Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Currency, Cash and Convenience

When it was safe to carry large amounts of cash while traveling I wasn't around, old or rich enough to enjoy the luxury. By the time I showed up on the traveling scene travelers' cheques were the thing to have an usually only from American Express. I always loved how different the texture of the paper was from just about anything else, but I digress: it's always been about the most convenient way to bring and have enough money to get through the vacation. Seemingly like never before, however, that convenience can cost the unsuspecting traveler a good chunk of money that wasn't in the budget to spend.

Cash can get stolen and travelers cheques lost, this we all know. Credit cards will charge interest loooong after the vacation is over and will find ways to get in to your wallet on the trip as well through currency conversion fees and transaction fees at the point of sale as the value passes through one system to another. God help you if you actually pull cash against your remaining balance, so what is a traveler to do that will preserve as much of the travel budget for the trip itself?

Travelers cheques are essentially the safest and least expensive way to go so long as you don't lose them, can find a branch office of the bank against which they're drawn and that branch happens to be both open and convenient to your plans. Smells pretty locked down to me unless I choose to cash and convert them at any random exchange store. Yea, and the wolves behind the plexiglass will roll out the blood soaked red carpet for the high fees I'm stupidly bringing to their dinner table. I'll fix 'em all, I thought to myself. I'll just use my debit card.

Nyah ha ha ha haaaaaaa, cackled my bank as it twisted its gnarled and veiny green hands in delight. Off I go in to the naive blue yonder, bank account stuffed with the cash I'd need and ready for me to use only as I paid for goods and services with the swipe of my card. Unbeknownst to me was the sleight of hand in the background as the snidely fees started to ring lasciviously over the horizon back home.
The strategy worked in that I rarely used cash for anything, only having to pull money out maybe four times over three weeks. Hotels, cars, gas, food, souvenirs and treats all went through the debit card for the exact amount of the transaction, no loose change to deal with - except that loose change was being tacked on at the end and pocketed by the bank. Sometimes less than 25 cents but everywhere in between up to $8.00 for the larger bills which were invariably the hotel stays. Even then, according to my banker, the amount of the fee really depended on the bank the merchant overseas used. It was a "convenience" fee that was largely out of their control. Bad, mean overseas banks.

I didn't come home completely skinned so there were no overdraft charges added on to the pennies-to-the-pound fees that "innocently" came a rapping, tapping at my door, thank heaven for that. Nothing is free anymore, not even my own money. Maybe next time I could take it out in trade?

Nah...I'd still owe money.

Gotta go!

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