hen it comes to traveling, at home or abroad, you'll have a more enjoyable trip if you
maximize the use of your travel money. Before you leave home, look over your itinerary so you
can guesstimate how much money you'll need for each place you'll visit. Then, take a variety of
travel money, including one or two major credit cards, cash, and traveler's checks.
Next, when you pack your valuables, carry your credit cards, cash, and passport with you. Never leave them in your hotel room, car, or in your luggage. In fact, you'll need your passport for identification each time you exchange money out of the country.
Organize your travel gear with backup security. That means keeping some cash in a second location in case you lose your wallet or bag, or they're stolen. For further security, invest in a money belt, available for about $10 at most luggage shops and department stores. Look for the type with a strap that goes around your neck and has a zippered pouch you can tuck inside your waistband or hook onto a belt and wear inside your clothing.
Traveler's checks--the safest travel money
When you take a variety of travel money, you'll increase the probability of having a safe, hassle-free trip. And, you'll stretch your money. For example, if traveler's checks are your main source of exchange, large exchange fees, ranging between $3 and $7 in countries such as Belgium and Switzerland, can quickly decrease your funds. Or, if you rely on one credit card and it gets eaten by an ATM (automated teller machine), your purchasing power may have evaporated.
That's why you should include Pacific Community Credit Union traveler's checks, the most universally accepted form of travel money, in your money mix. Keep track of the number of checks you have because thieves sometimes lift them from the middle of a pack--a game that counts on your not missing the stolen checks for a while.
Still, traveler's checks represent the safest way to carry travel money. Be sure to keep the identification form with the checks' serial numbers separate from the checks. If the checks are lost or stolen you'll need this information to give to the check issuer. Also, file a police report to back up your claim. Even though approximately 95% of all claims result in returned funds to the traveler, 5% of claims are denied--usually because of missing information.
Another reason to use traveler's checks is that they're easy to convert once you're home. Simply deposit them into your credit union account. Don't carry unused checks around long--you'll just be losing dividends they might be earning in your account.
The credit card advantage
Credit cards are handy for shopping in foreign countries. The primary reason--you'll usually get a good exchange rate. On the day your charges reach your credit card's office, you'll get the Bank Buying Rate for that day.
Another reason for using credit cards is that under the Fair Credit Billing Act you can dispute certain billing errors with the card issuer. That's much easier than trying to contact the merchant in a foreign country after you get home.
A word to the wise, though: If the item is too big or bulky to carry, don't buy it. When you do buy merchandise in a foreign country, then ship it home, you may be in for a long wait--and you may find your purchase has been damaged or replaced with something you didn't buy.
If you're not on a prepaid tour, credit cards from Pacific Community Credit Union also are invaluable for booking hotel rooms and making car rental reservations.
Carry cash in different denominations
Carry cash in a variety of small denominations--this way you'll have more currency conversion options. Include a number of $1 bills, too. They're handy for making small purchases as you enter and leave the United States. When you carry small bills you'll save your traveler's checks, issued in larger denominations, for making bigger purchases or redepositing them if you're on your way home.
Need more cash to convert to local currency? Look for an ATM where you can use your credit or debit card. The plus is that service fees may well be less than commissions charged at exchange centers. But keep in mind you also might not be able to find an ATM machine when you want one, or the one you do find might not be working. Before you depart, check ATM locations in your destination cities on-line at www.visa.com, www.mastercard.com, and the Member Access ATM locator.
Assess your needs
How much currency and what proportion of each type of travel money you take depends on what sort of trip you plan. For instance, if you're taking a prepaid tour of several countries, the only money you may need might be for souvenirs and incidental purchases.
If you're touring on your own, you'll need money for more reasons. Whether on a tour or on your own, you'll want to exchange a portion of your money soon after entering a country. Local currency gives you the freedom to make immediate small purchases for such things as telephone calls, cabs, tips, and meals.
How much money you exchange depends on how long you expect to stay in one country and what you expect to do while there. For short stays of a week or less you'll probably want to have anywhere from $50 to $300 in local currency. If you don't use all of it, just exchange it back when you're leaving the country.
Once you arrive at the airport or train station in a foreign country, you'll find cash exchange centers where you can use traveler's checks, cash, credit, and debit cards to obtain local currency. In large cities, exchanges also are located throughout the metro area. Fees at these centers vary, and even though commissions at transportation hubs usually are higher than what you'll pay at financial institutions downtown, these are good places to exchange small amounts of money so you can start your trip.
Try to avoid exchanging money at cash exchanges located in heavily traveled tourist areas or at those open late at night. You'll pay steep fees, usually higher than what you'd pay elsewhere and during earlier hours of the day, for these conveniences. Even if you have to go out of your way, exchange most of your money at financial institutions. These are your safest, most-reliable sources, and they usually charge the lowest fees.
Reading foreign exchange boards
Exchange rates vary daily. Exchange boards, located at exchange offices and financial institutions, post what that country will pay to buy or sell another country's currency. In the left-hand column you'll see the rate you'll get for selling your foreign money--it's the lower of the two numbers. The right-hand side gives you the rate you'll pay to buy foreign currency using that country's money--it's the higher of the two numbers. For help making sense of the exchange rate, use an on-line exchange calculator, for example, the IBM converter.
While it's impossible to promise a perfect trip, when you maximize the use of your travel money and make safe money decisions, you'll increase your chances of having a relaxing, fun, and stress-free getaway.
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