-the money exchange decision-
CANCUN for the WEEKEND: PART 1
> I needed to get away from the cold and I had been dreaming of taking a trip by myself (more on that soon!) I did some flight research and found a ticket from Denver to Cancun for $250 round trip through Spirit. Actually, I found the flight through SkyScanner.com and I will share my methods of finding cheap flights in an upcoming post. I definitely could have found a better ticket price to go somewhere closer, like Las Vegas, Los Angeles or even Miami, but I had never been to Mexico and I found a great place to stay that had a private beach for $43 a night (through Booking.com.)
This is Part One of the Mexico for the Weekend series! Here we focus on the MOST important part of your trip – having money that works!
A great way to lose a lot of money without getting any benefit is to get a bad exchange rate. I specifically talk about Mexican Pesos and Euros in this post, but the principles apply wherever you go!
EXCHANGE AT HOME?
> You can get Mexican Pesos (MXN) before you get to Mexico, but I find that you will not get the best deals this way. Some banks (in large cities) keep foreign currencies in their vaults. Other banks keep foreign currencies at one central location in the country and it has to be overnighted to your city. Call around to banks in your area to see what each bank’s process is.
FEES VS EXCHANGE RATES
> When you exchange money in the U.S. you will be charged a fee through the bank or currency exchange office you go through. Businesses that exchange at airports tend to have the worst rates, because you are paying for their convenience.
Some banks also charge you a set fee per transaction if you are not a customer. The exchange specialist may not tell you that they roll additional fees into the exchange rate that they give you. The rate that they are quoting you is not the ACTUAL exchange rate. They are adding in their own costs. If you must get your currency exchanged before you go, call around to all of the banks in your area in order to find the best rate possible.
WHY TO NOT GET MONEY BEFORE YOU GO
> Example: Currently the USD to EURO exchange rate is almost the best it has ever been at around $.94 USD to one EURO (see Bloomberg.) However, when you call banks, they will quote you at a rate somewhere in the $.83 – $.87 USD to EURO. If you exchange $1000, suddenly you’re losing about $170 US to fees instead of the $60 that you would lose if you were getting a true exchange without the built in fees. Keep in mind, rates fluctuate daily.
ATMs – EXCHANGE METHOD OF CHOICE
> The best way to change your money is by using an ATM in your destination city. Rule number one: take out large sums. ATMs will charge a per transaction fee. That means if you take out $50 today and $50 tomorrow you’ll get docked twice as much money as if you had just gone and taken out the $100 you need in one transaction.
Example: I recently took $400 euros out of an ATM in Spain. My account reflected that I took out $430 USD. That is a 93% exchange rate! This is almost the actual exchange rate. Perfect.
WHICH ATM TO USE
> If you can use an ATM that has your bank’s branding on it you’ll be spared some fees that banks charge for using another bank’s money. Even if you don’t see your bank name on the ATM, do some research online before you go to see what the other ‘partner banks’ or ATMs your bank will recognize. Many banks are part of a network.
TRAVEL CREDIT CARDS
I can’t talk about foreign money spending without mentioning travel credit cards! NerdWallet is an amazing money-resource and you should definitely check out one of their newer posts about the best travel credit cards to use in 2017 HERE. There is so much money to be made by spending this way. You can skip foreign fees and get direct currency exchange rates as you swipe. Also, you can get bonus points for spending overseas, and tons of money back if you meet certain spending criteria. Words to the wise, read all the fine print when signing up for credit cards. It would be a shame to quality for a card, earn hundreds back in cash and prizes and then not pay your card off — negating all that free money PLUS reducing your credit score.
WORRIES ABOUT TAKING OUT A LOT OF CASH
> Travelers worry about theft and carrying large sums of cash. Follow these two rules: don’t walk around with thousands, AND carry your money wisely. A few hundred dollars in local currency will go a long way in many foreign countries. It is smart to keep a sum stashed in your backpack or luggage and then some of the money in your pocket for easy access. Pockets with zippers on clothing that is close to your body is the BEST way to carry your money and passport while traveling. Invest in some good clothes with this in mind before your trip.
I’ve never worn a money belt, but that is an option too! They can be worn discreetly and close to your body. Find some great ones here on Amazon.com.
Traveler satchels and any kind of purses are asking for trouble. They are easy to spot and advertise that you might be an easy target for quick cash. Even if you are not going to be in an area that is known for pickpockets, better to develop good travel habits and be safe. Basically, TRY not to stand out or look like a tourist when you’re traveling.
> Never swipe your debit or bank card in a foreign country. You will get docked a foreign transaction fee every single time. This is a set fee, so it doesn’t matter if you’re paying hundreds for a hotel or just a couple bucks for coffee. Pay cash, or pay online.
Paying for lodging online is ideal. It is your greatest expense and you can bypass the foreign transaction fees and exchange fees completely. If you use Booking.com, make sure you know whether you are paying for the property when you book or when you get there. Many times the hotels stipulate that you pay at the hotel when you get there. Know ahead of time so that you can bring cash if needed.
You can also pay for tours and museum or cathedral visits online. This has an additional benefit besides saving money on fees. To see some international landmarks, like the Cathedral in Sevilla or the Eiffel Tower in Paris, you may have to wait in a VERY long line if you try to walk up and get in on the day of. Paying in advance online will help you skip you to the front of the line. Many times when purchasing your tickets online you will be asked to choose a time that you want to go. Then you can get there at that time and go right in!
> Be fore warned: you may still have problems arise with money while you’re travelling abroad. Sometimes ATMs aren’t working! Sometimes they are not even there anymore! You may have done all the research to find the right ATM before you leave for you trip, and then get there to find that it is out of money.
Know your tolerance for dealing with situations like this and plan accordingly. If having some cash before you go, or swiping your card everywhere you purchase, is your preference, that is fine. Just know that you are losing some of your hard earned money. Losing few bucks per transaction can really add up if you are eating out three times a day, buying souvenirs and taking day trips for your entire trip.
I cannot stress this next point enough: OFFLINE DOWNLOAD the city you are going to on Google Maps. Even if you are going to get a SIM card for your phone in the new country so that you can have service wherever you go, you will never be sorry you have a working map. Google Maps does not use data or cellular service to locate you, rather it uses GPS, which is always accessible, even if you don’t have service. By having the area downloaded, you can search ATMs (and whatever else you need) in your area without cell phone data service. MUCH more on the value of Google Maps while traveling coming soon!
BONUS PRO TIP
Using a new currency is really confusing! Even if you know the exchange rate in your head, it can be difficult calculating what things are actually costing on the spot. I use the My Currency Converter – Exchange Rates Converter app with great ease and success.
I’d love to hear about your currency exchange experiences.
Send me a message on instagram! Happy travels, love!