In today’s world with ATM/credit and debit cards, cash can seem like a remnant of the Stone Age. However, when you travel abroad, money matters sometimes in the oddest ways. So check out our 5 tips:
1. Before leaving home, find out if your local currency works at your destination. This can save lots of time. Here in Washington, I once spent hours without success trying to get a cash card/debit card in foreign currency for the Dominican Republic. When I arrived there, I found US dollars were quickly accepted so there was no need to have spent all that time. (When I tried using local currency in the DR rather than US dollars, the prices were the same. However, some countries make it very clear there is a “foreigners’ price” whatever the currency. In Russia, for example, museums, theaters and opera houses display a dual pricing system for residents/citizens and foreign visitors. This was strictly enforced.
2. Go to the Internet while still at home, and learn what the coins and bills look like. This can be key. In Dec. on my second solo travel to the Czech Republic, twice in one day I found myself locked out of a public restroom that was “pay per use”. In the first case, in the Prague bus station a highly automated system kept rejecting the coins I put in as the line behind me grew. I finally got it right. However, on arrival at the fabled spa, Karlovy Vary, I was again stymied! While I was overjoyed that there was an attendant making change, not being familiar with the Czech currency, I met another challenge! After confidently handing over a bill to the attendant, I was once again refused admission. What was the problem this time? The bill I offered was too big! After barring my entrance, the attendant did kindly get me a cab!
3. Get use to calculating the currency conversion. Better yet, prior to your departure, know approximately how much of the local currency equals $5, $10, $20 and $100. I discovered this some years ago on business travel to Switzerland with a colleague. We both went to an ATM in the Zurich Airport and carefully counted that we both received the same amount, “verifying” that it was correct. Unfortunately, having not used our calculators, we did not realize we had both been short changed. Apparently, the ATM was out of certain Swiss franc notes.
4. Besides learning the currency, check guides on tipping policies and suggested amounts. When I arrive at a new destination abroad, I usually have some local currency in my pockets. When in doubt, if you are traveling from the US, take a stack of $1 bills for tips.
5. When should you probably not use cash, local currency or otherwise? The answer? When you are trying to pay in a busy cafe or bar at lunch or dinner if you have to jump into a crowd in a language you don’t speak and a currency you don’t know. I learned this the hard way on a trip abroad where competing to get through the long line reaching over a bar, I was surprised I didn’t get any change back. I never figured out if I over paid. Paying with a card would have at least given me the chance to know the total, the tip and the change. In a rush to catch a tour or head out sightseeing, it can be tempting but costly if you don’t take the time to see what you are spending.
To plan your travel budget and track expenses once you are on the road, get our free mobile app, the Solo Sherpa, available for Android and iPhones.