Not even the most nostalgic currency lovers enjoy coming home from a long trip to find ten pounds’ worth of useless Danish change at the bottom of a suitcase.
Counterintuitive though it may seem, however, committing yourself to cash is an excellent way to both save money and make the most of a journey abroad. Here are the whys and hows of carrying hard currency overseas.
First, it’s important to understand that there needn’t be an either/or dichotomy to the plastic versus cash debate. You can, and should, carry both.
A credit card has its uses; most importantly, it offers just about the best exchange rate you’re going to get, as your purchases will be charged at the interbank rate (plus, it’s worth noting, a small percentage that varies by card). That means your credit card is great for big purchases or lavish meals.
Credit, however, has its downfalls. Firstly, the abstraction of money represented by a slim piece of plastic means you’re probably going to spend significantly more.
In a 2001 article in Marketing Letters, Prelec and Simester demonstrated that those paying for Celtic tickets with a credit card were willing to spend 64 percent more on average than those using cash.
As such, a budget-conscious university student is probably best kept away from temptation by trying to stick to cash.
In terms of travel, restricting yourself to credit or debit is also going to affect where you shop and eat.
Most roadside food stands, which offer some of the best and cheapest foods you’re going to find in the world, don’t take Visa.
This means that a plastic-happy traveller is going to end up opting for more expensive, less authentic locales, thereby paying more and experiencing less.
While there are many ways to secure foreign cash, not all are created equal. Putting aside the dark ages and travellers’ cheques, two popular options include withdrawal at an ATM and foreign exchange services.
For most, using an ATM upon arrival is probably the best option because it involves the least hassle. As with credit cards, the unbeatable interbank exchange rate applies. However, be wary of fees; most banks charge (an admittedly small) fixed price plus a percentage of the withdrawal for ATM usage overseas, and the owner of the ATM may add onto these. Guess how much you might need and take out large sums at a time to mitigate charges.
Making use of an exchange service can be a good choice if you don’t want to go down the ATM route. However, you need to do your homework and think ahead.
Changing your pounds at the airport, for example, is a sure-fire way to get ripped off. Websites comparing exchange services abound (travelmoneymax.com comes recommended), and you can even have cash delivered in advance of your trip.
Using a service like this allows you to lock in favourable but ephemeral exchange rates that can save you from expensive fluctuations (just think of what happened in the wake of the Brexit vote).
Currency speculation aside, to get the best rates, exchange large sums (the rate for £500 will be more favourable than the rate for £100) and order well in advance.
Again, do not put yourself in the position where you have to exchange pounds on-site. In October, The Guardian reported on exchanges at UK airports where the pound was trading at or even below parity with the euro. Such outrageous rates could end up adding what amounts to a 20 percent premium onto any purchases made in foreign currency, so plan ahead.
Once you hit the ground, there are a few ways to protect your cash from theft, loss and your own absentmindedness.
The commonly touted maxim is that put all of their eggs in one basket. For those in hotels, this means leaving non-essentials in the safety deposit box in your room or with reception. If, like most university students, you lodge in hostels, that’s not an option. Rather than leaving your cash in your room, you’ll have to carry it around.
The best way to carry money on your person, according to travel guru Rick Steves, is with the help of a money belt. Before you dismiss this oft-ridiculed option, consider that no one needs to (or should) see it. The point of a money belt is to keep the bulk of one’s cash in “deep storage” and only carry a small amount of spending money in a more easily accessible location.
A slim money belt is easily concealed under your shirt and will hold your cash, cards, passport and damaged sense of self-worth squarely out of the reach of pickpockets. Seriously, don’t knock it until you try it.