Why take cash on a trip and how to change the currency?

Seasoned solo travelers often advocate for using a bank card when journeying abroad. Not only does it securely store funds, but it also allows for seamless payment of goods and services while potentially saving on currency exchange fees. However, relying solely on a card can be challenging. In certain situations, cards may not be accepted, making cash transactions more convenient. Additionally, cash offers the opportunity to experience the beauty and uniqueness of foreign currency, and perhaps even bring some home as a souvenir.

Where Should You Carry Cash While Traveling?

Despite the growing popularity of bank cards and online payments, cash remains king in many regions and countries around the world. There are various reasons for this preference, making it essential to carry cash while traveling. Learn how to effectively exchange currency for a smooth and enjoyable trip.

  • In Germany, Italy, and other conservative European countries that continue to value paper money and are not eager to abandon it.
  • Regions like the Caucasus, Central, and Southeast Asia, where street trade traditions are strong, and you can find numerous shops, family-owned stores, and markets.
  • Countries with their own payment systems that don’t universally accept Visa and MasterCard, such as Japan.
  • Nations that accept US dollars (like Cambodia and the Philippines) where there’s no need to exchange money for local currency.
  • Some border towns or resort destinations where rubles are accepted, such as Finland, China, Abkhazia, and Turkey. However, bear in mind that this is more of an exception than the norm.

Where’s the Best Place to Exchange or Withdraw Money?

Carrying cash in foreign currency is an essential aspect of any trip, and stocking up on it can be done both before and during your journey. There are three primary methods for obtaining and exchanging currency that every savvy traveler should be aware of.

At the ATM

Before the trip. it’s essential to have access to cash in the form of dollars or euros for convenience. One way to obtain these currencies is by withdrawing money from an ATM using your Visa card. Although the exchange rate at ATMs might slightly differ from the rate at a currency exchange department, this method is far more convenient as it eliminates the need to visit an exchange office and endure long queues. However, keep in mind that not all ATMs offer foreign currency withdrawals, so it’s wise to check the websites of banks or their branches beforehand. Additionally, the amount you can withdraw could be limited to a few hundred, and the bills may only be available in larger denominations. It’s also not advisable to withdraw or exchange significant sums in your home country, as it may prove risky to travel with large amounts of cash.

Abroad. When traveling abroad, accessing cash in the local currency is easily done through the use of ATMs with a Visa or MasterCard. The conversion rate applied to these transactions will be determined by your bank or payment system (Visa or MasterCard), with the potential for additional fees or commissions to be added by both your bank and the bank operating the ATM you choose to use. These fees may be charged as a percentage of the transaction, but often have a minimum fixed amount, such as 5 euros when withdrawing 100 euros. As a result, frequently withdrawing small amounts of cash while overseas can become costly due to these added commissions.

In the bank branch

Before the trip. Nearly every bank branch houses a currency exchange office. When exchanging a substantial sum, it’s wise to compare rates from different banks online and select the most favorable option. However, if only a small amount is involved, the difference in rates is likely to be negligible. In such cases, opt for a bank that is conveniently located near your home or workplace. Be prepared to encounter queues, especially during peak holiday seasons. If you don’t require a large sum, this method is both convenient and secure.

Abroad. Exchanging currency at foreign banks can be a bit more complex. It often requires at least a basic understanding of the local language or English. However, in countries where English is not widely spoken, like Italy, Brazil, or China, this may not be enough. Additionally, foreign banks might not have designated exchange offices. Instead, you’ll need to approach a bank employee who handles other matters and could be occupied with other clients. Furthermore, the number of banks in a city might be quite limited, leaving you with only one or two options, as opposed to the myriad of choices available back home.

In exchange

Before the trip. When exchanging currency for your trip, you may find that exchange offices offer more reasonable rates than banks. However, be aware of the hidden nuances. The exchange rate displayed on street signs may be promotional and only applicable for large sums, such as 10 thousand dollars or euros. Exchange offices may not inform you of this unless you ask, and you could end up exchanging your money at a less favorable rate. Additionally, exchange offices often charge various commissions. It’s also worth noting that exchanging currency at these offices may be less secure than at a bank, as there’s a risk of receiving counterfeit or damaged bills. Unfortunately, comparing the rates of different exchange offices online is not a viable option. Keep these factors in mind when planning your travel budget and exchanging currency for your next adventure.

Abroad. Currency exchange services in foreign countries operate on similar principles, but using them can be less secure. Language barriers, whether it’s the local language or English, can make it challenging to identify potential deception, possibly resorting to sign language for communication. Comparing rates at various exchanges abroad can be a daunting task, as it’s unlikely you’ll want to visit dozens of them just to change a small sum. Consequently, many travelers might opt for the nearest exchange service without knowing whether it’s trustworthy or not.

Extra Helpful Tips for Carrying Cash and Exchanging Currency on Your Travels

1. When using an ATM abroad, take your time and carefully read the information displayed on the screen. Most machines offer an English menu option, so be sure to select that. If you come across any unfamiliar terms, quickly consult a translation app on your smartphone—it’s more efficient than you might think.

2. When traveling to remote destinations across the globe, it’s essential to carry enough cash on hand. These isolated locations often have limited access to banks, currency exchanges, and ATMs, if any at all. Be prepared for your trip and avoid potential financial pitfalls by planning ahead.

3. When traveling abroad, it’s wise to exchange currency at reputable banks, as each country typically has a state bank and two or three major, well-known banks. By doing so, you can ensure a safe and secure transaction. Additionally, these banks’ ATMs are a reliable option for withdrawing cash during your trip.

4. Don’t solely depend on locals for advice on currency exchange during your travels. Residents typically use their local currency and might not be familiar with the best banks, exchange rates, or even the location of currency exchange services. Fellow travelers tend to have more insight on this matter.

5. Airports and railway stations may charge inflated rates for currency exchanges. To avoid this, it’s wise to exchange a small amount of money at home, just enough to get from the airport or station to the city. Once there, locate a reputable bank to exchange a larger sum at a more favorable rate.

6. Never exchange money on the streets. The only exceptions are countries like Venezuela and Argentina, where strict currency restrictions result in a significant difference between the official and black market exchange rates. However, even in these situations, it’s safer to exchange money at home. Always research a country’s currency regulations before traveling to avoid any financial mishaps.

7. When traveling abroad, it’s important to be aware of potential fees associated with currency exchange. In some countries, like Cuba, you may encounter an additional 10% charge when exchanging US dollars. To avoid these extra costs, it’s advisable to carry euros instead, as they tend to be more widely accepted without incurring steep fees.

8. When traveling to popular tourist destinations, it’s important to exercise caution when handling cash. These areas are often hotspots for pickpockets, unscrupulous vendors, and various scams. Stay vigilant to protect your hard-earned money and ensure a stress-free trip.