Let’s Go: Accessing Money
If you are going to be on a trip for any extended period of time, you will need to consider how you replenish your cash. There are a number of ways to do this, but I have learned (through some tough lessons) what works best.
[singlepic=1237,175,,,right]I really don’t recommend traveling with a lot of cash – unless you have a black belt. Not to scare you, as most countries are pretty safe, however, there’s just no reason to be carrying around large amounts of cash. This certainly isn’t feasible if you are on a trip longer than two weeks. If you are carrying cash with you in any amounts, I highly recommend only taking what you need with you as you explore a city. Lock the rest up in your suitcase or in a hotel safe. Trust me, you really can’t outsmart a pickpocket.
I’m sorry to break this to you, but you are no longer in the 20th century – travelers checks are a thing of the past. If you are traveling in places other than Europe, then don’t even bother with travelers checks – they are more of a hindrance than a benefit. Plus other countries are wary of travelers checks. They especially seem to be wary of Visa backed travelers checks, which my bank provides. When I traveled in South America, I came across banks and merchants in Peru that would only accept American Express. I sat there with hundreds of dollars of travelers checks that I could not use.
[singlepic=1238,200,,,left]When traveling to Kenya, I went to a moneychanger to cash some of my travelers checks and I literally got in an argument with the people there because they would not accept my travelers checks unless I produced the receipt for them. I tried to explain to them that you are not supposed to carry the receipt with the travelers checks; they are always supposed to be separated. I went around and around with them, and finally left without any cash. American Express will never tell you that travelers checks aren’t necessarily trusted or understood in other parts of the world; but I will! There’s no worse feeling than knowing you are holding ‘cash’ and no one will recognize it.
Finally, if you are still on the fence about travelers checks, I have one more story from Morocco. A couple of British friends that I happened to be traveling with had travelers checks and no one would cash the travelers check. They were told that there was only one bank in town that would cash the checks. When we finally found the bank, they had to find someone to translate for them, and then proceeded to sit and wait an hour while the bank went through a mountain of paperwork for each check.
I can’t stress enough that travelers checks are a thing of the past.
[singlepic=1356,200,,,right]Plastic gets my vote! However, it’s not as simple as packing a debit card and heading out. I once again realized the hard way that it’s not simply enough to take one debit/credit card along. When I traveled in Brazil, I had my Citibank MasterCard that served as a Debit card. I had planned on using that to withdraw cash in the appropriate currency. I went to one of the many ATM’s in Rio and was surprised when it was rejected. This continued to happen when I finally realized that the issue was that it was a MasterCard and all of the ATM’s in Rio took Visa backed cards, not MasterCard; so much for being a global card. I was stuck, I didn’t have any way to withdraw cash, which I desperately needed!
When I took off on my around-the-world journey I decided that I would cover all bases just in case of an emergency. I applied for and got a Visa card and an American Express card in addition to my MasterCard debit card. Granted, the Visa and Amex weren’t debit cards, but they did come with a PIN number and a way to withdraw cash (at a fee) if I was really in a bind. There are many countries where certain cards aren’t really recognized for ATM withdrawals so be prepared and take along multiple cards just in case!
Some of you may be wondering if you can find ATM’s all over the world. The answer is yes – for the most part. However, my typical process was that I would arrive in a new country via air. Before I left the airport I would track down an ATM and make sure that I took out money at the airport. Enough to get me through a week, just in case I had trouble locating another one in the area I was staying. Ninety-five percent of the time there’s an ATM in the airport so it’s a crucial stop to make before you get all excited and leave the civilization of the airport.
After receiving my cash, I would take those crisp new bills from the ATM, go to a currency exchange booth at the airport and have them break down a couple of the larger bills into small bills. Most currency exchangers would do this for free without any issues. Always get small bills or else you may not be able to pay for your taxi. Many taxi drivers and merchants don’t have change for the large bills. This may be a hoax – or it may be the truth. Regardless, be prepared with small bills. Once again, there’s nothing worse than have money that you can’t use!
Hopefully these tips will prevent you from ever being broke in a foreign country. If you have any other great tips, please feel free to share them with us.
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