Money is arguably the most important thing you’ll need during your travels, save for the clothes on your back. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to exchange your funds and procure cash, but which option is right for you? Some travelers appreciate the security of getting their money settled before they even leave their home country while others barely touch cash at all. You’ll pay dearly for convenience if you’re in a pinch, so it’s always worth planning ahead.
To avoid any hassle later, visit your local bank the week before you take off. If you are traveling to Europe, chances are you’ll need to exchange for Euros. Many banks will have a stock of Euros on hand, but if you are veering from the beaten tourist path into more exotic countries, they may need time to order the currency for you. You’ll pay a nominal fee, but the peace of mind of being “all set” might be worth it.
Make a beeline for a bank when you land in your destination, but keep in mind that most financial institutions won’t be open evenings or weekends, and airport branches may charge hefty commissions. You may also find yourself at a loss if the train/bus/taxi requires cash.
Money Exchange Office/Hotel
Though you may be tempted by the convenience of these options, beware of sometimes exorbitant commission fees. If they charge a flat rate, be sure to exchange as much cash as you can at once so you’ll be less likely to have to change more money and pay the fee again.
Depending on your bank back home, this may be a smart option for you. Check with your home branch before you leave to determine any fees you may incur by using your bank card abroad. Also, read the fine print carefully, as some ATMs in Europe can charge up to the equivalent of $10 if you are using a foreign card. Again, withdraw large sums at once to avoid multiple trips back to the ATM and repeat fees.
While this seems like the smartest option due to fraud protection and ease of use, not all cards will work in other countries. Chip and PIN cards are becoming more popular in Europe and many card machines will no longer accept the usual Visa and Mastercard. Keep a card for certain instances, such as booking a car rental in Europe or other transportation; note that most hotels require a card on file as well. Keep in mind you may be flagged for fraud if you do not make your card company aware of your trip beforehand. While you’re on that phone call, ask about any fees that may rack up.
Every traveler has their own strategy, but until you find what works best for you, try utilizing more than one of these currency exchange avenues. Chances are, you’ll need both cash and credit to get by on your trip, so mix it up. Keep a record of the fees you are required to pay along the way so later you can reflect on which exchanges were cheapest and also most hassle-free.