••• The International Writers Magazine: Travel Matters
How to Manage Your Money While Traveling
Jack Benny had a remarkable skill at effortlessly squeezing humor out of the most mundane money matters. I will always remember a wonderfully humorous television skit the legendary tightwad once performed. The comedian was on a luxury liner sailing to Southampton. During the crossing, instead of enjoying the amusements onboard the grand ship, he spent his waking hours in a classroom studying British bills and coins and learning the dollar equivalence to each in order to avoid over-tipping and over-spending.
Like Jack, I too approach money matters seriously. By being sensible, I have been able to see the world in comfort – with minimum regrets. Here are a few of my recommendations for getting the most out of your travel dollar.
1. Know the value of the foreign currency to the dollar
To avoid overspending, I always learn the official exchange rate for the dollar. Once I have that information I use it regularly to compute the cost for services needed. Normally the rate doesn’t fluctuate significantly from day to day, and it isn’t necessary to check it daily. Still, it never hurts to keep an eye on it to know how much you’re spending.
2. Spend your money three different ways
I strongly suggest you do what I did on my recent trip to Argentina. I used three different ways, depending on circumstances, to pay for my services: with cash, debit card, and a universal credit cards (avoid those that charge foreign transaction fees for purchases). In my youth, I only used American Express Travelers Cheques and cash. A disadvantage to cheques: they aren’t accepted everywhere; they require cash to purchase; and you never know how many you will need for a trip. Credit cards generally are more desirable as a substitute or as a backup. Each purchase is computed at the official exchange rate for that day. The disadvantage is that you usually have a credit limit.
3. Convert your money with care
Although with the right credit card you will often avoid awkward financial situations, you will still need local currency for miscellaneous purchases or services. This is especially important if you don’t prepay your trip. In Buenos Aires, for example, I was able to charge my meal, but not my tip, which needed to be paid in cash. (Important Tip: when purchasing products, paying with cash often provides retailers with an incentive to bargain.)
Since some cash is always needed, you should always give special attention to how you obtain it. Remember: every time you convert money you lose a percentage of its value in the transaction. A US$100 can shrink seriously if you don’t shield it from the money grabbers (bankers, fluctuating exchange rates, money exchangers, and more). For special guidance, you should ask your hotel concierge where you can get the best rate for your Traveler’s Cheques or money, and only buy foreign money as needed to avoid converting left-over foreign currency at the end of your trip.
Editors Tip (Always pay bills in local currency rather than your home currency)
The Miracle of ATMs: Some travelers believe ATMs are God’s answer to quick cash, because they are everywhere and easy to use with chip-and-PIN cards. For me, though, I have found them unpredictable and expensive. They take a high percentage rate for each transaction, and they limit the amount you can withdraw. Sadly, your transaction can be rejected for no obvious reason.
To minimize problems, before traveling, you should notify your credit card company of your plans and acquaint yourself with the bank’s policies and its ATM service charges. If it is a new card, you should test it to be sure it works.
Important note: My bank, for example, allows six free ATM charges in a 30-day period anywhere in the world, and it places specific money limits on withdrawals. According to my banker, three things can cause a bank to reject a transaction. They are: not having a chip in your card, using an ATM in a high-fraud area, and exceeding the cash withdrawal amount permitted by the banks. If, for some reason, you should have a problem with your card, while on the road, you should call your bank’s 24-hour international telephone number.
4. Avoid Financial Meltdown
I always carry US dollars in large denominations (for conversion) and small denominations (for tips). To avoid having bills rejected, you should be certain they are unmarked and in good condition. I learned about the sensibilities of this the hard way. For an amusing meltdown I once had in Brazil, you should read my article, “Up the Amazon … without cash.” (www.realtraveladventures.com/author/joe-david). Some of my recommendations in that article are no longer in vogue; still, the article is worth reading.
In conclusion, I strongly recommend that you always prepare for the unthinkable and you have a backup plan for accessing money or getting assistance in case of an emergency. Suggestions: When push comes to shove, you can always approach your embassy or consulate for assistance – or, better still, your friends and family back home. For extra protection, in case of an accident or medical emergency, I strongly recommend a travel and evacuation insurance policy for each trip.
© Joe David May 2017
Joe David has authored numerous travel articles and six books. Three books include: The Infidels, The Fire Within, and Gourmet Getaways. www.bfat.com
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