Carrying your cash while travelling
Long, long ago, when you were thinking of going abroad, off you popped to the bank or travel agent to buy travellers’ cheques.
Looking a bit like cheques…..
Oh do you even know what they look like? Imagine those big things that are given to charity but make them small enough to fit in your wallet. Got it?
Anyway, traveller’s cheques came with a serial number that was registered to you, so if you lost them or they got nicked, you reported it to the bank and they were cancelled. Safer than carrying vast amounts of cash.
We had travellers’ cheques when we first left the UK, ten years ago. It was one way for us to carry money abroad. We had them in a money belt, which one day we left under a mattress in a beach hut in Lonely Beach on Ko Chang. We only realised on the boat to Ko Mak, the next island. Luckily we had to go back via Ko Chang, so we rushed back to the beach hut with the vague hope that someone might have handed the money belt in. As we walked up, the owner ran up to us, money belt in hand. Wonderful.
You can’t get travellers’ cheques anymore, banking technology has moved on a lot. But the message is there. When you are planning to go travelling or moving abroad, think about how to carry your money. Belt and braces is the best way.
Have more than one bank account.
Internet banking makes life much easier. When we first came away we opened a joint bank account with Nationwide because they offered fee-free withdrawals abroad. Then we transferred money from our individual accounts in regularly.
Nationwide don’t do fee free withdrawals on their normal accounts anymore. You can get them with their Flexplus premium account, which will cost you £10 a month. If you are going to withdraw a lot it might make it worth your while. This account also gives you free worldwide travel insurance, but only for 31-day trips, so be careful with this.
However, having separate accounts, with the one you use day to day with only a little money in, means you don’t risk losing all your hard earned travelling money should you get mugged or lose your bank card. OK, you might get the money back from your bank, but that won’t help you much if you are left skint at the Full Moon party or use before you are about to trek to Machu Pichu.
We’ve known quite a few people who have had their card swallowed by an ATM, without a backup and they have had to rely on the kindness of strangers or having money wired to them by family while they wait for another card to get to them. It goes without saying to keep the cards from different accounts in different places so you don’t lose them together. Keep the one you use day to day in your wallet, and the other in your hand luggage. Choose somewhere that doesn’t look obviously money-related or valuable, like your pencil case, or stuck in a notebook. Or ideally, in your moneybelt.
Fees, fees, fees
Look for an account or card with fee-free foreign withdrawals Banks can charge you a lot to take out your money abroad. You have to pay a percentage of the money you take out, plus a foreign transaction fee. My Lloyds account charges me about £25 to use my card abroad. In addition, some foreign banks also charge you to use their ATMs. It’s 200 baht to withdraw in Thailand, for example. This can really add up. You find yourself weighing up the price of multiple transaction fees with the risk of carrying large amounts of cash.
Halifax Clarity credit card
We have a Halifax Clarity credit card. With it, we don’t pay any fees from their side when we withdraw money. We still pay if the foreign ATM fees if there are any. It is a credit card, not a debit card. We have it set up to pay off in full every month, so we only pay one month interest. It works out that for every £100 we take out, we pay about £1 in interest. That’s a lot less than the foreign transaction fees.
The Halifax Clarity card is from the UK, so if you are not a Brit, it’s no good for you. Look for an account or card that lets you take out money cheaper. If it’s a credit card, make sure you pay it off in full every month, of course. You don’t want to get home with massive credit card bills. It’s not free money – unfortunately.
For those of you in the UK, Martin’s Money Tips has lots of information about what bank accounts and cards he recommends for travelling abroad, and since he’s quite the expert, take a look.
Prepaid cards seem to be the replacement for travellers’ cheques. These are cards that you load with money before you go, which you can then withdraw from banks abroad. They do actually still charge you to withdraw money, and there is a fee to set them up. It still might be cheaper than the fees for using your home bank account abroad. And if you are going on a short backpacking trip and you’ve only got a small budget saved up, it would mean you can keep control of your spending. Not sure what you do if you run out of money on the card though…..
We’ve never tried using these cards, and don’t know anyone who had, so we can’t really comment. Martin’s money tips gives a good round up of them and the ones he recommends.
Get a money belt
A money belt is a piece of material that you clip around your waist. It had a zip on it where you put your money. You then keep the belt under your clothes so people can’t see it. We’ve seen tourists with money belts use them as some kind of wallet, opening it and getting money out of it in the street. This defeats the object in our opinion. You don’t have your valuables somewhere safe under your clothes where nobody knows they are. It’s not much different to carrying a wallet – OK it may reduce the risk of being pickpocketed, but not much else. Keep some money in your wallet, and the rest in your money belt. In private, transfer money between the two.
Hopefully, with a bit of preparation, your hard earned money will be spent on exploring, having new experiences and lots of fun. Not on bank fees and getting your card replaced.
Do you have a bank account you recommend for travelling? Leave us a comment to share with others.
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