From Yen to Euros 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, check with company 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 ATM's 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 ATM'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!

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With some of the most beautiful all-inclusives in the Caribbean, the Dominican Republic has long been a popular resort destination, particularly with folks from the midwest and back east. And now,
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Alaska on sale
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Alaska is such a beautiful and popular destination - especially for those desert dwellers who want to play in the snow in June. Thanks to some terrific cruise rates from Royal Caribbean, a cool cruise is terrific vacation value!

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These rates are valid for June departures, so make your reservations now.

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 rosanne@travelationonline.com. I look forward to hearing from you!