Being stranded in a foreign country with just a few notes in your wallet because your card has just been eaten by the ATM is the ultimate travel nightmare. You still have to pay your hotel bill, and you needed to be up and on a train to your next destination before the bank opens the next day.
In these situations it’s always best to have backup plan and to have thought through your options before you leave for your trip. Here are a few tips on how to deal with finances abroad.
The most important thing to remember when you are travelling is not to keep all your money in one place. If you do have you bag, wallet or purse stolen or if you misplace your belongings you will lose everything. Take out a day’s amount of cash for whatever you’ll need and keep it somewhere discrete but accessible, then make sure you leave the rest of your cash and cards in a secure and secret spot. A hotel safe is the best option if you have one available or alternatively many travellers have little tricks for hiding their cash: in a secret pocket in their bag, in the lining of their suitcase or in an old camera film canister in their washbag.
US dollars, British pounds and Euros are the easiest currencies to carry and to change across the world. It’s a good idea to keep enough to tide you over for several days should you run into problems. Always change money with a recognised trader such as a bank or exchange bureau as changing money on the street is an almost certain way to get ripped off. Planning where you exchange your currency before you travel is also a great way to ensure you get the best rates.
Some parts of Asia and Africa still reply on cash as the only means of payment and don’t yet have ATMs. Ensure you check up on where you are travelling, and if you do need to bring large amounts of cash with you check up on any limits for foreign currency.
Credit and debit cards have a lot of benefits for travellers. It’s a good idea to have a few different cards as back ups in case your main card gets lost or stolen. Credit cards are great for larger payments, hotel reservations and in case of emergencies. Debit cards are a great way to access your money on the road without the fear of the credit card bill when you return. Many banks also include emergency cash or replacement card services so make a note of how to contact your bank should such a problem arise.
Before you travel ensure that you check that your card will be accepted in the countries you are visiting, and that you let your bank know so they do not block your card.
Many companies now also offer prepaid cash card services which can be used like a debit card at ATMs across the world but enable you to top up as you go controlling our travel budget or keeping them in a safe place as a backup card. Many also have good exchange rates and allow you to top up online, by phone or by text.
With ATMs now being available across the world, travellers cheques have become a much less popular and common option than 10 years ago and are no longer as widely accepted. They do have some advantages though as they are accepted by many worldwide banks and are easy to replace if lost or stolen, as long as you have the receipts and phone number. Thomas Cook and American Express are the most widely accepted but check before you leave to find out what currency they should be drawn in and how widely they are accepted. As the US dollar is the unofficial second currency in most of the world if you are in doubt it’s always a good idea to carry cheques in dollars.
If all your other backup plans fail then the last point of call is to ask a kind relative or friend to wire you money. Western Union and Moneygram are the most commonly found worldwide services where you can receive a wire transfer, but you do pay a premium for the service, sometimes up to 30% of the transfer amount, with this being higher the faster you need the money.
As long as you budget well and use common sense, these different methods should ensure you avoid a financial crisis during your trip.
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