You have several options when it comes to money during your trip. Every destination wants you to spend your money there, but they all have different norms and infrastructure for accessing and using it. Be sure to research your destination, but here are a few general guidelines.
Here are a few options around exchanging and using cash in foreign countries:
- Monitor exchange rates (try www.xe.com). The rates you see on such currency conversion sites are the mid-range rate between buy and sell rates. But you’ll pay the buy rate for currency, which is often 3-7 % higher than the rates posted on those sites. (Note that exchange rates on our site reflect the buy rate, which gives a more accurate figure for what you’ll actually pay for your tour.)
- You can order foreign currency through your bank at home in advance of your trip. You’ll get the exchange rate of the day the bank buys that currency for you. (This can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on which way the exchange rate fluctuates.)
- If ATMs are accessible at your destination, you may pull out cash on site. Be aware that you’ll pay a usage fee (much like using an ATM from another bank within the U.S.), but they're typically not more than about $5. The exchange rate is typically reasonable.
- Exchanging money at kiosks in major tourist centers (and especially at airports) will usually give you a terrible exchange rate.
Although major credit cards are accepted throughout much of the world, which can make shopping and eating in restaurants easier, you shouldn't count on using a debit/credit card at every point-of-sale. Make sure to call the customer service number on the back of your card before leaving home to authorize it for use in another country. You don't want to find out the card company has frozen your card because they think it's been stolen! (Washing dishes to pay for your dinner is a great travel story, but is never much fun while you're doing it.)
Be aware that:
- Not all countries accept all major credit cards.
- You're less likely to find credit card machines in the rural areas that bike tours typically explore.
- You never know when a shopkeeper's card machine might be out of service (just like at home).
- Many shops and restaurants are small, local businesses that may have a high minimum purchase requirement for card use.
So don't rely solely on debit/credit cards for your spending, but they can be a good back-up plan.
Travelers checks were once the go-to solution for international travelers; however, as they've declined in popularity, they've become difficult to cash in at many destinations. But they still offer the security that cash never will.
- Take two debit or credit cards in case a cash machine “eats” one.
- Stash your different payment methods in a few places. This way you’ll have back-up if your luggage is lost or stolen.
- Cash is the easiest target for pickpockets and is the only payment form that can’t be stopped or recovered. Carry it in a money belt or under-shirt pouch.
- Carry some of your home currency in case you need to make an unexpected exchange mid-tour.
- Call your card provider to give them your travel dates and authorize your card for use in another country.