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Last week. I wrote about My Simple Currency Exchange Rate Philosophy and helping my nervous friend find a more relaxed approach to spending money when he travels. Reader Danny wrote: “I think it might be an interesting topic for how people get better rates for getting currency exchanged similar to your Disneyland best practices (read The Ultimate Disneyland Playbook (Full of TWG Reader Tips!)). I always do the ATM, but I’d be curious to see if there are any other good ways.” Danny had a good idea, and indeed many of you replied with your ideas about getting the best exchange rate possible. I still think this topic is worth fleshing out a bit more, so let’s begin.
I’ll go first, as I’ve had many varied experiences over the years, and I think some of it has to do with the varied locations of my travels. For instance, when I was in Bali, cash was king. My lodgings did take credit cards, but otherwise, the local merchants wanted cash. The owner of the small family-run place I stayed at didn’t want me going to any money changer, bank, or ATM on my own. I was traveling alone and he was the personal friend of friends of mine, so he felt very protective of me. He took me for a twenty minute ride on the back of his scooter into Ubud where he escorted me to his money changer and handled the transaction for me. Later, when talking to other travelers, I learned that I got a really good exchange rate, but of course, a scenario like this is POSSIBLE, but not the norm.
I do feel that asking the locals, or even the concierge at my hotel, has lead me to the best places for exchanging US Dollars into the local currency. In Buenos Aires, through an introduction some friends made for me to people who spend six months of the year in Argentina, a good money exchange offer came my way. These “snowbirds” have bank accounts in Buenos Aires. If I brought $100 bills (which their bank preferred), they offered to get cash from their bank for me. I liked this idea and said yes, thank you! The exchange rate was good and if I had any Argentine pesos left at the end of my stay, they offered to buy them back from me. Good deal for me, and nice people, for sure. So these are two examples of having local help when exchanging money.
Even though we miles/points folks use cash as rarely as we can, whether home or on our travels, we do need to have some cash on hand. Sometimes there is a fee tacked on to certain services or items and it’s just a better deal, even figuring the loss of miles/points to use cash. As many of you mentioned in the previous post, use your Charles Schwab Visa Debit Card at ATMs and your ATM fees will be reimbursed. This is the most popular and convenient way to get cash. I will say that I’m picky about which machines I use in terms of their locations. I look for an ATM that has some privacy and notice which machines the locals use.
I’ve had two issues with ATMs. The one that got me seriously considering which ATM to use happened 6 years ago near the Vatican. I won’t go into detail in this post, but the ATM was using a skimmer, so picture me yelling, “Get away from me” at the top of my lungs at this guy who came up to “help” me, it was quite a scene (read PSA: Use ATMs with NFC Readers to Avoid ATM Skimmers). So do be aware and cautious about the ATM choices you make. An ounce of prevention can save your lung power :)
I have done one thing that I believe is smart, which nobody mentioned in the comments on the last blog post, so let me share that here. I opened a Charles Schwab checking account that I use just for money when I travel. This way, I can keep just enough cash for me to access when I’m on the road, I can move more money in if I need to, and if anything happens to that debit card, it’s not linked to any of my other bank accounts. Maybe you’ve done this too.
If you have a private client type of relationship with your bank, I think it’s a good idea to check with them about exchange rates. It certainly can’t hurt to ask, and as some of you mentioned, you’ve often been told you’ll get a better exchange rate when traveling overseas. Another currency exchange rate idea, and something I’ve had to do a few times, was to get cash from the hotel where I was staying. Now before you jump to the comments section and blast me on this, hear me out. Firstly, I’ve only done this a few times. I’ve done it in special needs situations only, and though a small fee was tacked on, because the cost was added on to my hotel bill, I did at least get points for it. It’s good to know that even though this is not even close to the top of the list of getting the BEST exchange rate, some hotels will do this and it’s possible. I’ve been very appreciative of the variety of things that hotels have let me add to my bills and the miles/points I’ve gained!
I usually don’t concern myself with having cash leftover at the end of trips. I like to have a stash of some currencies, like Euros, for my next trip. If it’s a currency I don’t think I’ll need again anytime soon, a few days before I depart from that location, I’ll notice how much cash I have left and start to use it. That works for me. It’s also fun to show people who don’t travel much, or for people who would like to travel more, what foreign currency looks like. And for some of us who have Italian lira or other currencies no longer in use, they make for fun show-and-tell stories.
So that’s what’s on my mind today about exchange rates and currencies. Please add what you’ve done, and let me know what creative strategies I’ve missed out on. Any questions, let me know in the comments below. Thanks everyone!