4 simple money hacks that can save your trip
It's something nobody likes to talk about but everyone needs to deal with. Money issues and traveling tend to go hand-in-hand. I've experienced sticker shock once I was able to look up exchange rates, and I've also been pleasantly surprised by how cheap something ends up being. I've seen people scammed and taken advantage of because they simply didn't know. While it's definitely not as fun to write about as a 48-hour itinerary, it's easily the topic that has the power to make or break a whole travel experience. Here are my top four tips for dealing with money while traveling in order to make the most of your travels.
1. Always ask a local where they exchange currency.
I cannot say this enough. While many people come with enough local currency to make it through the first days of their trips, emergencies (or the perfect pair of sunglasses) do happen and sometimes we find ourselves out of cash in a place where credit cards aren't accepted. Instead of paying an ATM fee, it can be much easier to exchange currency-- if you know where to go. Don't just go for the first currency exchange you see, as that will often be at either a train station or in the tourist hub of the city and these places are notorious for scamming the most seasoned travelers. The best way that I learned to hack the system is to ask a waiter at a small restaurant or the owner of a non-touristy small business (if they sell bags that say I HEART (insert city name here), they're probably not the right person to ask), and usually they will give you a much better option that is nearby. Check the daily exchange rate to make sure you're getting the best deal.
2. Only pay in the local currency.
I noticed this all the time in the city centers of most european cities I was in. Because I tended to spend most of my time in places that didn't use the Euro, it seemed odd to me that many of the tourist attractions gave people the option to pay in either Koruna or Euros. Then one day, I decided to check the exchange rates. Let's be real here, they were doing it because then people didn't have to exchange money from other legs of their trips, but the markups were definitely there if the currency wasn't local. For example, I noticed that some of the Trdelník stands were charging up to 3.5 euros but only 70 crowns for the same pastry. Given today's exchange rate, that's a difference of nearly .75 cents! While that doesn't seem like a lot, it adds up if everything you're doing is subtly marked up. Do the touristy stuff. Often it's touristy for a reason, but please take the time to find an honest currency exchange and pay local currency. Your wallet will thank you.
3. Be smart about your credit cards.
While fewer places around the world accept credit cards than in the United States, the majority of people still travel with credit cards as an insurance policy or if they need to reserve a hotel. Definitely take your credit cards with you, but be careful. Never let your credit card leave your possession. Most places in Europe have the customer complete the transaction by themselves on either a portable keypad or by paying at the counter. It should be a huge red flag if an employee tries to take your card from you to pay for something. If this happens, don't be afraid to ask to pay yourself, or to confirm checkout policies with a manager. On a different note, opt for an RFID wallet or credit card sleeve in order to protect your information. People can walk through crowds with scanners and steal your information while your cards are still in your bag. A wallet or sleeve makes it significantly harder to do and can keep you from becoming the victim of a crime. They're really easy to find and don't have to be expensive. I got mine for under $12 at T.J. Maxx.
4. Never carry your wallet in your back pocket.
Things carried in pockets tend to disappear quickly. Between pickpockets and items slipping out, you're not likely to have your wallet when you need it. The same goes for cell phones (hello, cache of personal information). Never, under any circumstances, carry anything of value in your pocket and make sure your bag or backpack is fully zipped. If it doesn't have a zipper, you shouldn't be carrying it. See my earlier post on bags if you want more information about my ride-or-die bag choices, but definitely keep things on your person securely stored. This is also not the time to use a fanny pack, as they can be easily cut off in a crowd and also scream, "TOURIST," which will probably make you an even bigger target for the pickpockets.
While the list could go on, these are really the big four that you need to know. They'll save you money, time and headaches and hopefully give you that extra confidence to travel deeper into parts unknown. Do you have any other money hacks? I'd love to hear them!