A Cheap Broad’s Travel Tips: Money, Honey, That’s What I Want

In the midst of the fun part of planning your dream vacation, there are a few less fun but vital chores to tend to before you leave home concerning money. Not the do-I-have-enough part – I’m assuming you’ve taken care of that – but how to handle money once you’re actually on vacation. How many financial nightmares can you have on holiday? Let me count the ways:

  • On our first two days in Amsterdam, both my and my husband’s ATM and credit cards were repeatedly rejected at ATMs.

  • On a rural French motorway on a Sunday morning, my credit cards were rejected by a self-service pump at an unmanned petrol station, with my rental car running on empty.

  • In London, both my credit card and my traveling partner’s were rejected as we attempted to pay our bed and breakfast tab.

  • A friend left $40 in his Rome hotel room and the maid stole it.

So what are the best options for safely carrying money on vacation? There isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer, but it’s wise to have more than one source for cash and vendor payments.

money

I haven’t used traveler’s checks in years, but there are occasions when they are useful – for instance, on a land excursion from a cruise ship when you want a small amount of local currency. Or when the ATM is down or doesn’t have instructions in a language you understand. Carry checks in small denominations (a small shop may not want to cash a $100 check). If you’ll be spending a lot of time in one country, consider foreign-currency checks – but don’t buy more than you’ll use, since you’ll pay a fee to have them converted back to dollars when you get home.

Pre-charged cards such as the Visa TravelMoney Card sound like a great deal. But the fees for the convenience are usurious. There are fees for checking the balance, ATM usage, for currency conversion on top of ATM fees if you get cash in a currency other than the one the card was issued in, “inactivity fee” or “account maintenance fee” every month you don’t use the card, and to reload the card.

No matter how well-prepared or experienced a traveler you are, some glitch can cause you to suddenly be penniless in Paris despite having a fully-stocked bank account at home. Still, there are some precautions you can and should take before you travel. Many of these apply whether you’re leaving the U.S. or visiting relatives in Delaware.

  • Before you go, call the bank holding your debit/credit card and advise them you are going on vacation. If your bank sees your cards suddenly being used in Acapulco without prior notice, a hold may be put on the card. But beware: even after having done this, my friend and I were shocked to have our cards rejected at the B&B in London. The bank’s explanation during a transatlantic call was that a balance inquiry earlier in the day had caused a hold to be put on the cards. Caveat emptor.

  • Carry the 24-hour phone number /overseas toll-free number for your credit card separately from the card.

  • For travel outside the U.S., check the currency exchange rate versus the dollar at your destination(s). Websites such as http://www.xe.com/ucc/ update world currency rates frequently.

  • Keep in mind your bank’s daily withdrawal limit. Our problems in Amsterdam were due to not realizing that withdrawing 200 Euros exceeded our $300 daily limit.

  • Have a 4-digit PIN number for each of your credit and ATM cards. Do not use letters and do not have more than 4 digits; outside the U.S., ATMs do not have letters and do not accept PIN numbers with more than four digits.

  • Have a backup plan. Do not depend on only one ATM card, no matter how much money you have in your account. Card strips can become demagnetized, rendering them useless. European bank cards contain a smart chip and their POS devices do not always recognize American cards.

  • Carry some cash for your arrival. No matter if it’s Albuquerque or Ankara, through no fault of your own you can find yourself in an airport or hotel on a rainy Sunday night with the only nearby ATM on the blink. Major banks can order foreign currency for you prior to your trip.

  • Save all receipts. Not only will this help you at customs, but you can be sure to compare them to your bank statements upon your return.

If this all sounds complicated and scary, it really isn’t. Some precautions, along with a backup plan, can keep your vacation (and the weeks afterward) from becoming a financial disaster.

Barbara Rice is a native Igonian. Upon discovering the Beatles at age 9, she picked up an atlas and figured out how far England was and how long it would take to get there (5,371 miles, 12 hours). Though gainfully employed, she regards work as a necessary evil to finance vacations. In her spare time she looks up cheap airfares and daydreams about her next trip. She never did meet Sir Paul, but she knows where his office is.

A News Cafe, founded in Shasta County by Redding, CA journalist Doni Greenberg, is the place for people craving local Northern California news, commentary, food, arts and entertainment. Views and opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of anewscafe.com.

Barbara Rice
Barbara Rice is anewscafe.com's administrative assistant. She grew up in Igo listening to the devil's music, hearing tales of WWII, and reading James Thurber and Mad Magazine while dreaming of travel to exotic lands. She graduated from Shasta High School, Shasta College, and San Francisco State University. After too many blistering Sacramento Valley summers, she's traded it all for the ocean breezes of Humboldt County. She's been told she's a bad influence and that makes her very happy. She tweets, travels, and spoils cats. There's a dance in the old dame yet.
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4 Responses

  1. Avatar Bea says:

    I was in northern Europe for 2 months this past summer. Before gong I got a new credit card from Capitol One that had no fee for purchases made in a foreign currency. I pre-paid the amount of money I thought would more than cover my expenses.

    I planned on using bank ATMs exclusively. I couldn't find one in Terminal 5 Heathrow. I finally used a commercial exchange company. Otherwise I used my credit union ATM card and credit card exclusively with no problems.

  2. Avatar Matt Grigsby says:

    Such a great article with wonderful practical advice. Fear of snafus with money while traveling overseas shouldn't keep people from leaving home and your piece here proves that.

    I never count on the ATMs in the airport to have enough money when I arrive, so I try to pick up around a hundred of the local currency from my bank. It's worth it!

  3. Excellent piece, and timely too, as my family and I were just discussing our summer vacation plans – Italy of bust! Thanks for the wise advice.

  4. Avatar Mary Willmon says:

    We have traveled in Europe many times with our Capital One credit card. We have had no problems, as we tell the clerks when checking out that the card has no chip, so they run it by hand through their register instead of the machine with a pin. For cash we have a Capital One money market account that is ATM only. On both of these cards, there is no service charge or fees for using in a foreign currency. Before traveling we find which banks have free ATMs.

    Several years ago, we took travelers checks, as we were going to multiple countries. No businesses would take them, banks charged an exorbitant fee to cash them, so when we finally found an AmExpress office, we cashed them all. Better to be carrying Euros in our money belts, than unusable checks.