Traveling internationally may seem like an expensive vacation option, but it doesn’t have to be. If you’re able to find a good deal on airfare (or can drive to another country from where you live), you may be able to save on common vacation expenses due to favorable exchange rates. Use this handy guide to get the most of out of your money when you travel out of the country.
How Can I Look Up Exchange Rates?
Keeping an eye on the exchange rates can be great for timing your travel effectively. Take the euro, for example. This currency was favored for years when compared to the U.S. dollar. But rates changed rapidly in 2014, giving U.S. travelers another reason to visit European countries. In March 2014, $1 would only get you about 0.72 euros. By March 2015, you can get almost an exact exchange for $1 to one euro, meaning travelers’ dollars would go much, much farther than they did just one year prior.
Looking up exchange rates is actually quite easy. There are dozens of calculators online that can do the work for you. Websites like XE.com and OANDA.com offer quick, free conversions of U.S. dollars to other currencies. To get a sense of where things are headed, however, you should also look at historical conversion rates. That way, you’ll find out if things are trending favorably towards the U.S. dollar.
Where Should I Exchange My Money?
There are numerous ways to exchange your money before or after arriving abroad. But some cause you to lose more to exchange fees than others. If you want to make the most of your money, it’s essential to understand how different places will charge you for converting your U.S. money into another country’s currency. To make sure you’re keeping as much of your cash as possible, follow these do’s and don’ts of international travel:
- DON’T use your U.S. cash locally. Even if a business accepts U.S. dollars, you’ll be paying for an excessive exchange rate if you use cash from home.
- DO be aware of the exchange rates. Calculate what you’re spending in U.S. dollars every time you make a purchase or you could end up overspending during your trip. There are also handy smartphone apps that can do quick conversions for you.
- DON’T buy foreign currency before you leave home. Stateside exchange rates are excessive – you’re better off waiting until after you arrive to get money.
- DO use ATMs to get cash. They typically have the best exchange rates. Make sure to ask your bank about the fees you’ll incur for using ATMs abroad before you go, however.
- DO use credit cards. Like ATMs, they have good rates, but you should also check about fees from your credit card issuer.
- DON’T exchange cash abroad unless it’s necessary. Exchange bureaus at airports, train stations and other tourist-heavy spots have the worst rates. If you must exchange cash, look for a post office, a bank or an American Express office.
What Should I Do With Leftover Currency at the End of My Trip?
As your trip comes to a close, there’s a good chance you may end up with a little leftover cash in foreign currency. Ideally, you don’t want too much cash leftover since an exchange rate will still be applied, so try to use up your cash as it gets closer to the end of your trip. Spend small amounts on postcards, snacks, public transportation passes and other things you’ll use during your visit. The less cash you have leftover the better – just don’t spend it on things you weren’t going to buy anyway, otherwise you’re throwing money down the drain.
For the cash that you weren’t able to spend by the trip’s end, there are a few options from which to choose. As with exchanging your U.S. dollars to foreign currency, the best rates for getting it changed back is at banks, post offices, and American Express offices. If you don’t have time to hit one of those places on your way out, try your hotel, which could still have a better rate than the airport, which should be your last resort.
If you’re the type that thinks ahead, then a buyback program may be your best bet. Offered at some exchange services, this offer allows you to return some of your unused currency at the end of your trip. Just make sure they are agreeing to buyback the foreign currency at the same rate for which they sold it to you in the firstplace.
With these handy tips, you’ll be well on your way to making the most of your international vacation. Use these techniques to get the most out of every dollar you spend abroad so you can travel frugally while still having a rich experience.