When you are off cruising or traveling, having some money to spend is usually pretty important. Especially if you are wanting to eat and sleep with a roof over your head.
We are just back from a sailing trip in New Caledonia with some friends and had a couple of interesting money related experiences…
Here are our tips on dealing with money while traveling.Do you have any good travel money tips you can add?
Tip #1 – Cash is King
Here in New Zealand you can pretty much pay for anything with a credit or debit card. However in other countries it doesn’t quite work like that. If you are staying in small boutique accommodation, or shopping in a market, then you are going to need some cash.
The little hotel we stayed at on our first night didn’t accept credit cards, but I didn’t find that out until we were about to leave. Thankfully between the four of us, we were able to scrape together enough money to pay for our accommodation. Otherwise it would have been a long drive to the nearest town to get the money out from a machine and drive all the way back…
So the first thing you should do when you arrive in a country is get some cash – either from an ATM or get it from the bank before you leave home. Smaller denominations are very handy as some places will not have change for large notes. Particularly if you are having to tip someone.
Tip #2 – Make a money conversion sheet
I hate doing maths in my head, so to save potentially getting my currency conversion equations wrong, it is a good idea to make a small conversion chart to keep in your purse or wallet to tell you what each note is worth. After a couple of days it usually becomes second nature.
You can also get currency conversion apps on your phone to work this out as well.
Tip #3 – The Kitty
There were four of us on this trip, and we had lots of shared expenses, like taxi rides, groceries etc. The easiest way we found for dealing with these shared costs, was for everyone to put some cash in to a kitty. We started off with around NZD$130.00 each and then had to add another $130.00 pretty soon after that. (Groceries are pretty expensive in New Caledonia)
After that ran out, and people didn’t have any cash left either, things started to get complicated. One person would pay for something, and then someone else would put something on their credit card, and by the end of the week we had a complicated “Who owes who what” equation to work out.
The simplest thing would have been for us all to have put in more cash at the start, and then if there was any money left in the kitty at the end of the trip, then that could either be divided back out to everyone.
Kitty expenses can include things like:
- Taxi rides
- Fuel in the rental car & boat
- Parking meters
- Market & Grocery costs
- Shared dinners & drinks
- Bits & bobs for the boat
- Attraction entry fees
- Marina or mooring fees
Naomi bought a nice colourful purse that the kitty lived in. There was space in there for a notebook where you could write down a shopping list or perhaps keep track of what you had spent things on. We also kept all the receipts we collected.
If you know how much an upcoming expense is likely to be – a taxi transfer at the end of the trip for example, you can set aside that cash in a separate envelope so it doesn’t get spent accidentally.
If you do run out of cash, then it is sometimes just easier for just one person to use their credit card to buy shared things, and then everyone pay that person back when you get home, as opposed to having to work out a number of different transactions on different credit cards creating a complicated money-go-round.
I have also had a kind reader suggest a free app called ‘Settle Up’ which allows you to track who pays for what, and also who it is to be split with. I haven’t got it yet, but it looks like a great option for this kind of thing. Just remember to get everyone to download it while you are in a wifi area.
Spending the kitty in Noumea Market
Tip #4 – Credit Cards
You are going to need a credit card when you travel – and preferably one that has got some money left to spend on it! Rental car companies and hotels take a swipe of your card and put a ‘hold’ of a certain amount on your card which covers the costs of your room or car, plus any possible extra incidentals. This means that while they haven’t actually deducted that amount from your card when you check in, you won’t be able to go and spend that amount on your trip and then disappear without paying.
You can use credit cards to withdraw cash at ATM machines, but you are usually charged a one off transaction fee and also the currency conversion cost on top of that. Your credit card company will also usually start charging you interest on that withdrawal straight away – as opposed to giving you the month to pay it off like other transactions.
If you are doing withdrawals from ATM machines, it is best to take out one lump sum, to save on those transaction fees.
Here in New Zealand we have got a card called OneSmart, which allows you to have up to four ‘wallets’ of international currencies loaded on it. This means you can transfer the funds around the wallets when the exchange rate is favorable. It is a debit card – so you need to pre-load it with funds before you travel. You can use it like a credit card in shops or also at ATM machines to withdraw cash.
However as great as credit & debit cards are, there are also drawbacks, as Andrew found that his debit card had somehow been hacked (he only used it in an ATM machine) and all his funds spent in some Hong Kong department store.
He called the bank and they immediately cancelled his card. But of course then he didn’t have access to any of the funds he had transferred in to that account and could no longer use that card…
Hopefully the bank will sort that out and refund the money. Watch this space…
I have had a similar experience where I was travelling in Thailand, and American Express decided that my credit card purchases looked a bit odd, so they took it upon themselves to cancel the card. Unfortunately they actually were all legitimate costs and I was left without access to any money for the rest of my trip.
Tip #5 – Have a back up!
So if Andrew didn’t have either another credit card, friends with money, or extra cash in his pocket, he would have been in a bit of trouble! As it was, he had all of those, so things weren’t all bad. However you can imagine what a hassle that would be if it was Friday night, and the banks didn’t open again until Monday morning. That could really ruin your day.
We have both got two different credit cards, and a debit card, and it would be sensible to always have one with you and one back on the boat or in the hotel, so if you got mugged, or lost your wallet, then you have at least got a back up. Some extra copies of your ID in two different places is a good idea for this very reason as well, and a separate list of your credit card numbers and bank telephone numbers would have been handy too. He still had his card on him and the phone number to call was on the card, but had it not been and we were away from internet coverage, then that could have made things even more of a hassle and an expensive international phone call to try and figure out who to call about it.
Tip #6 – Paypal
Not exactly travel related, but if you are dealing with people internationally and want to transfer funds around, an easy way to do this is via PayPal. You can easily set up an account, issue invoices to people, buy things and get them to pay you either via Credit Card or their own PayPal account. You can transact in various different currencies and then get PayPal to transfer the funds back to your own bank account. Very easy to use and much cheaper than doing international funds transfers via the bank.
Tip #7 – Power of Attorney
If you are traveling long term or cruising, it is a good idea to talk to your bank about what you are up to before you go and to set up a trusted person who can act on your behalf back home should things go wrong.
Privacy laws here in New Zealand are super strict and most organisations flatly refuse to speak to anyone else other than the person involved, even if you are simply doing your best to help them out of a tricky situation. This can be a real hassle if you are in the middle of an ocean with no phone coverage and there is something that needs to be dealt with immediately. At least then you can send that trusted person a text message, and they can sit on hold for hours waiting to speak to the right person as opposed to you trying to do that via a satellite phone…
Tip #8 – Tipping
Check before you travel in regards to tipping etiquette. Here in New Zealand we do not generally pay tips to anyone. You might say “keep the change” to the taxi driver, and round it up a couple of dollars, and you might leave a tip if you got exceptional service in a restaurant. But generally we don’t tip here. Some countries it is essential to tip and in others it is rude. Much better to have cash for tipping and small denominations.
Do you have any other good money tips for when you are traveling?