Travel Currency Tips: Travel Money
Travel purses, wallets, credit cards, travellers cheques / checks
Travel Currency When it comes to travel currency, the basic rule is Cover All Bases. Why?
- Sometimes overseas bank machine connections are not working,
- Sometimes cash advances on credit cards can only be done at banks, and banks may be closed after hours or for holidays,
- Sometimes travelers checks are refused for various reasons.
Check the Exchange Rate Most likely, you have already checked the currency exchange rate while you were researching your trip, as travel sites often list in different currencies. But if you haven't, find out the name of the currency at your destination. Check online for "currency exchange rates" and find out the value for one dollar / euro, and determine what multiple converts that to the foreign currency.
For example, when I'm in Hong Kong or China, I know that if I divide the amount quoted in yuan (PRC) or in Hong Kong dollars by 7, I get a rough idea of what something costs in Canadian funds. This is a great help for shopping, as you don't need to pull out a calculator before every transaction. This is especially useful, though tricky to figure out, for currencies such as Thailand bahts and Sri Lanka rupees. This is to give you a rough guide only for fast converting, so you don't end up spending hundreds of dollars for a short cab ride!
Cash/Travelers Checks, Bank Cards I always take some cash in a major currency that is widely accepted in a great many countries. For me, it's been US dollars, Euros, or British pounds. As well, I take more money in the form of travellers checks (in my own currency if possible, to avoid another layer of exchange rates). Travellers checks (cheques) are insured and replaced if lost or stolen.
I restrict my bank cards to one travel credit card and one debit card : If they are lost or stolen, there are fewer calls to make to cancel them. By carrying several sources of funds, there is always one source that lets you have money.
TIP Send yourself an email listing the contact information for your bank and credirt card companies, so you will be able to quickly access information on how to contact them if you need to cancel cards or get new travellers checks.
Travel Wallet I recommend a plain, inexpensive zippered wallet about the same dimensions as a travelers check, to use only as your travel wallet. When on the road, I carry a zippered fabric wallet about the size of a check book, with several slots for bills and travelers checks, credit and business cards, and a zippered compartment for coins. It's ugly and cheap looking, and not likely to attract envious glances.
A fancy, expensive wallet gives the impression that you have lots of money. This is not a good impression to make when you are on the road. Save your fancy wallet for home. Keep the travel wallet safe in a purse (see below) or in a zippered pants pocket. (After having his pocket picked in Addis Ababa, a friend who was working in Ethiopia secured his wallet to his belt loop with a heavy stainless steel chain!)
Travel Purse Safe travel starts with not attracting attention, so as with travel wallets, do avoid expensive looking purses, and purses that are difficult to carry -- like clutches or handbags. You want to keep your valuables secure, and compact. Regular purses are designed as fashion accessories, and not well suited to travel. I use a dark coloured fabric travel purse with several zippered compartments and a shoulder strap that goes over one shoulder so the purse lies close to the front of my left hip.
Here's one at Amazon similar to mine, for about the same price I paid, and I notice there are several different colors available, plus favorable customer reviews. See travel purse . If you travel with an iPad or similar, see this travel tote -- Baggallini Town Tote.
My travel purse also has a loop that you can run your belt through, if you want. (Fanny packs mark you as 'someone not from here' and attract attention.) This special travel purse compactly holds my travel wallet, passport, tickets, map, and anything I need ready access to, such as medications, gum or mints, antacids, lip balm, emery board, contact lens solution, eyeglasses/case, sunglasses, waterless hand cleaner, eye mask, ear plugs. In short, all the little things that will make me more comfortable on the flight or when out for the day.
Travel Credit Cards Take only one major credit card (two if you must. Note : VISA is widely accepted) and one debit card. Consider getting a pre-loaded card that will limit what you can lose, or spend. Leave all your other cards at home.
TIP Before you go, contact your credit card company to let them know where you are going, and the dates you will be out of the country. This avoids your card being cancelled when charges start showing up for a bar in, say, Brazil, and you live in the U.K.
Make arrangements to pay your credit card monthly statement while you are away or prepay the card account-- this also avoids having your card cancelled. And take along a list of numbers to call if you lose the card(s), and leave a copy at home as backup.
Note Check the terms and conditons of your credit card for foreign purchases. All card issuers charge a fee to convert from foreign currency; AMEX Canada charges twice (first, to convert to U.S. funds, then again, to convert to Canadian funds).
Travelers Checks/ Travellers Cheques Take a portion of your budgetted expenses in travellers checks / travellers cheques, preferably in your own currency to avoid extra exchange fees. Most hotels will cash travellers checks for their guests, with or without a fee, but may not give you the best exchange rate. Some currency exhange outlets charge a fee per check, so if you take larger denomination checks, you'll be charged lower fees. Most airports have a currency exchange, so buy local currency with a travellers check when you arrive. (I found this to be the case even at 3 a.m. in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.)
Money Belts The purpose of money belts that are worn around the neck or waist is to keep secret the fact you have something valuable. Yet time and again, I see tourists whipping out their money belt as if it were their wallet. The belts are good for securing valuables such as passport, tickets and extra money, especially when in transit, or when your hotel room has no safe.
I prefer the leg safe (Amazon example of a leg safe) -- a velcro-closing 'money belt' that attaches on your leg just below your knee. (Mine is like the beige one, and I wear it along the back of my calf). These work best with loose fitting pants, so try it on at home, with the pants you plan to wear on your trip. Some money 'belts' can be worn on the chest, anchored to a bra. Money belts are not wallets. Handle money belts only when you are alone (hotel room, toilet stall etc), and take from it what you need for the short term, then keep it hidden.
I found these money belts and passport holders, etc on Amazon - see money belts, wallets etc
TIP Before you travel, try on whichever money belt you choose with a few of your travel outfits. Have a good look, from all angles, in a full length mirror, to see that when you move, sit, etc that the belt doesn't show through. This may sound a little extreme, but (touch wood), in all my travels, I have not lost any money or cards.
Safe and Secure . . .A little planning pays big dividends! Enjoy your trip instead of hanging about consulates, police stations and bank offices, trying to replace lost money and documents. Me? I'd rather be out seeing the sights!
Here's how my Travel Currency tips pages started:
On a trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, I needed some cash. No problem! Just find a bank machine and use the debit card. As long as your card works internationally, you can usually get cash in local currency. The first ATM machine I tried didn't work, nor did the second one, a few blocks away. Nor did a third.
About this time, I realized I kept meeting the same people at these bank machines. Turns out, we were all in the same boat: No money, and no way to get any. So we headed into the bank, just before 3 pm closing, to learn that the international ATM Cirrus system was down for the day. We were invited to take cash advances on our credit cards, and patiently got into line.
"No problem," said the bank person, "I just need to see your passport." Well, tourists out for a day on the town are encouraged to leave their passports in the hotel safe, and I had. "Without your passport, I can't help you," said the bank man. "So sorry."
Luckily, I had just enough pesos to pay for the cab back to the hotel, where I could cash a travellers check, but this money-less incident taught me a lesson: Don't count on anything being as it should. Now I plan my trips, and carry money in a variety of forms. I find that the time spent on travel planning is well worth it, as it allows me to relax and enjoy the trip.