Travel and Money: How to Get and Carry Cash Safely and Securely
Traveling safely and managing your money along the way is an exercise in balancing multiple risks: theft, loss, high surcharges, and confusing discrepancies. This Travel and Money series discusses various ways to address money and security issues while you are abroad.
Today we’ll address getting and carrying cash safely and securely while you’re actively traveling on the road. Depending on where you go, it’s easy to be labeled as a tourist, which automatically makes you a target for theft and robbery. And in some countries, pick-pocketing is a finely attuned art form. In other places, full-on muggings are common occurrences. So it pays to be judicious about how you carry your cash so you aren’t left stranded.
Where to Get Cash
You have a few options for where to get your cash if you are in a country with a different currency:
- You can convert funds at your home bank and bring foreign currency abroad with you. If the currency conversion rates are fairly stable or at a particularly favorable rate before you leave, this could be a good plan. But think hard about how much cash you want to convert and carry at the onset; if you covert all your spending money right away and carry it with you throughout your trip, you have no recourse if the cash is lost or stolen.
- You could carry home currency and convert it periodically while abroad. However again you leave yourself at the risk of loss or theft of all your coffers.
- Lastly is my preferred method, which is to use ATMs abroad. You may be subject to a few different fees, but they’re not exorbitant and are often comparable to what you would pay to exchange money along the way. You also have the added protection of not having to carry all your cash with you all the time. For some tips on how to manage fees and make effective cash withdrawals, check out this article on using your debit card on the road.
Cash Conversion Tips
If you bring cash from home and plan to convert it along the way (or if you are visiting multiple countries and need to convert as you cross borders), take heed of the following tips:
- Don’t convert your cash at the airport. The currency exchange booths have clued in to how easy it is for us lazy tourists to simply convert our funds at the airport (or other transportation hub), so they jack up the conversion rates and commission fees. Instead, wait until you get into town and find a bank or exchange booth there. If you need money right away (to pay for an airport bus for example), consider using an ATM instead (see tips above), or charging the expense to your credit card.
- Beware of friendly locals offering to exchange money for you. There’s a reason they’re offering up this service, and it isn’t sheer benevolence. Even if it’s not a full-on scam, they’re getting something for playing the middle-man, and it’s coming out of your pocket.
How to Carry Your Cash Securely: Diversify!
Carrying all your cash in one place (usually a wallet) puts you at the biggest risk of losing the whole enchilada if somebody lifts (or if you lose) your wallet. In addition, when you whip out your wallet to pay for something and are sifting through large amounts of money, you will immediately become a formidable target for theft.
So carry your cash in a few different places. Put the day’s spending money in your wallet (this can also be an effective budgeting technique), and then stash some cash in a few other places which you don’t access in public; maybe a money belt, lock some in your luggage (an unlikely place like with your dirty clothes is good), and/or put a few emergency bills in your shoe (underneath the insole is great).
I tend to carry emergency cash in a special pocket underneath my clothing, so if I lose everything, I still have some cash to get me out of whatever bind I may have found myself in.
Using Cash to Your Advantage while Traveling
Although it’s no secret that I am a fan of using credit cards on the road, there are some instances when you can use cash to your advantage. When you are looking at making a purchase (regardless of whether you are in a country where haggling is the norm), ask the vendor if they will give you a discount if you pay with cash. Vendors often have to pay a premium for customers who use credit and debit cards, so if they know you're paying with cash, they could cut you a deal. I’ve had great luck with this at home too; especially with service providers like auto mechanics.
Stay tuned for many more articles in this Travel and Money series, helping you to travel safely, securely, and effectively.