Gone are the days of Traveler's Checks and having to find a convenient place to cash them when you run out of money in a foreign country! Today, there are more ways than ever to make sure you always have that foreign cash handy when you are exploring. Here is a short guide to obtaining and dealing with foreign currency on your next vacation.
ATMs - By far the easiest and smartest way to access cash while abroad is the use of ATMs. The conversion rate is usually the best available, just proceed with reasonable caution. Be sure the ATM is located in a well-lit secure area, preferably inside the front door of a bank, and be sure no one can see you type in your PIN. There are stand alone ATMs in many touristy areas that are not related to a banking institution, but these tend to charge higher transaction fees or lower exchange rates. Always stick with a well-known name. You can check with your home bank before you leave to see if they have any agreements with foreign banks near where you are traveling to minimize transaction fees and be sure to let them know that you are going to be using your ATM card while traveling to another country so they won't put your account on hold.
Your home bank - Your local bank can order you some foreign currency before you ever leave home. We did this when we went to Europe for a river cruise. The exchange rate is usually not as good as using ATMs in Europe, so maybe just get what you think you may need to get your trip started.
Currency exchange bureaus - These should always be your last resort, especially the ones located in airports, train stations and highly touristy areas. Rates and fees are a lot higher. The only time you should use these is if you have several different kinds of currency that you want to combine into one.
Credit cards - If you plan to make major purchases while abroad, you're almost always better off putting it on a credit card that can give you certain protections, especially if the merchant is going to ship the item to you back home in the US. Just be sure to let your credit card company know that you will be traveling and check on foreign transaction fees. Keep in mind that Europe is much more of a cash society than we are...do not use your debit or credit card for a 2 Euro cup of coffee or a simple meal in a sidewalk café. In the picture above we actually used a credit card for this meal.
Now that you have some knowledge about spending abroad, you are ready for a wine cruse through France or Germany.