Blog: The Hopeful Traveler
A Mark, a Yen, a Buck or a Pound
Oh, you lucky devil. After scrimping and saving all year long, you now have enough in your travel account to abandon your in-laws and co-workers for the holidays and take a wonderful trip for Christmas. I couldn't agree with you more. Experiencing Christmas in another culture is one of the most Christmas-y things you and your family can ever do.
Dollars aren't going very far these days for American travelers overseas so do some advance preparation for your destination. Otherwise you'll be paying fees and taxes you don't need to pay. As it is, after one trip to Harrod's you're going to feel like you bought a Ranger Rover instead of all that tourist junk you came out with. Here's some tips on Money for Travelers:
The Exchange Rate: Become familiar with the rate of exchange before you get to your destination. I always round to the nearest convenient amount in my head to make it easier. For instance, I think of the Dollar/Pound rate as 2:1 these days, regardless of the actual decimal point.
Cash: I always carry Dollars with me when I travel. Mainly because it's useful to have some on the way home and there are still, contrary to rumor, a few places where the greenback is considered desirable. But if you're uneasy about having it with you, leave it in your hotel safe along with your passport.
Travelers Checks: I know there are places in the world that still like these things but I gave up on them ten years ago during a trip where I couldn't find a single merchant or bank in Paris to cash them. Even my hotel didn't want them. It is my understanding that they are still desirable in more remote areas where credit cards aren't used.
Credit Cards: This is the best option for any destination even remotely civilized. I use them for my meals, for purchases, and in a pinch have used them to get cash at the hotel Currency Exchange. If you have more than one-- say, a Visa and an American Express, take both since not all places take all brands. You can phone your credit card provider to let them know your itinerary in advance to forestall any emergency holds placed on the card because of foreign transactions. Find out if they charge an extra transaction fee on foreign purchases. If they do, ask them to waive it for you. You might get lucky.
ATM: ATMs can now be found in virtually every airport, every major hotel, and along most streets worldwide, between the Starbucks and the McDonalds, right across from the GAP. It may take you a few tries to get the hang of the funny-looking foreign ATM but you can do it. If the first won't cooperate, try the next one. They are not always as reliable as US machines but I've yet to have one eat my card. The real advantage here is that you are getting the exchange rate for that day, which may a better one than at the Currency Exchange.
Currency Exchange: These places are useful to get immediate cash in the airport or at your hotel but otherwise I always have the feeling I'm getting ripped off. If you do use a Currency Exchange, save your receipt. You may need it to exchange your leftover currency to Dollars before you leave. Some currencies are restricted to their country of origin and cannot be exchanged in the US.
Tipping: Tipping in restaurants is handled in different ways all over the world. If you have questions, don't be afraid to ask your server if the gratuity is included in the bill. Or ask at your hotel about the local procedures for tipping.
When traveling, I always try to keep small bills on hand for porters and hotel staff. If I'm going to a developing country, I bring with me lots of American singles for such gratuities. Americans are known worldwide for being generous tippers and some cultures see no problem in being forthright about asking for it. If you're insulted by this every time it happens I can promise you a long and trying journey.
Haggling: In some countries, the act of bargaining is so ingrained in the culture that those who don't participate are not respected. Americans tend to be uncomfortable with it but it doesn't have to be viewed as a conflict, look on it as harmless fun. The merchant wants you to buy his goods, you want to buy themó so play the game and have a good time. It's an opportunity to get to know the locals.
VAT: Many countries now charge a VAT or Value Added Tax on top of the sales tax for certain goods and services. But the good news is that many of these countries will allow a refund on that tax to travelers. All you do is hang on to your receipts for hotel and merchandise purchases, then as you pass through the airport upon departure stop at the VAT desk, fill out the paperwork, drop it in the mail and eventually (weeks or months) you'll get it refunded. The EU and Canada are just a few of the countries that participate in the VAT refund program for travelers.
Money Safety: Use your common sense. Don't carry large amounts of cash around while you are sightseeing. Keep your extra cash and valuables in the hotel safe or your room safe. When you're in large crowds, keep your purse or bag in front of you. And gentlemen, that fat wallet in your back pocket is a beacon screaming "take me". Keep your valuables in your front pocket, near your other valuables. I've never used one of those secret money belts but if it makes you feel more secure, do it by all means.
The notion that Americans are no longer welcome around the world is a myth. Tourism is now the number one industry worldwide and I promise you the American Dollar is as welcome as it ever has been. I have been told by waiters and merchants all over the world that Americans are their favorite visitors because of their generosity. Keep up the good work.
Steven Berrier 2007
posted on: 11/30/2007 1:00:00 PM by Steven Berrier and Leslie Coles
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