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Travelers Checks: Don't Leave Home Without Them - Or Maybe..

Travel Unravelled Q&A Series 4: MONEY!

Notes Photo by Patchanon Changkachit

Notes Photo by Patchanon Changkachit

Welcome to installment five of the Travel Unravelled Q&A Series. This particular TU question deals with money as questions abound on how to handle one's finances while traveling. So:


Money. Everyone wants to know the best way to handle money on the road. Whether it is for a week or a year, what are the best options? Cash, traveler's cheques, debit cards, credit cards? What have you found to be the best solution?

Michael Scepaniak (hispanic)

I suggest going with either a VISA TravelMoney card or a CapitalOne credit card.The VISA TravelMoney card is basically a pre-paid debit card. It's a safe option, but charging (refilling) the card periodically can be a pain. Unless things have changed, you can only add money to it a certain number of times. Another drawback is the foreign transaction fees, which can really add up.
Getting a CapitalOne credit card may be a better option, which I plan to try on my next trip. Simply put, they don't charge any international transaction fees. Of course, you have to apply for it and be approved.
Actually, I think getting both might be best. Get a CapitalOne credit card and write down the phone number. Make sure the credit limit is high enough to cover your travel expenses. Get a VISA TravelMoney card and put a few hundred bucks on it. Use the CapitalOne as your primary card. If it gets stolen, call the phone number immediately and cancel it. You can then use your VISA TravelMoney card as a backup.

Michael Burm (Utrecht)

Well, in general I would say that a mix of cash and plastic (debit and credit cards) is the best way to go. This certainly applies to at least 75% of the countries in the world. It's more plastic than cash though. In most countries you can pay for the bigger stuff (hotels, car rental etc) with a credit card (you need it when you want to rent a car!), and with a debit card you can withdraw money from ATM's at a better rate (with a credit card you usually pay a hefty fee, changing cash into local currency gives lower exchange rates). But again: this is the general/average rule.

There are, however countries where cash is still the way to go and your cards don't even work at all.

There are, however countries where cash is still the way to go and your cards don't even work at all. Countries like Iran, Myanmar and Cuba are examples of (certain) restrictions. In those cases, bring enough cash (US dollars or Euros are the way to go) and try to have a wide range of notes, from small bills up to the 100-dollar bills. The latter might give you a better exchange rate, although this is not always the case. Whatever the outcome: do some research on the internet or guidebook first!

Nikki Leigh (Rraven)

I used to always swear by travellers cheques as a majority but not any more. They are not accepted everywhere and even now i still have some from a trip in 2007, its great as a savings scheme for the next trip but not the handiest option if you're caught short....
Now I take a combination of it all. I carry about 30% of my money in cheques, have 30% prepaid into my credit cards (to avoid interest charges etc.) and then the rest would be by my main account debit card excluding a small amount in cash which is normally the equivalent of 5 days living/ travel expenses. I always keep back 10% of my savings for the trip on another account and leave that card with my father. If I need it, get caught out at some stage by being robbed, under budgeted, etc., then he has the card to either send to me, or to withdraw the money and wire it to me via Western Union.
By having it split over different resources, and spread across my person, if something is missing or if I'm in a place where a certain method is unfeasible then I am covered. I'm a firm believer in not putting all my eggs in one basket.


For me I take cash and a prepaid card.
Cash obvious, a dollar bill or euro note goes a long way in remote areas. Prepaid card that I can top up here in UK if anything happens I only use what is on the card. If I have to book anything abroad on the internet there are not bank details attached. Also you leave a 2nd card here and someone can top it up for you in case of emergencies.
Or set up an account with Western Union, set up a standing order at home and have funds paid into the account, like direct debit standing order. Buy as much as possible in advance, ie: coach passes, train passes, hostels etc.

Nepal 7 Photo by Ingebjørg

Nepal 7 Photo by Ingebjørg

Kris Kalav (beerman)

I've found that the best way to handle money is with your hands. Occasionally I've picked up the odd bit of change with my toes, but normally people like it when you use your hands. Okay, all seriousness aside, it really depends on where you travel. Cash is generally king everywhere, but I've found in larger cities it's easier to use credit cards. All major cities can easily accept them, though it's best if you're not in your own country to check beforehand with the credit card company to make sure you don't accrue huge fees. In more rural areas, where credit card machines may not be at hand, cash is always easier. Restaurants, pubs, small shops love cash, especially for tipping purposes. A word of caution: Never pull out large wads of cash, you make yourself a target for thieves. If you have lots of cash on hand, split it up into different pockets in your clothes and/or backpack. Thieves generally want to get away with your cash quickly, so if you must hand it over, best to pull out of one pocket and tell them that's all you have. It doesn't always work, but oftentimes it does, and your travels can continue with some peace of mind. Debit cards can work well with ATM's as well, but again, check with your company about fees. I found out the hard way that Central America doesn't readily accept Travelers Checks, even at banks, so I would forgo that option.

Gretchen Wilson-Kalav (Isadora)

We have dispensed with the use of traveler's checks completely since encountering massive problems in (the above mentioned) Central America. Panama to be exact. Depending on the country, as others have mentioned, they will not be accepted even by more upscale establishments and hotels. Our bank switched from American Express to Visa travelers checks. American Express had cornered the market in Panama so our checks were not accepted by the 12-15 banks we frantically visited upon our return to Panama City. Probably a bit of poor planning on our behalf as we traveled to rural areas, but we'd never experienced this problem previously. When we next traveled to Ireland, we used cash and credit cards only.

Again, as stated above, check with the bank about credit card fees and notify them you will be using the card out of country.

Again, as stated above, check with the bank about credit card fees and notify them you will be using the card out of country. A purchase was denied by one of our bank cards because the card had been used in several places around Ireland. The bank that did accept the transaction actually called me to see if my card had been stolen. Between those two trips, valuable lessons were learned.

Oh, and I encountered the same problem at a gas station while on a road trip here at home. I used a card at a chain station in Kentucky. Hours later, I tried to use it again for gas at another one of their stations in Illinois. Declined!


For more information about the Travel Unravelled Q&A Series see: Travel Unravelled Q&A Sessions Unleashed. Please join in on the discussions!

Posted by Isadora 12:00

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i agree that credit cards for air travel, nicer hotels, and a few shops work well, debit cards work really to access local currency (from ATMs) almost everywhere in bigger cities and tourist areas. in rural areas, US dollars seem to be very acceptable, at least in asia. carrying a lot of cash is somewhat scary, and i have had some stolen from a hotel room while i was in that room sleeping... be sure to divide up the cash, and put it in the "safe" at the guesthouse if possible...

by danydena

I use a money pouch that goes under my knee, beneath my pants that a thief would not find. Also carry smaller amounts in a wallet so thieves would think this is all you have. The debit card with a separate bank account you open to put only the travel amount you can afford to lose is a good idea. The problems with debit card withdrawals is a fixed high fee. For this a larger occasional withdrawal and using a leg money pouch seems best. The problem with the "necklace" or the waist money belt is that these are often spotted, like when you bend over with your shirt out. Thieves cut the strap and take off with these. Also the new trend with smarter thieves is to hijack you and have you withdraw all of your money from an ATM. For this a debit card in a secure hidden money and document pouch is a good idea.

by Charles Motley

I missed this one! BUT my opinion agrees with the general consensus - back in the day t/chqs were the only way l would carry money - but now due to portability, access to atms and the progression of credit/debit cards l now use those methods. I carry enough hard cash to keep me going for a few days, giving me time to orientate myself in my destination finding ATM or just using chip and pin methods. Even in remote areas of Vietnam l was able to make use of my cards and when going on 4 week trips carrying that amount of hard cash is not a good idea even with the ingenuious ways you can hide cash doesnt safeguard you. An awareness of your personal safety, risk assessments and throw in some commonsense will increase the safety to both you and your cash - but remember if you are "mugged" hand it over at the end of the day your own personal safety takes precedence.

Heather x

by Purdy

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