Travel Time: Money for the road

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I field lots of questions in a typical day - and in my line of work, that's to be expected - but among the most common are questions about cold, hard cash. "I'm going abroad - should I take travelers' checks or just use my credit cards?" "Will my ATM card work overseas?" "What about exchanging foreign currency before I go?" All good questions - so let's talk answers.

Should I use my credit card when I travel?
You bet. Credit cards offer some of the most competitive exchange rates going when you're traveling overseas - often much better than what you could exchange for yourself at a local Bureau de Change or hotel money exchange desk.

They often offer purchase protection beyond what you'll get from the store - although you'll need to check with your card company directly to see what is and isn't covered. You also won't have to risk your personal safety by carrying large amounts of cash. And if by chance your card is lost or stolen, your personal liability is minimal if you report it right away.

A word to the wise traveler: most credit card companies are now charging a separate 1-3% "currency conversion" fee per foreign transaction. If you have more than one credit card company, check with them ahead of time to see if you have an account that does not charge this fee.

And always have the store make your charge in the local currency. These days, the stores will often ask if you'd like them to make your charge in US Dollars. Say no. Chances are, your credit card company will still charge the conversion fee, as your charge will come through a foreign bank, and their local currency to dollar conversion rate won't be the best anyway.

Which cards should I bring with me?
Visa, Mastercard and American Express are widely accepted all over the world. Sorry Discover Card holders - few places outside the U.S. will take it. Also, do yourself a favor and lighten the load in your wallet before your trip - you won't be using your Kohl's or Macy's cards on that Danube River cruise, so leave them at home for safekeeping. Carry with you only those cards you'll use.

And another helpful tip - call your bank and your credit card company before you leave town to tell them where you're going and when. Some banks may freeze your account if they see charges from a foreign country and you haven't let them know you're going to be traveling, so take the time to makes those calls!

Can I use the ATM machines?
The answer is yes - most of the time. You'll want to check with your bank to make sure your card is linked to one of the big services like Star, Plus or Cirrus that allow you to gain access to your account while you're out of the country. Even if you're charged an "out of network ATM" fee by your branch and/or the ATM you're using, it's still better than paying commission when you obtain cash at your hotel or a "change” office - and the exchange rate is better as you'll get the bank-to-bank rate.

When you use an ATM outside the U.S., it will dispense the local currency - pounds in England, Euros in Ireland, French Polynesian francs in Tahiti, etc.

And a few more things to keep in mind - some are only available for use during business hours, a strange concept for those of us used to 24 hour access. In some cities and towns, the machines are literally located inside the branch. When the branch is closed, you're out of luck.

You'll also want to keep in mind that much of the rest of the world still keeps true "bankers hours" closing their banks on Saturdays and Sundays. It's not unheard of for ATMs to run out of money by Sunday night, so don't let your cash run too low.

What about Travelers’ Checks?
I know there are some people that still swear by them, but these days they may be more trouble than they're worth. Some places charge a fee to cash them - or force you to make a large "minimum purchase." Still others won't take them at all. In these days of AT M's on most corners - even overseas - and widely accepted credit cards, I personally don't see much of a use for them.

Should I exchange money before I go overseas?
Yes! We've all heard the phrase "your money is no good here" when someone else is picking up the tab, but in the case of foreign travel - it's really true. Outside of some border cities and popular tourist destinations in Canada and Mexico, you won't be able to use American money - at least not easily.

A pub owner in a small town may take your dollars when you pay for your bowl of soup, but consider what that means for him or her - they'll have to get it converted to the local currency on their end, which usually takes time and costs them in the exchange. Be fair and plan ahead - you don't want to be the quintessential Ugly American!

When preparing for a trip, I usually suggest you buy enough foreign currency to get you through the first few days of tips, meals, snacks and other incidental expenses. After that, use your ATM to get whatever cash you'll need for the rest of your stay.

To get the foreign currency before you leave, you can purchase it at either your bank branch or an American Express office. Most bank branches won't have the currency there - and it takes up to a week to get it - so you'll want to arrange the purchase well before you go.

What kind of money should I get?
Figuring out your foreign currency is much easier these days, what with the advent of the Euro, but always check! England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland still use their own currency, along with a few smaller countries in Europe, particularly central Europe. Asia, the South Pacific, Africa and the rest of the world still operate on their own systems. If you're going to several countries using different currencies, you might want to purchase a small amount of each type - again, enough to give you "walking around money" for the first day or two. If you need more, use the local ATM.

And now for the fun stuff!

There are some terrific rates for Mexico in the new few months - particularly before Memorial Day. If you can travel in April or May, you'll find some great rates for some of my favorite all-inclusive properties in Los Cabos - check these out:

Royal Solaris Los Cabos
Deluxe Ocean View Room
From $649.00 per person, double occupancy!

RIU Santa Fe
Deluxe Ocean View Room
From $669.00 per person, double occupancy!

Both are right on the beach, with the Royal Solaris near the town of San Jose del Cabo and the RIU Santa Fe just minutes from Cabo San Lucas. The packages include round trip air from Phoenix, four nights all-inclusive accommodations (all meals and beverages - including alcohol - and non-motorized water sports) and airport transfers. Air taxes are additional - currently running around $105.00 per person.

I found these rates in late April and early May, but they were also available right up to Memorial Day. They went up a bit for June and July. Check your vacation schedule and give me a call!

AMAZING rates for Alaska and Mexican Riviera cruises for the next few weeks and months!

For Alaska, you'll find Inside Staterooms starting at $699.00 per person, double occupancy, for May and June departures on Inside Passage cruises round trip from Seattle. Balcony Staterooms started at $1149.00 per person, double occupancy! These are great rates for this time of year - especially for June!

The Inside Passage cruise will stop in Juneau, Skagway, Ketchikan and Victoria, British Columbia with lots of beautiful things to see in between. Add a flight to Seattle and you've got a great vacation value! Give me a call to hold your space.

As for the Mexican Riviera, you still have time to sail this popular itinerary in April and the first week of May - before the ships all go up to do the Alaska itineraries for the summer. The rates here are phenomenal, too!

For April and May departures, the Mexican Riviera itinerary out of Los Angeles starts at $449.00 per person, double occupancy. A Balcony stateroom is an astonishing $749.00 per person, double occupancy! These are great rates for this fun itinerary. Just grab a plane or drive to LA and you're on your way! 

October 9 - October 18
From $1999.00 per person, double occupancy!

Last call for these special rates!

Most cruise lines are raising rates for their popular itineraries and Royal Caribbean is no different. I can only hold my few remaining cabins for another two weeks at these fantastic rates!

Thanks to those who have already held space on this wonderful trip, I have only one Inside Stateroom and three Balcony Staterooms left in my group!

The rate includes round trip air from Phoenix, all airport/pier/hotel transfers and a post-cruise stay in beautiful Barcelona.

Oct. 10 -- Barcelona, Spain -- Depart: 7 p.m.

Oct. 11 -- Cruising

Oct. 12 -- Naples, Capri, Italy -- Arrive: 7 a.m.; Depart: 7 p.m. (Docked)

Oct. 13 -- Civitavecchia (Rome), Italy -- Arrive: 7 a.m.; Depart: 7 p.m. (Docked)

Oct. 14 -- Livorno (Florence/Pisa), Italy -- Arrive: 7 a.m.; Depart: 7 p.m. (Docked)

Oct. 15 -- Villefranche (Nice), France -- Arrive: 7 a.m.; Depart: 7 p.m. (Tendered)

Oct. 16 -- Provence (Toulon), France -- Arrive: 7 a.m.; Depart: 5 p.m. (Docked)

Oct. 17 -- Barcelona, Spain -- Arrive: 6 a.m

This cruise vacation offers incredible value - all your meals are included! - and you'll unpack one time to see parts of three beautiful countries! For more information on this trip, you can also visit my agency site:

Again, I can only hold these rates for a few more weeks, so if you've been thinking about joining us, now is the time to give me a call. I hope you come with us!

And finally - I will have firm rates and dates for the Ireland trip by my next segment on April 11! At this point, it looks like we'll be leaving Phoenix the evening of September 3, returning on September 12. I've been able to incorporate a visit to the brand new Waterford Crystal tour and exhibit, scheduled to open this summer, along with lots of other terrific adventures, including Kilkenny Castle, Kylemore Abbey, Blarney Castle (and for the shoppers among us, the Blarney Woollen Mills) and much, much more!

I'll have a complete itinerary on my agency site ( and on these pages as soon as everything is confirmed. The rates are looking good, too - we're taking advantage of the great September weather to offer a "high season" itinerary at a "shoulder season" price!

Ireland in the Fall is something to behold - the 40 shades of green are accompanied by a colorful variety of flowers to create some beautiful vacation memories. Please plan to come with us!

Across town or around the world, we're planning your next vacation at Travelation! Give us a call at 602-252-1140, or if you're outside the 602, 480 and 623 Metro Phoenix area codes, give us a call at 888-751-2032. You can also reach me directly via e-mail at I look forward to hearing from you!