presented. All the hotels on the trip where fine and just processed the payments using the details and I managed to get around with my Uber account but no car!!

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