Don’t spend like a fool, make your travel money count.
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 really depends where you’re headed, but understanding some general travel money principles will go a long way in helping 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. Search our country-specific travel money guides for more information.
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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 back-up 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 transactional 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 that 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. Emergency contact details.
If you’re planning on using your credit or debit card abroad, alert your card company of your travel plans. Card companies are so vigilant these days that 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.
Additionally, you should save your bank’s international phone number to your cell phone in case of emergencies.
9. 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.
10. 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.
11. 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.
12. 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.
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 is nothing worse than finding a great restaurant only to realize that it’s way out of your price range.
14. Mobile phone.
Make sure you contact your cell phone company to inform them of your plans to travel abroad. 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.
15. Card skimmers.
Before you use an ATM, check for some obvious signs of tampering near the speakers, the side of the screen, the card reader itself and the keyboard. If something looks unusual or you suspect anything else suspicious, don’t use that ATM. Always use common sense and cover the keypad if you’re in a busy area.
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