Overseas Adventures on the Cheap

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Here's a guest post talking about my all time hands down favourite subject, overseas cheap travel: Katie Anderson is a blogger and writer based in Glasgow’s West End. She enjoys good food, good wine and good holidays.  Thanks Katie for guest posting.  I have included a photograph I took while in Kathmandu.  It is quintessential Nepal in all its frenetic and beautiful glory.  One of my favourite overseas adventures,  hands down.

We know the deal. You're young. You're adventurous. You like to get outside of your comfort zone every once in a while and travel somewhere overseas. But we also know that you're thrifty and that money doesn't go on trees.

How to save money is an important lesson to learn in every area of life… and travel is no exception.

You'll have learnt many of these lessons already. The internet has brought us a myriad of ways to save on purchases, and there are thousands of websites that offer to find us cheaper travel or cheaper accommodation. It's definitely wise to shop around and take advantage of such offers as these. Travel necessities (like airplane flights and places to sleep) tend to be cheaper when booked in advance online- but then, you probably knew that already.

What you might not have known, however, is where else there is a significant amount of money to be saved. We're not talking about the number of cocktails you drink or the souvenirs you buy, no. We're talking about something altogether less exciting; currency exchange.

Increasingly, this probably isn't something you're thinking about very much. Many people are thinking about currency exchange as a kind of outdated method of spending money overseas.  Instead, they're heading off on trips armed with only a credit or debit card. It's true that this is a very easy way of dealing with the issue; most financial providers allow customers to use their debit cards in stores or cash machines overseas. However, this is actually a very expensive method of currency exchange, and should really only be used in emergencies.

Instead, think about exchanging money before you leave. As a general rule, it's important to shop around and make sure that you're offered the best possible exchange rate. High street service providers often don't offer the best, and banks are often not much better. Instead, think about using an online service to order in advance. Often, you can even pick up your currency in a high street branch but online customers get offered better rates.

If you're not comfortable carrying all your currency with you (this isn't advised if you'll be traveling for any length of time) you might want to look into getting a travel money card. These can be pre-loaded at a positive exchange rate and then money can be withdrawn as often as possible from cash machines once you reach your destination. This makes the process just as easy as taking your debit card, but is a much cheaper way of doing it.

To conclude, when planning a trip abroad don't forget about the money saving possibilities of shopping around for currency exchange!

Youngandthrifty's Take: I actually make it a habit of exchanging my money into USD (because US Dollars are accepted everywhere, and actually the exchange rate in overseas places such as Nepal, India, Vietnam still value USD in comparison to the Canadian dollar) before I go.  Preferably, I try my best to exchange my Canadian dollars into USD when the Canadian dollar is good (which is now!).  However, carrying around so much cash on you a downer, especially when you're at risk for being targeted by thieves and pickpocketers.  Lately, I've been lazy and have just been using my debit card overseas, and when I come back, I find some horrendous fees (usually $5 each time you withdraw, and another $2.50 from the ATM overseas).  I have learned my lesson-  I usually carry some USD cash, a debit card, and two credit card- credit cards often aren't accepted in smaller establishments overseas– and oftentimes, they charge you an extra 3% when you use your credit card.  I took some Traveler's Cheques in the past, though depending on where you go, you may have trouble finding a place that will cash it for you.

Readers, what do you take with you when you travel overseas?

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Young is a writer and former owner of Young and Thrifty and the main "twitter' behind Young and Thrifty's twitter account. She lives in Vancouver, BC and enjoys long walks on the beach, spending time with her anxious dog, and finding good deals. If you like what you read, consider signing up for email updates.

15 Comments

  1. retirebyforty on May 25, 2011 at 10:15 am

    We bring a few hundred US dollars in cash and then withdraw from ATM. We withdraw the max each time, around $300, and don’t really mind the charges that much. I think this is much much better than carrying all your money. It’s just too risky.
    For big bills like hotel, we usually prepaid on the internet.



  2. No Debt MBA on May 25, 2011 at 8:45 am

    I usually bring a few hundred US dollars and a visa debit card. I travel with less cash than I can afford to loose and you want some in case you run into a problem before you can find an ATM, but once you set up a specific system (cash goes in my wallet and an envelope both of which have specific places in my bags) you are pretty unlikely to loose it. I rarely bother to exchange currency before I leave, pure laziness and I’ve never had a problem with accessing ATMs abroad.



  3. SavingMentor on May 25, 2011 at 9:23 am

    A great way to get around ATM fees is to pick a credit card that you have that you never use (has a $0 balance) and that also doesn’t charge any up front cash advance fees when you do a cash withdrawal (MBNA cards charge 1% up front but most cards just charge interest after the cash advance fee is paid).

    Then all you do is prepay your credit card with however much cash you expect to need while on vacation.

    The reason for doing this is that so when you withdraw the cash you won’t actually be charged any interest because you have a credit balance already on the card that covers the cash advance!

    You will have to pay the standard 2.5% currency conversion fee, of course, but that is no worse than you would get at any bank or normal currency exchange place. Obviously, you can get better currency exchange rates by jumping through some hoops or by converting really large sums of money all at once, but that’s another topic.

    This allows you to have the security of not carrying wads of cash on you, not having to worry about cashing worthless travelers cheques, and not having to pay outrageous ATM fees on top of currency conversion charges for your money. You won’t be worrying about multiple smaller withdrawals from the ATM either because without any fees you can withdraw as often and as little as you want.

    I did this when visiting the Philippines and it worked fabulously. Just make sure not to use that same credit card for any regular purchases before you leave or while you are away or it will mess the system up.



  4. My Univesity Money on May 25, 2011 at 9:45 am

    Great golden nugget of information. I try to use my credit card most places overseas because of all the built in fraud protection (and the fact that I love my rewards). It is interesting how the USD is accepted everywhere. Have fun convincing a booth in Mexico that the CAD is at par right now with the USD. I’ve been on several Mexico/Central America trips and those guys will try and convert dollars back and forth to confuse tourists. Some of them are so good it’s pretty scary. Dealing with USD on those tropical trips are definitely your best bet.



  5. krantcents on May 25, 2011 at 12:29 pm

    I bring my credit and ATM cards. I also get a list of correspondent banks for my bank. That way I avoid fees.



  6. Frugal Boy on May 25, 2011 at 7:58 pm

    That’s a great tip SavingMentor!

    I don’t like to carry lots of cash with me. When I travel to the USA, I credit card everything, then I don’t have to worry about exchanging the money back.

    Overseas, I just bite the bullet and pay the $5 fee each time I withdraw. I figure it’s a small price to pay for peace-of-mind.

    Frugal… out



  7. Miss T @ Prairie Eco-Thrifter on May 26, 2011 at 8:47 am

    We also bring a few hundred US dollars in cash and then withdraw from ATM as we need. We withdraw the max each time so we don’t incur more charges than we need. We split our money into numerous locations so that it is never all together at one time. That is what we find is the safest. We also bring a credit card for large purchases and if we can we prepay for our accommodations ahead of time.



  8. young on May 26, 2011 at 11:37 pm

    @SavingMentor- You are a wealth of little tricks and tips SM!! I had heard that from somewhere but never thought to use it because I thought it wasn’t reliable or whatnot. That’s great- I’ll try this next time. Beats getting suckered in with an exhorbent amount of ATM fees, that’s for sure.



  9. Miss Moneypenniless on May 27, 2011 at 3:42 am

    When exchanging money, make sure you do it before you reach the airport. Airports tend to provide the worst rates because they know you’re a captive customer and you probably won’t be able to shop around.



  10. young on May 29, 2011 at 12:46 am

    @No Debt MBA- I scatter my cash when I travel too. I have a vitamin bottle that I put some cash in (whoops the secret’s out! 🙂 ) and I find that it works quite well..



  11. young on May 29, 2011 at 12:48 am

    @My University Money- LOL hmm I can imagine the conversation about parity of USD and CAD at a Mexican booth right now. Us Canadians should definitely “load up” on our USD while the going is still good!



  12. young on May 29, 2011 at 12:49 am

    @retirebyforty- I think withdrawing the max is a good idea- it will help one keep track of how much the trip is costing so far. I remember for my vietnam trip, I was withdrawing a little bit here and there, and then unfortunately I lost track of how much I took out each time.



  13. young on May 29, 2011 at 12:50 am

    @krantcents- but if you went overseas, would there be any correspondent banks?



  14. young on May 29, 2011 at 1:06 am

    @Miss T- Bringing a credit card overseas is helpful, especially if needing to prepay for accommodation with Asia Rooms or Hostel Bookers etc. or something like that. Your strategy sounds very similar to mine 🙂



  15. CF on May 31, 2011 at 10:34 pm

    I’ve taken to using all cash for trips (except for hotels/car rentals, which I pay for online). It can be a bit sketchy having a lot of cash around, but that’s why I have the bf to protect me… right? 😉

    It makes it easier for me to budget and know how much money I can spend without worrying.



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