So, you’ve booked your flights, sorted your visas and reserved your bed in a hostel in town – all that’s left to do is organise your finances! Taking money abroad can be a bit confusing, so here are a few things to consider to ensure you don’t get ripped off or caught short.
1. Prepaid Travel Cards
Undoubtedly the easiest, safest and most cost efficient solution when travelling across multiple countries and currencies. If you’re about to set off on a round-the-world trip with multiple destinations and currencies, this is the way to go. A major benefit to choosing one of these is that they guarantee the most competitive exchange rates without you having to do the hard work yourself – just top it up in your native currency, then select the currency you need and your balance will automatically convert. Sounds ideal, right? And due to the wonders of 21st century technology most travel cards can be smoothly managed via an app on your smartphone, so you can keep an eye on exactly what you’re spending, as well as easily topping up from your bank account when necessary.
- Competitive exchange rates
- Automatically converts to local currency
- Easy to top up
- Easy to manage with an app
Hope’s top tip:
There are several of these cards on the market, but my personal favourite is Revolut – it incurs minimal charges, is incredibly easy to use and I’m yet to find a country that it doesn’t work in.
2. Debit Cards
Relying on your usual debit card isn’t the smartest bet, that’s for sure. You’ll incur a lot more charges than you would with a travel card, and won’t benefit from the same great conversion rates, so your cash won’t stretch as far. That said, it’s definitely good to keep locked away in your backpack for a plan B – anything can happen whilst travelling, so it’s best to be prepared for the ATM swallowing your card, or perhaps *misplacing* your wallet after a few too many cocktail buckets…
- Usually incur an added charge when using abroad
- Conversion rates not as good as
- Good to bring as back-up
Hope’s top tip:
Make sure to let your bank know which countries you are travelling to. TIf yo don’t, they may assume it is stolen and place a security block on it.
There’s a lot to be said for good old fashioned cash. It can be very handy, especially if you’ll be spending the majority of your time in one place. If you’re very organised and exchange the money you need for your trip in advance then you won’t have to worry about card charges, always a bonus! Just make sure you choose wisely, as not all Bureau de Change are created equal – for instance, that currency exchange conveniently located on Bangkok’s busiest strip will spot you coming a mile away, and you’re very unlikely to get a good deal in a tourist hot-spot. Airports too are known for offering some of the poorest conversion rates – you’ll always be rewarded for shopping around, so don’t always go for the easiest option!
Another positive of taking cash is that you’ll never be caught out by technology fails – that means no helplessly searching for WiFi in order to check your banking app! Even those who swear by their travel cards won’t be able to go cashless in some destinations, so be sure to do your research. There’s a saying across South America that ‘Cash is King’, and many shops and restaurants won’t accept card payments. Many small villages and communities throughout the world run 100% on cash and don’t even have ATMs, which is something you’ll want to be aware of before taking a five hour bus ride out of the city to get there!
Of course, there are always risks when carrying large amounts of cash. Whether you choose to keep it on your person or lock it away, the possibility of loss or theft is real. We all know that hostels are usually full of sound, like-minded travellers, but you should always keep your wits about you!
- Shop around for good exchnage rates
- Avoid exchanging in airports and tourist hot-spots
- Research to see if you’ll need cash (e.g rural areas, South America etc.)
Hope’s top tip:
If you want to keep your cash extra safe, money belts are a popular option.
4. What to do in an Emergency?
You can be the most organised, well seasoned traveller in the world, but you should still expect the unexpected! Picture this: you’ve just hopped off the train in a brand new city and headed to fill up your hungry belly, only to discover every traveller’s worst nightmare – your entire wallet is missing. Imagine the sheer panic as you frantically rifle through every item in your backpack, but one thing’s for sure – if this happens to you, you won’t be the first!
The first thing to do is contact your bank and let them know what’s happened. They will cancel your card and will usually try to find a way to get some emergency money to you within 24 hours – try and get clued up on your bank’s policy towards this before you go. For an immediate fix, send some cash via Paypal or another online service to a travel companion or hostel buddy and have them withdraw it for you. If you’re travelling long-term, find a hostel that you trust where you can have a courier service send your new card – pricey, yes, but it’s gotta be done.
- Contact your bank ASAP
- Transfer money to a travel companion and have them withdraw it for you
Hope’s top tip:
Always keep the equivalent of £20 in a secret compartment of your luggage for food, drink or transport during an emergency. And try to remember, like most things that might go wrong on your travels, soon you’ll be able to look back on it as funny story/valuable life lesson!
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About the author:
Hope Warren is a travel writer, seasoned backpacker and pro-budgeter with a special place in her heart for East Asia. She is currently living in London where you might spot her scouring many a food market in search of the capital’s best burger. Read her blog or follow her on Instagram