I’m always asked how to deal with foreign currency abroad, so I decided to do a post, sharing my system.
When researching what OTHERS do, I have to admit, it’s not for me. They either do it at the airport, or use an ATM. I’m sorry, but neither of those always works.
I personally never want to face the horrific experience of trying to exchange money at the airport. I’m in a rush, I have my luggage, I’m trying to count a wad of cash while in public. It’s NOT a fun (or safe) situation to be in. It’s honestly the worst advice I’ve ever read.
The other popular choice is using an ATM card. Also, not the smartest. There’s the risk of insane fee’s, card readers (airports and the like are NOTORIOUS for them), and there’s always the chance of your card getting frozen, or worse, eaten, and then what? It’s happened to me before, and I can tell you, it’s a horrible thing to have to deal with. Trust me from personal experience, even when you DO call and let them know about travel, they can STILL freeze your card. It’s annoying – to put it politely, and the next thing you know, you’re left with no cash until you figure out the less than ideal situation you’re in. While on vacation. In a place where these little shops and places don’t take credit cards. Then you have to call your bank, which can suck, especially if you’re out or don’t have cell phone service. Or, even if you’re at your hotel, it can be EXPENSIVE.
Traveling with credit cards is safe and I love it (Capital One has NO foreign transaction fees – there’s my plug, do I get a lower interest rate now? Or at least a meet and greet with Alec Baldwin?). Regardless of the fact that it’s smart to travel with credit cards, it’s important to have cash in whatever the local currency is. Some places simply don’t take cards, depending on where you’re traveling. You also run the risk of cards getting frozen, or the potential for actual fraud. I mean, I’ve had people get my card number while HOME, let alone if I’m in a strange foreign country.
So what do I typically do? Well, I’m glad you asked! Recently, aside from bringing credit cards (not ATM), I’ve been purchasing my currency before I go.
I have to say, buying before I go has turned out to be cheaper, not to mention, the relief of not having to deal with exchanging money when I get there is well worth whatever “point something” difference I pay. Also, I KNOW the rate I’m getting, without having to stand there and figure out if it’s “good” or not.
But how much money to get? And isn’t it dangerous to travel with a lot of cash?
I’m a plan-aholic. It’s not an issue for me to sit and plan out our days. In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s a sickness. I love to research. I’ll find out how much it costs to get from point A to point B, what admission is to this and that. I’ll email the hotel and ask questions. I love to be organized.
Although I admit, I may OD a little. With our upcoming trip to Thailand and Hong Kong, I have a 30 page packet detailing the craziest of things. It’s just something I do that makes me feel more comfortable in a place where I’ve never been before. It’s good to be prepared. So while I’m on this huge research high (which spans pretty much from the time the flight is booked all the way until we leave), I figure out how much we’ll need per day and call that our daily budget.
The fact of the matter is, everyone has a budget. Whether you don’t want to spend more than $1,000 a day, or $50 a day, it’s a budget.
We typically pre-pay hotels, or factor them onto credit cards (hello, points!). We always bring multiple cards, in case one of the above worries I mentioned above does happen. But still… having cash on hand is super important, so, our cash consists of incidentals – admissions, excursions, transportation, food, etc. And yes, it’s difficult to be EXACT, so I typically do overestimate a little. The overestimation can depend on “how much more” we feel comfortable spending. Then, I break out envelopes. As I break down each day, I place the cash into an envelope and seal it.
I love this, because I know we will have enough for that day, and we don’t need to carry around the entire trip’s cash while we’re off exploring. When traveling to our trip, we split up these envelopes, should something happen, (some in my purse, some in our carryons, some in Josh’s wallet, etc). If you’re smart, you’ll be safe. Then, once we arrive, we leave the cash in either our safe, or even to be more careful, the safety deposit boxes 99.9% of the hotels offer. We never carry it all, or even most of it. Then, any leftover cash from each day (which always ends up happening since I overestimate), I simply just move it along to the following day, or plan to spend a little more when shopping for things to bring home!
This system has really allowed for us to have a more stress-free vacation, without having to worry about money, and I urge you to give it a try!