Tips to Manage Your Money While Traveling - A Wandering Scribbler
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Tips to Manage Your Money While Traveling

Tips to Manage Your Money While Traveling

Managing your money while traveling can be difficult for many reasons.  Maybe you’re not good at budgeting or you have a hard time dealing with foreign currency.  For me, I have a hard time paying for things in cash.  Not that I can’t, or don’t know how, but when I’m at home 99% of the time I use a card and it’s rare that I have cash.  I’m always asking my husband for change for parking meters or tolls or small purchases.  And while most places, especially in Europe, and other big cities around the world, are likely to accept cards, I have a huge fear of going into a shop or restaurant by myself, only to find out I have no way of paying (and in some cases not being able to explain why I can’t pay). So knowing how much cash to take out at a time, and finding ATMs are things I’m still working on as I travel.

So, whatever your problem is with money while traveling, hopefully I can teach you something from my own travel experiences with money.

The Basics

Getting Foreign Currency

  • At the ATM in country. You’ve probably read this elsewhere but it’s surprising how many people I see or hear still ask about this.  There’s no better, cheaper, easier way to get a specific currency than in that country. You’ll get the best exchange rate, hopefully you have a good debit card (more on that soon) so that you won’t get charged at the ATM either, and you really aren’t paying just to get money.  I hate paying for an exchange, mostly because I’m super cheap, but I also feel like there’s no “service” being provided.  It’s just a trade.  And don’t get me started with getting money from your bank at home.  I’m from a tiny town so they have to send away for the currency, even the more global ones like British Pound or the Euro.  So it takes forever, and they charge a ridiculous amount.  Unless you have some serious reason why you need cash the second you walk off the plane, or you know ATMs are almost impossible to find in that country or city, then of course get cash before.  But if you’re in any other situation, just wait, you’ll be thankful you did.
  • Traveler’s Checks? No!  You’ve probably heard this before too, but so many people think they’re still a thing.  And, if I’m being honest, I’ve never even seen a traveler’s check.  I wouldn’t know what it was if I found a stack of them on the streets.  And maybe for good reason! they would be worthless anyway.
  • Exchange offices. If you have cash you need to, or really want to, change it’s not impossible.  There are plenty of places in most big cities, and even banks, Just do your research first.  Check online to see what the most current exchange rate is and make sure wherever you go is legitimate and doesn’t charge you.

Setting a Budget

  • Write out all expected expenses. The way to start any budget is to write out what you are going to buy. Write what you have already paid for, then what you’ve reserved, like hotels, tours, car rental, and then what you know you’re going to pay for: train tickets, public transport, food.  And finally give yourself an allowance per day, or if you have more leeway with your budget, per week.  The benefits of having a budget are extreme, you won’t be surprised by how much you’re spending, you’ll be more conscious of your purchases, and you can make better choices.
  • Write prices in both local currency and your home currency. I have to do this because I’m super organized and, probably too much so.  But I do it for two reasons. One, because after hours of researching I get lazy and start thinking the USD and Euro as equal, or worse off, the British Pound and the dollar.  And though I clearly know they’re not even close to being equal, my mind tricks me to seeing them that way.  So I end up being surprised by how off I am with my estimating, and spend way more than I need to.  And Two, I want to make sure I’m paying what I think I am.  Whether it’s because I need equal change, making it difficult when you don’t have the right currency written down, or if you just want to double check you’re not getting ripped off (or unintentionally overcharged).  So if I have them both written down I have a basis for my thinking, my home currency, but the accuracy of knowing the price where you actually are.
  • Keep track of your spending, per day or week. Again, depending on how strict your budget is, trying to keep track on a regular basis of how much your spending.  Especially if traveling with someone, you can tend to pay for each other and say “it’ll even out.”  No doubt it will, somehow, but keeping track assures that you are paying your share and that being smart with your money.  I like using an app, like Trail Wallet.  This way you can track daily spending, separate it into categories, and watch what you’re doing.

Keeping Your Money Safe

  • Don’t carry a large amount of cash. This is pretty standard wherever you are.  You don’t want to carry too much in case something goes wrong.  If you are mugged, pick pocketed, or you lose it, it won’t be too much.
  • Don’t count your money in public. Again, this is something that you probably know but it’s good to remember.  Counting your money,or just having it out in the open is like an invitation.  Just discretely count it right in front of the ATM when you take it out, but put it right away.  Walking down the street while counting and trying to put it away is not a great idea.
  • Don’t carry all of your money on you. The same as not carrying a large amount, leave some cash, or even an emergency credit card with your other belongings in a safe or safe place.  Some people even suggest have a bit of cash in every bag, so if your purse is stolen you have cash in your backpack or suitcase.  This money won’t last long if you have no other money, but it will, hopefully, get you through the time between losing it, and figuring out what else to do to get money.  And if you have an extra card it would be even more added security.

Other Tips 

  • Write down important numbers. In case you lose your card, write down the number to call so you’re not scrambling to figure it out while also worrying about the lost money.
  • Make a copy of the card. This will make sure you have the correct card number and information.  Having the picture too, not just the numbers written down, can be another way to others it’s actually your card.  Keep copies in different places, and one at home, just in case.
  • Use only reputable ATMs. It’s tempting to use the cute little robot machine in the pub but sometimes they aren’t the best, both for security, and for overcharging you with fees.  Stick to ATMs that have recognizable bank affiliations and use one that is in a well-light safe place.

For other tips check out Nomadic Matt.  His website is full of great information about saving money, traveling cheaper, and even tips on travel hacking to get free flights.

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