I’m planning a trip to Europe in September and thought I would get some of the preparation out-of-the-way. When I went to Ireland in 2007 I took some cash and traveler’s checks and my sister took cash. But travelers’ checks, they’re kind of passé, aren’t they? A friend had pointed out that I could have used my bank card and I thought, well, duh. But then, could I?
So I’ve started checking out a few factors. I thought the easiest thing to do would be to put a deposit of cash onto my credit card and then I could just charge items to the card and only pay the exchange rate. But guess what, because the credit card companies (Visa, MasterCard, and I presume American Express) don’t feel they’re gouging us enough with anywhere from 10 to 19% interest on our charges, they tack on a 2.5% charge for any transaction out of the country. For me, being Canadian, that means even a trip to the States will cost me extra on my card. I might be able to pay off my bill before the interest charge comes into effect but not for the 2.5%. Remember, on $1000 that would be an extra $25 for nothing.
Next I called my bank to ask about my debit card, which now has a chip. They said it probably would not work for point of sale transactions as each store in Europe would have to buy into a system and there is no reason they would be part of a North American system. I could use it at a bank machine that is part of the same network as mine (Cirrus in this case) but I would be most likely subjected to a fee from my bank (depends which network) as well as from the European bank machine, which could be as high as $6 per transaction. Well, that’s cheaper than Visa/MasterCard but still could add up and I’m stuck with withdrawing a daily limit. It’s best to check what that limit is.
It looks like I’ll be using a combination of bringing some Euros in cash that I can get from my bank (It’s best to warn them ahead of time so they have enough on hand) and travelers’ checks. Because I will most likely not do US travelers checks but Euros the bank might need three days to order them in. Travelers checks have about a 1% service charge so they’re cheaper than the credit cards. I’ll be getting them about two weeks before I go, just to make sure there are no glitches.
I’ll arrive in Europe with Euros in cash, travelers’ checks that I can cash at a bank if nowhere else will take them (if you’re going to out-of-the-way places, make sure you cash these at a bank as many shops won’t take them anymore), and a credit card. I have a passport pouch that will hold my money and that I can wear around my neck. Some people favor money belts but I feel more secure with the neck pouch. It’s a matter of preference with these but they’re also an essential for travel when you’re bringing a fair amount of cash and to keep all your important information safe.
The other precaution I take beforehand is to write down all numbers into a booklet that is separate from my money. Should my credit card be stolen how do I call the number on the back of the card when I don’t have the card? I have it written down elsewhere with my credit card number. Emergency contacts, camera serial codes, passport number, travel insurance, etc. are all good things to record elsewhere. You can also send yourself an email that you could access on the internet with all the information. I did this with Ireland, in case my camera was stolen (unfortunately it was stolen from my home shortly after the Irish trip). You can also record your travelers check information, serial numbers and the company contact in case you lose them or run out of money.
No matter where one travels, it’s always good to keep alert and stay cautious. Don’t let your guard down and don’t flaunt all your cash. Take out what you need for the day and hide the rest. I’ll see how the other trip preparations go after this.