Have you ever been stranded in a remote, foreign place without means to pay for your next meal or hotel room? We have and it was nerve-wracking! We were in a tiny Brazilian town and somehow we ran out of cash. No one would accept our US dollars. They wouldn’t cash our traveler’s checks, our debit card didn’t work on their ATM, and taking a cash advance on our credit card was not an option at their bank. It was a challenging moment, one that required us to place our trust in the goodwill of strangers who connected us with the town’s notable millionaire (and possible kingpin.) He was a nice guy, exchanged our US dollars and was our savior of the day.
When traveling you can often rely on debit cards and ATM machines for cash. However, in some countries it still takes some planning to ensure you have access to money when you need it. Try these tips:
Get some quick cash in your pocket on arrival
We use the ATM at the airport to withdraw cash, just so we have an immediate sense of security and money for a taxi. You will receive a terrible exchange rate, so some people get cash (in the currency of their destination) before they leave home.
Withdraw as much cash as possible
- Sometimes ATM machines are far and few between. Travel guidebooks, such as Lonely Planet, help point out the availability (or lack) of banks and ATMS along your route.
- Even when you do find an ATM, there’s a good chance the machine will be out of cash. In a one-ATM town, it is good to learn when they stock the cash (or make sure to arrive early in the morning to make a withdrawal.)
- There are often small limits to the amount you can withdraw and that won’t get you very far, especially in cash-based cultures. When necessary we make multiple back-to-back withdrawals. But beware, this can cost you a lot in banking fees. Also, multiple back-to-back transactions at one ATM will often trigger a fraud alert. So, if you are traveling with a partner, alternate the use of your debit cards or consider using an international debit card as a secondary card.
- Avoid triggering the fraud alert on your card. Be sure to call your bank or credit card company before you travel. They will want to know all of your planned destinations, what you ate for breakfast and the name of your firstborn child’s third cousin’s mother’s maiden name. It helps to provide them with all the details of your travel plan.
- Many countries work on a cash-basis and shop owners will not accept credit cards. Cash starts to feel like gold! We use credit and debit cards whenever possible (usually at hotels or larger restaurants) and preserve our precious cash for our small daily expenses.
Have a backup plan
- Make sure you have your online banking set up to transfer funds between bank accounts, arrange for payment of credit card bills, and manage your bills back home.
- Emergency situations happen and taking a cash advance on your credit card could help you through a crisis.
Keep your cash secure
Now that you’re walking around with wads of cash and feel like you have a target painted on your forehead, learn how to keep your money in your pocket (link).
How to do you manage your money when traveling? We love to learn new tips, so please share!