Paying for stuff
If I am in a foreign country, what is the best way to pay for
things? Hands down, the best way is paying in cash in the
local currency. Then use your credit card as a backup. If you
are desperate, go cash in some of your travellers’ cheques.
Whenever you arrive in a new country with its own unique
currency, look for a bank machine. Nearly every country and
city in the world have these automated tellers. Make sure that
you are on one of the networks displayed with – Cirrus™,
Interac™, Electron™, etc. and your bank card should work
The amount you take out is up to you. I ask myself, how much
money can I take out at one time that I can afford to loose and
what is enough for me to take out to avoid using these
machines again since the service fees are going to seriously
add up? Sometimes you have to pay to take the money out of
your account, a network fee, a trans-country fee, and the local
banking fee. It adds up.
Sometimes it is a challenge to know how much you need to
take out from a bank machine. Arriving in a new country, you
find an ATM at a currency exchange agency and you are
presented with the option of taking out 100, 10000, 100000, or
1000000 notes. Without knowing the value of the currency,
you have no idea what is too much or what is too little.
Travellers’ cheques should be avoided in my opinion. Each
broker is different and can take as much as 20% for their cut
and then you have to pay the current exchange rate. You just
hope you bought them at a lower rate than you are exchanging
them for. However, they are good even if you lose them. Make
sure you record all of their serial numbers and denominations
in your notes. If you misplace them or they get stolen, you can
have them replaced.
Note: Make sure your wallet with some of your money is
stored in a zipped pocket or inside your jacket or shirt. A
wallet is easily stolen from your back pocket. Keep the rest
safely in your money belt which is secured to your body. Your
wallet may also carry some of your identification and is worth
the extra effort to keep safe.
Your guidebook will give you generally how much your hostel
and food will cost. They all come with a currency conversion
chart and a big disclaimer that exchange rates change daily
and it was accurate at the time of printing only.
If you travel to a place that has changed its currency or is not
listed in your guidebook, you can still estimate how much
things are going to cost before you arrive. Do some homework
on what the current exchange rate is between your current
country and your new one. I would expect the costs for
services to be roughly the same between countries. For
example, if accommodations cost 200 in my current country’s
currency, and the exchange rate is 1 to 2 ratio for the next
country, I could approximate that I would be paying 400 in my
next country’s currency for my accommodations.
When you arrive, it’s always good to do some detective work.
Take a walk into a supermarket or a store and check out some
of the prices. From there you can make a more educated guess
on how much to take out.
When you are ready to make a purchase, be aware of how
much of what you are buying is worth in your currency.
Sometimes stores take advantage of backpackers who don’t
understand the currency and raise prices on us. And always
count the change you are getting back. Often they will hand
you back a pile of change and expect you to accept it. Count
it! It is easy to short change someone who doesn’t understand
all the strange currency. In some countries, the smaller the
coin, the more value it carries. Be careful.