Think about money before you leave home, something I sometimes ignore and usually regret. I arrived in Sarajevo late in the day after an overnight flight from Canada. I had no cash, not even Euros, a currency that is widely accepted there. The bank machine at the Sarajevo airport was thankfully working so I was able to withdraw money and catch a taxi to my hotel. But I didn’t know the exchange rate (the travel book with the exchange rate in it was left on the airplane) so had to guess how much money I was withdrawing.
I was taking a local bus to Croatia the following morning at 6:00 am and didn’t know if I had withdrawn enough money to pay for the trip. Croatia has a different currency from Bosnia-Herzegovina so once again I would arrive in a foreign destination without cash and without knowing the exchange rate. (This is obviously a tale of ‘do as I say’ and not ‘do as I do’.)
It’s also wise to know the money ‘culture’ of the country you’re going to visit. When we first went to Guatemala we brought travellers cheques in Canadian dollars, which the banks would not accept. We had to travel to Guatemala City, have our travellers cheques cancelled and new ones issued in US currency—which cost us money and time. In Cuba, I was unable to use the American dollars I’d brought and there were no cash machines; I had to wait until the banks opened to withdraw money against my credit card.
Most countries today have cash machines, particularly in large towns and cities, but often not in smaller places where hotels and restaurants may only accept cash. When travelling alone I tend to take travellers cheques to fall back on in case something happens to my bank and credit cards.
Naturally, you should leave the numbers of your cheques with someone back home and keep track of those you use. When exchanging travellers cheques it’s a good idea to estimate how much local currency to expect. The usual process for cashing a travellers cheque is to give the unsigned cheque along with your passport to the bank teller. The teller will study them and then tell you to sign the cheque. You should be given a receipt of the transaction and the money should be counted out in front of you.
Be careful when using cash machines. Look for a machine that is in a bank or other protected place. Avoid using one at night. Don’t let anyone help you with the machine or see your PIN number. Check the addition on restaurant bills and count the change you’re given. Know what the exchange rate is and how much things cost in your currency. I almost paid $25 for a tiny bag of spices in Morocco until I pulled out my trusty calculator and had a great laugh with the sheepish vendor at the ridiculous price.
I am not suggesting you be cheap, just smart and careful. And return home feeling good about yourself and the place you visited.
By Sylvia Fanjoy
© Riding the buses 2010