What’s in Your Wallet? Money Tips for the Traveling Family

What’s in Your Wallet? Money Tips for the Traveling Family

We named our second son Cash and we know first hand that Cash is King. He thinks he is too but that is another story.

Cash is a necessity but not always practical from a traveler’s perspective. We have come up with a series of money tips for families and travelers living on the road. The ironic part of this article is we are writing this story in India when the Prime Minister just pulled 500’s and 1,000’s from circulation in order to curb “black money”. To simplify, that would the equivalent of your country pulling 85% of its cash currency overnight rendering it worthless until you exchange it back.

It has been over 3 weeks since they have demonetized their currency. We haven’t been able to pull out any money and we have no plans to try and get cash in India. We already had a backup plan for money issues while moving between countries.

Cash Tips Before You Leave

Depending on where you are traveling and how remote you are going to be you should always bring some cash before you leave. We are navigating through the India demonetization fiasco with American dollars otherwise we would be waiting hours for a small amount of money ($30 per day) and we would pay around $10 for fees from the collective bank transactions.

US dollars and Euros can get you pretty far even if you have to pay a premium on the exchange rate at a moneychanger or local businesses. When you are in 1st world countries this is less of an issue but we have had cash challenges in every country we have traveled. Many of the places or hideouts you want to hit as a traveler are cash based. Try running your American Express card at a food cart, a local pub or see how far you get in Thiruvananthapuram on the beach. Many businesses love to operate on a cash basis for the obvious reasons.

We are a traveling family so we don’t want to put our family at risk with too much cash but we always want to have a contingency plan and cash helps a lot in many situations. I would say most countries have a cash price and a regular price. We would recommend the following cash tips:

  • We would keep 7 days of you daily budget in cash and that includes lodging and local transportation. If something happens it give you a few days to get a plan B in place.
  • If you are going to carry Dollars or Euros keep your bills small (e.g., $20). Many countries don’t like larger notes because of counterfeits.
  • Depending on your bank you can pickup foreign currency before you leave. We hedged some Euros before we left with our US Dollars.
  • Regardless of the country or currency small bills are your friends we have donated our fair share to cab drivers and stores who don’t have change. Nobody ever has change.
  • Cash is nice sometimes because many places we travel they actually charge extra for using cards. You would be surprised when you pay for Visa’s in a small consulate or other government fees require cash.
  • Treat your cash reserves like petty cash and always replenish what you draw down.

Getting Cash on the Road

We are always balancing cash and using our cards as much as possible. When we need cash we usually try a larger bank ATM when we arrive or when we get settled.

Getting cash out of an ATM is our first cash priority before we ever have to use a moneychanger. If we use a moneychanger and staying in a bigger hotel we will see if the hotel can exchange money. They provide this as a service sometimes and you won’t pay the tourist tax at the airport or many other money exchanges. We have found if you can exchange money at a bank your rates will be better.

Research your cards before you go some banks charge a lot for a transaction and the foreign bank will hit you with a transaction fee. For our credit union bankcard, we can pay up to $9 per ATM transaction so we always take out the maximum withdraw amount to keep our fee percentage lower. We have a Capital One with a chip that has great International rates when we pull cash but sometimes that card doesn’t work in ATM’s and we fallback to the other card. We are traveling with 3 different bankcards.

Bankcards and Credit Cards

We always lead with a bankcard or credit card when we are traveling. We try to book everything on AirBnB or American Express Online or online booking agencies that take online transactions. We always try to get transportation and any other fees like breakfast paid before we show up so we don’t have to use our cash.

We are traveling with the following cards and we use them in this order:

  1. American Express – We book as much as everything on this card and collect the points so we can use those points to upgrade or buy down costs with points. They give a great spot rate when doing international transactions. Most websites will accept this card but regular restaurants is hit or miss.
  2. Capital One 360 MasterCard – This card has been great for international transactions and most ATM’s.
  3. Credit Union Visa – We try to make sure we have a Visa and cards that belong to the major interbank networks (Cirrus, Plus). We like credit unions because they have low bank fees but they sometimes charge more for ATM withdraws.
  4. Bank of America – We keep a backup card available that we can transfer money into in case something happens to one of the above cards.

Make sure you research your cards as they have different terms and conditions. We do keep one credit card as a backup but we always try to pay that off if anything goes on the card. Be conservative with pulling money from a credit card they really hit you with fees. Using a credit card and carrying interest on top of all the other transactions fees can add up.

Travelers Checks

For those who are looking for a safety net and want another vehicle for cash travelers checks are a good insurance policy. They aren’t accepted as easily as they once were but if you get robbed or someone liberates your money these relics can help you in a tight spot. Just remember you will have to do some work to redeem them they aren’t as convertible in this day and age.

Just remember to the do following:

  1. Don’t counter sign the checks.
  2. Keep record of your check numbers and email them to yourself.
  3. Take pictures of your checks and email them to yourself.

Travelers checks may not be sexy but they have saved us on the road a couple of times. If you don’t spend them then they act as a little savings account when you get back from your adventures.

Money Strategy

The best way to travel is to leverage your cards and your cash based on your destination. Our goal is to keep our fees and exchange rates as low as possible so we can spend that money on experiences. Put some thought into what goes in your wallet and it will make your travels that much more enjoyable and adaptable.

Remember to listen to our son Cash is King!


— Cash Cortez

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