Travel abroad is exciting, fun and scary. There are so many new things to worry about: language, traffic patterns and signs, delicious food, strange food and colorful money. Virtually every currency in the world, except U.S. currency, is bright and colorful. Figuring out how to use the beautiful, colorful money without overpaying in country or being charged high fees along the way takes planning.
The following are currency related issues that you should plan for when traveling abroad:
Exchange rates, the price of foreign currencies in terms of U.S. Dollars, will vary from one day to the next. In fact, they vary from one moment to the next, though in most retail exchange locations you won't see changes happen throughout the day. On the internet, you can watch exchange rates fluctuate moment to moment. The rates you'll see on the internet will always be better than the rates you can get when you are exchanging currency. There is no easy way for consumers to hedge or protect themselves against painful swings in currencies while planning for or going on an international vacation.
As a general rule, you want to exchange money as seldom as possible. Do some research and careful budgeting for your cash use on the trip and exchange once at the beginning of the trip all the cash you plan to spend so you won't have to frequent money exchange services, banks or ATMs with frequency. Generally, the best rate you can get is to use an ATM in the airport when you arrive. Daily or per transaction withdrawal limits set by the ATM operator may force you to pull out cash more often than you'd like. There will be fees, but the exchange rate should be superior to the rate you'll get at the bank (either at home or in the foreign country) or at your hotel. Experienced business travelers should note that leisure travel generally requires more cash than business travel as many tourist spots deal strictly in cash. Try not to get too much cash, exchanging it again when you get home is expensive.
Before you leave, call your credit card companies to find out what fees they charge for using the card abroad (while you've got them on the line, tell them where you're going so your card isn't deactivated the first time you use it). Use the one with the lowest fees. Some cards charge no fee for foreign transactions.
Using credit cards abroad is generally safer than cash. If a card is stolen, most major card issuers can replace the cards in country within a few days. No one can replace stolen cash. Traveling as a family, split up the credit cards between spouses so that neither spouse is carrying all the cards. If one spouse loses the Visa card, the other, supposedly, will have a MasterCard. One call to the Visa issuer to alert them to the theft will quickly end the worry and the fun continues on the MasterCard.
Devin Thorpe, husband, father, author of Your Mark On The World and a popular guest speaker, is a Forbes Contributor. Building on a twenty-five year career in finance and entrepreneurship that included $500 million in completed transactions, he now champions social good full time, seeking to help others succeed in their efforts to make the world a better place.