5 tips to saving money on your exchange rates abroad

I get many questions as an active traveler, where are the best places to stay? What is your favorite country? Where are your favorite places to eat?  But one of the most common questions I get is,” What do you do about your money?” I know, this sounds like such an obvious question to answer but there are many travellers who just assume they have to go to the exchange bureau when you really don’t ever have to walk in the door. Though handling your money abroad takes more practice than you think but once you perfect the science, it is amazing how much money you save.

These guys will make you pay the price

These guys will make you pay the price

I recently took a trip to the U.K. and almost passed out when I saw the exchange rates again after 8 years. One tourist center I strolled by had  the American dollar to Pounds at $1.94!!!! That means the 2 pound bottle of water you buy is actually almost $4, that is like being at Yankee Stadium for a week straight!  I knew the pound was always a terrible exchange on my journeys through London but it still hurt to reach in my wallet to buy a $4 pack of gum. Though, the pain has lessened over the years as I have traveled from one country to another perfecting the best way to keep more money in my pocket and not spent on exchange rates. Many of you may already know these tips if you travel often but for those starting to see the world, here are 5 ways to make your exchange rate the most beneficial.

1. Avoid the exchange bureau at all costs!

Just as it was in our grandparents day, you assume you have to exchange your U.S. dollars at the exchange bureau obtaining the local currency, right? Wrong! New travellers forget that  one of your bank branches in the U.S. will more than likely have any foreign currency you need. Take a decent amount in cash in that currency to get started and you can negotiate the rate better at your bank. Always bring a few dollars for when you arrive home as well. Some get nervous about having too much cash but as long as you split it up in between suitcases, your fine. When you are ready for more cash, use your ATM card. The exchange rate and fees( if any) your bank charges will be at least half the cost of what you will receive at the exchange bureau. Sometimes, I can not believe the exchange bureaus still exsist but again and again I will say, avoid it all costs!

2. Use your ATM card from country to country to get new currency

If you plan on making a backpacking trip through several countries, more than likely you already know the countries you will be visiting. If you want on living spontaneously and head to a unexpected destination, then the wonderful world we live in where Skype exists, you can call your bank to let them know where you are headed. Once, you do that, use what you have left of that country right before you leave. Unfortunately, it is actually better to just buy something than exchanging the money back. When you arrive in the new country, go to the first ATM to get the new currency.  Depending on your bank, as I have Wells Fargo, they are very quick about granting my requests for any new country I need it while I am abroad. This way I don’t worry about not having enough cash.

3. Get rid of your coins

Here in Europe where coins are worth up to 2 euro and pounds, it is easy to forget they are there. That being said, many of us go home with this street performer bulk of coins that sometimes adds up to $20 or $30. The problem is? If you don’t use them, most banks and exchange bureaus will not take the coins back leaving you with a heavy bag of souvenirs. Even if you have to buy a key chain, use your coins before using your bills. As American’s coins are not really worth much to us so we get angry with people in line at the store who even reach in their coin purse. In Europe coins are everything! A 2 euro coin is enough to buy a Metro ticket, snacks, newspapers and sometimes even a beer!

4. Use your credit card only as back up 

I understand that many of us have credit cards and debit cards all set up without international fees, which is great. However, don’t assume that your debit and credit card are always going to work. Most countries are using smartchips now, which the U.S. is slowly trying to integrate. That said, most machines in the world at train stations, restaurants and certain venues will not take cards without the smartchip. This is why, though cash can be a risk, it is always a guarantee that you will have something that works. As long as you only bring the cash you need for the day and have an ATM card as backup, you will be set. Another thing you may want to do before leaving the states is order a second ATM card just in case your get’s stolen. That way you have immediate backup instead of a credit card. If you travel, especially to third world countries, a lot of places only take cash. Remember, cash is still the universal currency no matter what year it is.

5. Be Smart

Whether you are bringing cash or credit card always be streetsmart. Major metropolitan cities such as Paris, Madrid, Rome and Prague are all known for their pickpockets. However, if you get travel insurance before you leave, keep your bags zipped, close to you and always have backup in your hotel or hostel, your vacation will continue to be as enjoyable as you dreamt it would be before you ever arrived.

If you have any exchange rate tips, I would love to hear them!!


One Comment on “5 tips to saving money on your exchange rates abroad

  1. Virginia, I really enjoy all the articles you write about your adventures and wonderful tips you give us all. Of course my profession and love is travel, but I have learned alot from your travels abroad. Keep up the wonderful writing. Barbara Ghiggeri

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