One of the things that I do in my free time is moderate Contiki’s Message board. On the message board people discuss all sorts of stuff about their upcoming (or past) trips. Often the same questions come up, around this time of year there are often a lot of new people getting ready for their first trips abroad. We get questions about what to pack, plug adapters, what to see, who to fly with, what’s the best way to convert money. The money question is one that always sticks out at me, because it’s one that I find you worry about so much more before your trip, but once you’re on your trip you realize their aren’t as many options, and if their are you have to balance time verse money.
The best exchange rates are often from ATM’s. Travelers Cheques are usually a pain (and time consuming) to exchange, a lot of people don’t accept them. I consider Travelers Cheques as a nice back up incase of emergency, otherwise they’re not worth the time. It’s nice to go to a country and already have some local currency. That can be done by going to your bank or going to an exchange place, such as American Express, in your home country. The problem with your bank is that you’ll often have to order money, which requires planning, and not all banks offer this service. The problem with American Express is that they charge $4 (last time I used them) for each currency. You can bring cash from home and once you’re in the country you can use exchange places, some will charge a fee but others will not. Or, you can just use ATM’s once you’re in the country. Depending on your bank you may pay an extra fee to use an ATM in another country on top of the conversion fee.
What does it all come down to? Before my first trip I did a lot of research on my trip and exchangeing money, and in the end I had to just go with the flow. When I got low on money I would estimate what I needed and go to the most legit looking ATM I could find. Or when I was in a more off the beaten track location I would exchange money when the opportunity presented itself since they don’t come that often. Once you’re away you use all that knowledge to do your best at saving money, but most of the time you just have to go with the flow.