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Cash, Card, or Both When Traveling?

So your travel agent has helped you plan your dream vacation. Soon you will be flying or sailing to a country you’ve never been to before, ready to soak up the culture, enjoy the food, and capture memories that will last a lifetime. You have your passport, your bags are packed, and you are ready to go. One thing you still need to decide on is how you are going to use your money when you arrive.

These days it is easy to pull out a credit card and pay for most meals, attractions, souvenirs, and transportation with your plastic no matter where you go. Although it is convenient to use a credit card for small daily purchases, it is smart to carry some local currency with you as well. Credit is widely accepted in most places around the world but there are always exceptions and you can’t rely on your card for every purchase. It is awkward and embarrassing to jump in a taxi, get to your destination and then find out that the cab driver can only accept cash when you only have a credit card. Tipping your restaurant servers, housekeepers, and tour guides are also things to think about when traveling. Gratuities are almost always a strict cash-only option.

There are other drawbacks to relying on just your card for payment. Many places also charge a foreign transaction fee when they process your credit card. Although the fee is usually a small amount, it adds up quickly and for most casual purchases like street food or coffee it is favorable to just pay in cash.

Another thing to consider when using your card for purchases is that not all receipts are in English. If you are traveling somewhere that you can’t read the language you have no way of knowing if you have been charged fairly and accurately (but you will likely sign for it anyway.) This makes it difficult to keep track of your spending and you run the risk of being charged incorrectly.

Traveler checks were popular in the past, but many stores and restaurants have stopped accepting them. If you plan on using them for a specific purchase it is best to contact the store ahead of time to verify if they will allow it.

When traveling abroad, take a credit or debit card for some purchases (and as a safety net for emergencies) but also take some local currency with you so you never have to worry about payment issues when you should be enjoying your trip.

Top three ways to get local currency for your next vacation:

  1. Ask Your Bank or Credit Union

The first thing you should consider is talking to your bank or credit union. Many sell foreign currency and you can feel confident that it is legitimate as opposed to running the risk of buying counterfeit money from scam companies tempting you with low or no fee advertisements. Not all banks or credit unions offer a currency exchange, but it never hurts to ask.

2. Use an ATM

There are ATMs in every big city all over the world. They really come in handy when you need cash on the spot while traveling. If you can find an ATM that is linked to PLUS, Cirrus, or Maestro you should have no problem withdrawing cash when you need it. Not sure if your debit card is connected to those networks? Just look on the back of your debit card for their association or call your card company/bank. When withdrawing currency from an ATM, take out a couple of large amounts rather than several small ones, this will save you a lot on transaction fees as well as the hassle of having to constantly find an ATM.

3. Order Currency Online

There are companies that sell currency online, making it a smooth and efficient process to get cash for your trip. Travelex is a reputable company that have been in business for years and is a go-to for many seasoned travelers. Even large companies such as AAA utilize their services. Depending on your location you have the option to pick up the currency at a Travelex store or you can have it delivered to your home. When using an online currency company do your research beforehand and make sure that it is a legitimate company and not a scam. Scammers love to target travelers. Don’t get duped, use a reputable company.

It is smart to take a credit or debit card on your international trips but try to avoid relying on them completely. Don’t forget to call your bank and credit card companies before your trip to notify them of your travels. Your card will be flagged for fraud and you will have no way of making any purchases or cash withdraws if you do not inform them that you are traveling. As long as you have your card and cash on you at all times during your trip you should have no issues making purchases on your vacation.

One final note, be smart with your money. Try to keep it hidden and secure while in public as to not draw attention from others. There are many vests, belts, necklaces, wallets and purses designed for travelers in mind. These are great ways to make sure your money is safe and accessible to only you.