This is always the big question when you go somewhere on holidays. How much money should I take and in what form? Each have its advantage. You can get taken advantage of on exchange rates and extra fees, but you also don’t want to be out if things get stolen. I prefer to have a few options when I go.
This is my favorite. It works everywhere, which is what you need when you are in a bind. You can almost always exchange the American dollar at borders, banks, and you can even use it as currency legally/illegally in a lot of countries. Plus you don’t lose exchange rates on it every time you cross a border so it is good to keep some for a multi-country trip. Exchanging all your Zambian money when you enter Malawi and then all your Malawi money when you enter Tanzania and etc, etc, can take a hit on travel funds. I usually have at least $1000 US on me wherever I go.
There are two things about cash. When it is stolen, you are screwed. No insurance on this and you can’t just cancel it. The second is that it takes up lots of room (in comparison to cards). I carry all of mine in a money belt on the front of my body and at the beginning of the trip it can be a bit bulky looking. I also slip $20 US bills in a few different places for emergencies. I have little compartments in the inside-back of my main pack and day packs.
This is a tough one. I carry one Mastercard, one Visa, and one American Express. If I am in a reputable (or what I think is reputable) establishment I will use it. This would be nice hotels, restaurants, and tour companies. It helps you save your cash for later and plus you don’t have to pay the bill until you get back.
If you are an airmiles or points collector you will also like it. Most credit card companies are really good with theft issues and such so it makes it nice. I have heard some Visa’s have flight cancellation protection on them too.
I don’t see why you wouldn’t always take these. They are PIN protected and come straight out of your account.
Be careful, you will pay extra fees because of using an overseas ATM.
Note on Debit Cards
NOTE: A lot of overseas ATM’s do not have the option to choose Savings or Chequing accounts. They have always defaulted to Chequing from my experience. So if you are like my wife who withdraws from her Savings account using her debit card, you will not be able to get money from the ATM.
I have never used them and have never met anyone who thought they were good. They are a pain to exchange. I was in Africa and it was a special trip to find a bank that exchange them for other people on our tour. They also had ridiculous fees and exchanges on them so you were losing around 10% on them anyways.
However, the tour companies almost always recommend them. It is considered the only safe way to carry money. I can understand this point if you are really worried about being robbed, but you can take precautions to avoid this.
If anyone has a compelling argument for using them, please post a comment.