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7 tips to manage your cash when traveling - a guest post

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I didn’t quite get time to put this guest post up before I left for DC, but it is ace. If you’d like to write a guest post for plonkee money, drop me a line.

A personal finance and life blogger from metropolitan New York, bripblap is extremely well travelled. Enjoy his tips below and subscribe to his excellent feed.
American Express - don’t leave home without it! That may be one of the most famous phrases in advertising history, but it tapped into a deep fear for most travelers: the fear of being stranded in the distant unknown parts of the world without ready access to their money. What are some simple tricks to use to safeguard access to your money when traveling?

1. If you are traveling to very remote areas, make sure you have plenty of cash. The parts of the world that don’t accept credit cards or debit cards are dwindling, but there are still places. Keep plenty of cash, but keep it spread amongst your wallet, your luggage and even a bit hidden somewhere else. I used to prefer to keep some spare money hidden in my toiletry bag on the theory that nobody is going to check there.

2. Carry dollars. Despite the fact that the dollar is terribly weak right now, it is still the most accepted currency in the world. Carry $100 bills; these are far easier to exchange, ironically enough, overseas than in the US. If you are coming from another country (you’re a European traveler, etc.) I would still recommend carrying US dollars. Don’t count on your drachmas or forints being accepted everywhere.

3. Keep a list of your credit card numbers and customer service - and give a copy to someone at home. There is nothing like having your wallet stolen overseas. However, you want to be able to quickly cancel them if you do lose them or have them stolen, and the easiest way is to have a separate “panic card” ready. Give one to a friend at home in case your panic card is stolen, too.

4. Debit cards are convenient, but pricey. When I started traveling in the early 90s, debit cards were almost worthless when traveling. As time has passed, though, they have become far more useful. Be careful when changing money, though - you may pay a fee to your bank and the local bank. In addition, you may get hit with an exceptionally unfriendly exchange rate.

5. Go gray. I can’t emphasize enough that you should stay in compliance with the laws of the countries you visit, which often prohibit individual currency exchanges. Depending on the country you visit, though, you may find significantly better exchange rates dealing with individuals than with banks or exchanges. In developing countries with high inflation rates local people will often be willing to give you better rates simply to protect their earnings by converting them to dollars. I would not recommend exchanging with locals, however, unless laws (and safety) permit.

6. Get rid of change. Spend your change as fast as you get it, and small bills, too. These are often difficult - if not impossible - to exchange on your return. Try to spend all of your local currency before you leave the country. Exchanging your money to local money and then back to your money is a terrible waste. Try to spend down to 0 before you leave; put your last few expenses on a credit card.

7. The most important money tip when traveling, of course, is to keep it and yourself safe. Never flash large sums, never discuss how much you have, keep it well hidden and ensure you know how you could get ‘emergency money’ if you needed it (for example, where ATMs are that accept your bank’s ATM network).

Fun (and safe) travels!

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55 comments for “7 tips to manage your cash when traveling - a guest post”

  1. These are all solid tips! I have used every one of them except exchanging currencies on the local market with individuals. I think a lot of this depends where you travel to. I know Brip Blap has traveled and lived in Russia, and there, this would make sense. In the UK or Spain, two places I have traveled through several times, the locals couldn’t be bothered with dollars. Solid tips, overall. :)

    Posted by Patrick | December 6, 2007, 12:09 pm
  2. I’ve never exchanged with locals either. I tihnk the most exotic places I’ve ever visited (Morocco and Thailand) are well on the tourist track.

    But I do normally carry some cash in US$ unless I’m travelling in Europe (when I use euros) and I try and get rid of as much change as I can.

    Posted by plonkee | December 6, 2007, 12:16 pm
  3. Thanks so much for the opportunity, plonkee!

    Changing currency with individuals is tricky, but even in Europe I found it was useful. I would carry dollars over there and find a colleague who was traveling to the US shortly, and we’d exchange at the current rate - but with no fees like you get through currency exchanges. Vice versa, when I had colleagues visiting New York I would buy euros off of them before a business trip across the pond. So it’s possible even with European travel.

    Rubles were a whole different story! The worst part was in the hyperinflationary days - I would get literal bricks of money in exchange. You would get 3 different exchange rates in one day. Terrible.

    Posted by Steve | December 6, 2007, 12:17 pm
  4. Wow, I think hyperinflation is really interesting, but only if it’s happening to someone else.

    If I have any spare Euros after a trip abroad, I tend to keep them - I’m almost certain to be travelling back into the Eurozone again.

    Posted by plonkee | December 6, 2007, 12:20 pm
  5. Very good points! In Italy, I had a little fun spending all my leftover Euro change. I knew I wouldn’t be back for a number of years. I gave the leftovers to my sister, since she was going to Europe in 2 years. I assume that got spent…

    Posted by Mrs. Micah | December 6, 2007, 2:07 pm
  6. Aer Lingus used to come around towards the end of international flights and ask passengers to empty their pockets of change, all to be donated to Goal. Not sure if they still do. It was great because no matter what you do you always end up with some change rattling around in your pockets or bag, to be thrown in a jar at home. Goal must have made a ton in donations via that scheme.

    Posted by guinness416 | December 6, 2007, 2:41 pm
  7. Great tips! I never thought of giving copies of my credit card information to someone back home. That’s a really good idea!

    Posted by Lynnae @ Being Frugal.net | December 6, 2007, 2:45 pm
  8. OK, I will add a completely unsolicited reminisence about loose change in foreign countries because of Guinness416’s comment about Goal (been there! given change on Aer Lingus! I could’ve listened to those attendant’s accents all day!)

    Anyway, in 1986 while an exchange student in (then) West Germany, I was lucky enough to get a visa to visit (then) communist East Berlin with my German and American classmates. Exchange rules were very strict, and the amount of money (and type of currency) you were allowed to change were very tightly controlled. I changed a fair amount of Deutschmarks, not knowing how much I would need for a day trip. We had to return to West Berlin each night - presumably for security or because 16-year olds posed a threat to the regime. Dunno.

    So after paying the equivalent of $1.50 for a four-course massive lunch and buying the few souvenirs we could find (I never did locate “I went to a Warsaw Pact country and all I got was this lousy t-shirt”) I was left with a fair pile of change. Because of the currency change rules, it couldn’t be changed BACK into west German currency, so as we boarded the train our chaperone came around and told us we’d better not be holding any currency, because we’d get in trouble.

    We hurriedly bought some candy bars, Fanta and so on but still had some change left. We then noticed that there were a lot of people shouting and gesturing at us on the end of the platform, yelling as a shower of glittering coins flew out of the windows ahead of us. We assumed this was the thing to do, so we chucked our coins out the window, too.

    This was the first intimation I had, despite East Berlin’s immaculate, clean and very pleasant appearance that something might be ever so slightly wrong with communism’s rosy presentation.

    Posted by Steve | December 6, 2007, 3:24 pm
  9. @guinness416:
    They do this on British Airways, but the charity is UNICEF - perfectly good cause, I tihnk.

    I’m so jealous, I really want to go to a Communist country. My current first choice is Cuba but I might settle for Laos.

    Posted by plonkee | December 6, 2007, 3:49 pm
  10. These are great tips. My only differing opinion would be to not carry American dollars. A friend of mine had issues trying to change $50 and $100 bills all over Europe. I guess counterfeit American money is common enough for them not to accept it in a lot of banks around Europe. It can be exchanged in currency exchange locations though but those are so hard to find outside of airports.

    I carried my Visa check card around and just made sure that I had enough cash on me to get me through the next few days. Also before changing cities I got some extra cash to ensure that I had no issue finding an ATM or getting a hotel room or getting another train ride to wherever.

    Posted by Neil | December 7, 2007, 12:16 am
  11. @plonkee: er…trust me, communist countries may seem like exotica from a distance but the post-soviet countries were horrific for the most part. I don’t know Cuba (I’m an American, so apparently traveling to Cuba would be worse than declaring allegiance to Satan) but I imagine it’s nothing like communist Poland/Hungary/Germany/etc. in their heyday. Communism is a thing of the past - except maybe in North Korea. I was not completely anti-communist. My wife grew up in a communist country and she’s often pointed out to me that there were a lot of benefits to the “to each according to his needs, from each according to his abilities” credo. She had a happy, safe and educational childhood in a Soviet republic and doesn’t regret a second of it - but admits that those times are now pretty much a thing of the past.

    @Neil: you hit on a sore spot. When I was traveling heavily (circa early 2000s) the US dollars was a behemoth - it crushed the euro, and everything else. Now it IS probably semi-worthless. Take what I wrote and substitute EURO for DOLLAR and you’re probably not far off…

    Posted by Steve | December 7, 2007, 1:43 am
  12. To be fair, outside of say North Korea, I don’t imagine communist countries to be all that different - I will forever live in regret that I wasn’t born 10-15 years earlier.

    But as far as I’ve heard Cuba is amazing and I need to get there now before all the Americans can. Amd it’s definitely communist.

    Posted by plonkee | December 7, 2007, 2:47 am
  13. I just want to add a couple of things:

    1) Carry $100 bills AND $1 bills. $100 bills are for exchanging and the $1 bills are for when you find yourself starving in an (Asian) airport. Food places there will usually take dollars but gives your change in their own currency.

    2) Try not to use your credit cards (CC) overseas. If you have to, call your CC companies and give them a heads up of where you’re going before you leave.

    This will prevent them from freezing your card when a weird charge from a foreign country comes in.

    Posted by Hilda | December 7, 2007, 3:04 am
  14. I disagree, actually - they WERE different. East Germany was eerie, otherworldly. It was clean and neat and so utterly free of advertising to be incomprehensible. Honestly, the lack of advertisements almost gave me a headache - which tells you how much ads have sunken into my consciousness.

    I can’t say anything about Cuba, though. I want to visit Cuba, too, but just in the general sense that I want to visit anywhere warm…

    Posted by Steve | December 7, 2007, 3:05 am
  15. Have you seen the German language film “Good Bye, Lenin!”? The premise is that the East German mother was in a coma whilst the Berlin wall came down and East Germany collapsed. As she’s so committed to communism, to protect her, her children hide the fact that it’s happened.

    Anyway, one of the things that they struggle to explain is why a huge coca-cola advert has gone up near to their apartment. I always wondered why that was particularly notable, and now I know.

    Posted by plonkee | December 7, 2007, 9:16 am
  16. I did see that movie, and yeah, it would have been unthinkable to see ads like that. My wife (who grew up in the Uzbekistan Soviet Socialist Republic) said that advertisements in the US were a terrible shock when they emigrated from Uzbekistan 11 years ago.

    Hilda had a good point too. I lived in Moscow for a few years and even after using my stupid Visa for ages I would still get “fraud prevention” calls at least once a month. “Sir, did you know your credit card was used at a movie theater in RUSSIA!” One time I had an awful experience with my card being frozen while I was out in the sticks and couldn’t get through to Visa’s customer service to get it unfrozen. Not fun.

    Posted by Steve | December 8, 2007, 3:16 am
  17. I’ve wanted to go to Uzbekistan for ages. In fact it’s the country I pick when someone asks me what I mean about travelling off the beaten track.

    I’ve hard the card thing happen in Bratislava, Slovakia, which is even part of the EU now. I always make sure I’ve told at least one card company where I am going to be.

    Posted by plonkee | December 8, 2007, 11:37 am
  18. Excellent tips! I plan to include it in my weekly carnival review next Friday.

    Best Wishes!

    Posted by Dividends4Life | December 11, 2007, 6:15 pm
  19. Don’t just carry $100 USD notes with you — also carry smaller bills, too. When I was travelling [overland] from Bulgaria to Turkey, the visa fee for Americans was $20 USD — and if you didn’t have a $20 USD exactly, you could pay them $20 euro (which then was about $25 USD). They didn’t give change and they didn’t accept any type of plastic payment, and there weren’t any ATM machines that I could see.

    Posted by Shana | December 21, 2007, 6:05 am
  20. It seems the best way to manage your funds while traveling is to use your charge card. Using your charge card allows you to maintain a record of your expenses, prevents you from carrying too much cash and allows you to spend freely.

    Posted by Instant Charge Card | July 10, 2008, 12:31 pm
  21. These are very good tips, especially the ones about having enough cash. So many times I have budgeted my vacations right to the dollar without including extra cash for the unexpected happenings. Following these tips is a good way to make sure you are covered.

    Posted by CreditSider | July 22, 2008, 5:02 am
  22. Rarely but once in a while US currency will be rejected overseas when the bills have been defaced, as is often the case. Even older worn currency can be a problem where counterfeiting is feared by locals. If possible take clean unmarked (larger denomination) bills.

    Posted by John Hillegass | October 13, 2008, 9:41 pm
  23. My father is working abroad for 6 years. And when he is about to go home for a 3 months vacation, he gave me his account number and the password on a certain bank. He wanted to make sure that his money is safe when he comes home.

    Posted by Cassandra | November 4, 2008, 11:31 pm
  24. One more thing to add, one should know the ‘emergency’ numbers in that area/country. This will help in safe journey.

    Posted by Payday Loans | June 25, 2009, 3:35 am
  25. Excellent tips - i will definately bear these in mind.

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    Posted by Samantha Peppercorn | July 9, 2009, 10:23 am
  26. Will definitely go by these..great tips mate.

    Posted by Payday Loans Uk | July 25, 2009, 8:36 am
  27. Don’t just carry $100 USD notes with you — also carry smaller bills, too. When I was travelling [overland] from Bulgaria to Turkey, the visa fee for Americans was $20 USD — and if you didn’t have a $20 USD exactly, you could pay them $20 euro (which then was about $25 USD). They didn’t give change and they didn’t accept any type of plastic payment, and there weren’t any ATM machines that I could see.

    ( this is not the case anymore, they calculate dolars and give you change back)

    Posted by Payday Loans No Faxing | July 25, 2009, 8:38 am
  28. You should always have euro’s handy when you are travelling around europe.

    Posted by Payday Loans No Credit Check | July 25, 2009, 8:39 am
  29. Great article!

    One tip which I can add to this is that whenever I travel abroad, I always take a pre-paid Mastercard with me.

    There are many on the market - what I like about mine is that in the event of a problem, someone back here in the UK can “top up” the credit card at a Post Office or retail outlet and the funds can be credited to the card, instantly at some places.

    This is considerably cheaper, quicker and more convenient than having money wired over!

    Posted by simon @ shrewdcookie.com | August 2, 2009, 12:35 am
  30. Great tips as you don’t want to have to work when travelling so these should be listened to. Thanks!

    Posted by Debt Help | September 11, 2009, 1:47 pm
  31. I must agree with Simon. Using a prepaid card is the safest way. If it is lost or stolen, your liability is dramatically dampened.

    Posted by Paydayloans | November 30, 2009, 5:42 pm
  32. yep prepaid is where it’s at these days. too much fraud around.

    i’ve had my cash card cloned twice last year


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  37. These are very useful tips when traveling. You always have to keep your money out of sight and not to wear expensive jewelries, especially when traveling to third countries.

    Posted by john | July 6, 2010, 6:49 pm
  38. These are very useful tips when traveling. You always have to keep your money out of sight and not to wear expensive jewelries, especially when traveling to third world countries.

    Posted by john | July 6, 2010, 6:50 pm
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  40. One thing about carrying cash. I used a cloth wallet that tied around my waist and went inside my pants. I put small money in my pockets and kept bigger money and credit cards in my pants wallet. When I used the small cash I would go to the bathroom and move larger bills for exchanging to my pockets for immediate exchanging or credit cards to nake larger purchases. I did not want anyone to see where I put my money, credit cards and passport.

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  41. Ahh! It’s really nice to have enough time, and should I add money, to go to different countries every now and then! Nowadays, though, this is deemed a real luxury.

    Anyway, I think your tips are right on, especially tips 1 and 7. It’s really terrible to have that feeling when you’re stuck in a place, not sure where to go next and you look at your wallet and found nothing, or you went to get your wallet and you found it missing. Scattering cash in your wallet, pockets, bags, etc. can be really beneficial in such a case when you need cash fast.

    Posted by Ann | July 18, 2010, 8:55 am
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