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15 travel money pro tips for your next vacation

Make sure to budget and carry a few travel money options.

You can get around pretty much all of Canada with nothing but a travel card, but that same card would do very little for you in Morocco. It all depends where you’re headed, which is why understanding some general travel money principles can help you pack your travel wallet.

These are our top tips for helping you manage travel money like a pro.

1. Money talks — know which currencies you’ll be using.

Research is key to planning your travel money strategy. For instance, if you were going to Europe, taking a travel credit card with no foreign transaction fees or a travel-friendly debit card with no foreign ATM withdrawal fees would be a smart move.

In contrast, if you were headed for Cambodia and Laos, you’d want to be sure to have plenty of local currency on you — and maybe small denominations of US dollars just in case.

2. Compare now, save money later.

After researching the local currency and travel money tips, you may find that it becomes obvious which travel money option you should take. However, don’t just settle for one.

Pick a combination of at least two of the best options because certain products work better for different situations; while a debit or prepaid card might be good for day-to-day transactions, a credit card is better for larger or emergency purchases. Plus, having a backup will prevent you from getting stranded while on vacation. Always leave your spare credit card in the hotel safe and never keep all your travel money together in one place.

3. Prepare cash beforehand.

If you know you’ll need cash, get some local currency before you go to avoid any unnecessary fees. Even if you’re planning to get cash out at the ATM upon arrival, the last thing you want is to find yourself stuck in a foreign place with no money for a cab because the ATM machine is busted.

4. Choose machine, not man.

Forget airport exchange desks and dodgy local money changers — they often charge costly transaction fees and high commissions because that’s how they make money. ATMs give you an interbank exchange rate, which is typically the most competitive foreign exchange rate you can get.

Leave cash withdrawals to your debit or prepaid card. Unlike debit and ATM cards where you’re withdrawing from your savings, credit card ATM withdrawals can quickly become very costly with high cash advance fees and interest rates that begin accruing from the time of your cash withdrawal.

5. Make big withdrawals.

You can avoid multiple ATM withdrawal fees by making one or two large withdrawals throughout your trip. This is only recommended if your destination is not a plastic-friendly place. To avoid carrying around a large sum of money, leave some hidden in your hotel or luggage — you could even use a fanny pack.

6. Say no to dynamic currency conversion.

If you’re asked at the counter if you’d like to pay in USD, the answer should always be “No, thank you.” This is because the retailer always gives you a less-than-favorable exchange rate compared to your credit card company’s interbank exchange rate. On top of that, the retailer also charges a currency conversion fee of at least 3% — this is in addition to the foreign transaction fee your card company will charge.

7. Say no to foreign transaction fees.

Where possible, avoid foreign transaction fees or currency conversion fees. This is a 3% to 5% fee that applies to every single transaction you make in the foreign country, which could add up to a very expensive vacation. Seek out travel-friendly credit cards and debit cards, where those fees are waived.

8. Inform your card company of your travel plans.

Alert your card company if you plan on using your credit or debit card abroad. Otherwise, you might find your account instantly frozen after one transaction in the foreign country. It might only take one call to reactivate your card, but it’s much cheaper and less stressful to make the call from home before you leave.

9. Create a travel emergency kit.

When it comes to travel money, it’s unwise to keep all of your eggs in one basket. Prepare for travel money emergencies by creating a separate kit full of backup cash, cards, important documentation and other information and store it somewhere safe. That way, if you happen to lose your wallet during your travels, you have a contingency plan to help minimize downtime and losses.

10. Check your balances.

Checking your balances as you go helps you stay privy to any fraudulent activity that might show up on your statements. Be sure to call your card company and report any suspicious activity the moment you see it.

Keeping track of your balance is also a good way to stay on top of your travel budget. If you’re using a travel card, not only will you know when to dial back the spending, but you’ll also know if you need to top up your balance — which can take up to two to three business days to hit your account.

11. Know your travel card.

Knowing your travel card and the terms and conditions is important to becoming a savvy travel card user. One of the common mistakes that travel card newbies make is using a travel card that doesn’t support their destination’s local currency. Learn what happens when your card doesn’t support the local currency.

12. Forget about traveler’s checks.

These might have been popular in the last century, but now traveler’s checks are now more of a hassle than a help. They are costly, a bit of a pain to acquire and not widely accepted.

What are traveler’s checks?

A traveler’s check is a form of currency you can purchase from your bank. Once signed, you can use these checks like cash, though you’ll need to show your ID during the transaction. The main draw of traveler’s checks is safety, as the issuer can cancel checks you report lost. These days, traveler’s checks are far less commonly accepted and not an ideal way to spend abroad compared to modern alternatives.

13. Spend all your cash.

Unless you plan on revisiting soon, it makes little sense to have foreign currency lying around unused in your travel wallet, so consider spending all your leftover foreign cash before you leave. Settle your hotel bill in part with your remaining cash, pick up souvenirs at the airport, have a blast at the duty-free shops or give it away to charity.

14. Watch the food prices.

Eating like a local is key to experiencing the true culture of a destination without breaking the bank. To find the best prices on meals or shopping for food, check out Yelp or TripAdvisor. There’s nothing worse than finding a great restaurant only to realize it’s out of your price range.

15. Inform your mobile phone company.

Make sure you contact your cell phone company to inform them of your travel plans. They may be able to set up your phone so you don’t incur huge international roaming fees. It’s can be a little pricey, but the convenience and peace of mind are worth the cost in the long run.

Compare travel credit cards

Name Product Foreign transaction fee Welcome offer Rewards Filter values
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
100,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months. That's $1,250 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
5x points on Lyft, 2x points on travel and dining and 1x points on all other purchases

Up to $1,250 signup bonus

Earn a massive signup bonus of 100,000 points with this popular travel card. That's worth up to $1,250!
American Express® Gold Card
60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first 6 months
4x at restaurants including delivery and Uber Eats; 4x at US supermarkets on up to $25,000 annually (then 1x points), 3x points on directly-booked flights and 1x points on all other purchases

Rose Gold is Back

Earn up to 4x points on select purchases, a bevy of travel perks, and a welcome offer worth up to $600 based on our valuation with this upper-mid tier travel card. Terms apply, see rates & fees
The Platinum Card® from American Express
100,000 points after spending $6,000 in your first 6 months, plus 10x points at restaurants worldwide and when you Shop Small in the US on up to $25,000 in combined purchases in the same timeframe
10x points at restaurants worldwide and when you Shop Small in the US on up to $25,000 combined in the first 6 months, 5x points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel, 5x points on directly-booked flights on up to $500,000 annually, then 1x points after that and on other purchases

New Platinum Exclusive Offer

One of the most valuable premium travel cards, featuring two welcome offers worth up to $7,000 based on Finder's valuation, multiple travel credits and unrivaled lounge access. Terms apply, see rates & fees

Compare up to 4 providers

Bottom line

Like all financial matters, research and solid planning can help you make the most of your travel money when you’re abroad. Compare travel credit cards to find a card that can offer you an advantage during your trip overseas.

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