Last month, I went on a two-week trip that would take me from my home in the Boston area to Kansas City, Indianapolis and Chicago. When I landed in Kansas City, I started using my credit card. I bought some clothing, and a couple days later when I tried to use my credit card for another purchase, my card was declined, which was odd because I was nowhere near my credit limit..

While the clerk tried again and again to complete my transaction, it dawned on me that my credit card was probably frozen for fraud protection. A quick call to Citibank, and sure enough, they had put a fraud alert on my card, which meant that I could no longer use it. Once I verified that I had the card on my person and told Citibank my travel plans, they reinstated my card.

The fact that Citibank had put a fraud alert on my card and frozen it was not news to me, nor was the fact that their fraud department had called my house inquiring about suspicious activity on my credit card. I had had the same problem before, especially when traveling to multiple states over the course of a few days. Citibank had told me that to prevent the freezes, I should always call them before my trip and tell them of my travel plans. While I had been pretty diligent about doing so for other trips, I had simply forgotten to do so for this trip, which led to a somewhat embarrassing situation.

This practice is not unique to Citibank. Many credit card companies will freeze credit cards when they're suddenly used in places far away from the holder's home, especially overseas.

Chicagoan Christy Ulinski found this out the hard way after returning home from a trip to England and Poland last year. Before she left the United States, she called Chase, her credit card company, and informed them of her travel plans. She used her card at the beginning of her trip to pay for a hotel stay. "I might not have used it for the latter third of our trip. [My husband and I] would've used a different card. We also paid cash for our last hotel," says Ulinski.

Upon her arrival back in Chicago, she tried to buy gas but discovered her card had been frozen. When she called the card company, she had to explain why she had a charge from London on her card. "The credit card company didn't pay attention to the fact that I was going to be overseas," says Ulinski, adding, "It just didn't impact me until I got home."

Bank of America is another credit card provider that practices pre-emptive fraud alerts. "We continually monitor card transactions for potential fraud and have programs in place to evaluate transactions and look for suspicious or irregular activity. Our objective is to protect our customers from fraud. It’s a constant balancing act between protecting customers against fraud and inconveniencing them. We do recommend that customers alerts us of their plans to travel internationally, and we will incorporate that into our fraud monitoring to reduce customer impact," says Betty Reiss, Bank of America spokesperson, in an e-mail statement.

Whether you travel internationally or domestically, it's a good idea to contact your credit card company before you leave town. Tell them of your travel plans, and they will put a notice on your account to alert their fraud monitors that unusual usage of your credit card may occur. Failure to do so may mean that you might find yourself in the embarrassing and inconvenient situation of not being able to use your card until you can talk to your card company and work out the problem.