You are probably looking at this title thinking that I am crazy. Maybe I am, but that’s a different story.
I have traveled to over 45 countries across 6 continents, and out of all the major credit cards out there, American Express is no longer a card that I carry in my wallet as a backpacker. In my opinion, it is useless abroad. There are better cards out there to use as a budget traveler.
While backpacking through Southeast Asia for two months last year, I brought two cards with me - my Capital One VentureOne Visa and my Gold Delta SkyMiles AMEX. I booked a one-way ticket to Asia and figured I would earn enough miles along the way with my AMEX card to earn a flight home with Delta. I was wrong.
If you have ever traveled to Southeast Asia on a budget and as a backpacker, you would know that traveling with a credit card can sometimes be tougher than you’d want it to be.
As much as the world is progressing into a technological age, cash is still king.
Major credit cards would only be accepted if you were staying in a nice hotel and dining at decent restaurants. I did neither of those things.
I was on a tight budget, so I slept in cheap hostels and guesthouses. When I was in Chiang Mai, Thailand, I stayed in a guesthouse with a decent bed, clean amenities, and very friendly staff for $1 a night. I also ate street food. A lot of it. Most countries are known for their amazing street food and it's super cheap! In the Philippines, my partner and I ate a hearty and well-balanced meal on the side of the road in a small town just outside of Cebu City, Cebu.
Guess how much it cost us??
$1 for both of us!! And we still had leftovers to take with us during the day. No word of a lie. And it was all in cash. We even traveled across Cebu City by Jeepney for pennies. Everything is so cheap that you really don't need a credit card for local meals, accommodation, or transportation.
When we wanted to save our cash and pay for things with a credit card, my AMEX was shot down. Every. Single. Time.
Convenience stores, local restaurants, local tour agencies - they all wanted cash. The look of ridicule on some of the shop owners' faces when I asked if they would take my AMEX was embarrassing. On occasion, they would take Visa or ApplePay. but I had to be in a bigger city for that to happen.
The only way I was able to use my AMEX was online to pay for flights or trains or hostel bookings through Agoda. And to top it all off, even the local websites frequently refused to accept my AMEX.
What was the point??
Frustrated beyond belief and halfway through our trip, I stopped using it entirely. I put my AMEX in my passport pouch and didn't look at it again. I relied on the $600 cash I had brought from home and my Capital One visa card for the rest of the trip. The majority of the time when I wanted to use a credit card, my visa was gladly accepted.
When trying to book my flight home, I didn't have enough miles. I was left with no choice but to purchase miles to save myself from purchasing a $700 ticket home.
I learned my lesson fast. My AMEX stays home when I travel.
And since then, I have paid very close attention to where credit cards are accepted abroad, especially AMEX cards. And I am always happy that I didn't bring it with me. It's not worth the hassle.
Disclosure Statement: I am only sharing my experience and opinion. I am not affiliated in any way with American Express nor am I being paid for my experience.
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