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 just fine.

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.