Cash away: Tips on how to deal with your money while travelling

By Kimberley Bailey

Here's a few handful of things that you can put into place before you head out.

It is understandable that one of the last things you want to think about while you’re getting zen in faraway lands is your cash flow situation and feeling anxious about how to look after your money in each country. Alas beloved backpackers reality can’t be altogether ignored (pretty rubbish I know), and so there are a few things you'll need to keep in mind throughout your voyage to ensure certain bases are covered and your funds stay safe.

First of all, there’s a handful of things that you can put into place before you head out… Then we’ll get to what to do while you’re out there being all adventurous (just not with your hard-earned cash, obvs).

Hook yourself up with the right card

Using Debit cards

ATMs litter the streets almost everywhere in the world and you will be using them a lot and, in turn, will be using your debit card.

There are pros and cons of managing your money with a debit card abroad…


Generally speaking it’s cheaper to withdraw using a debit card than a credit card

You can use your debit card to book and put a deposit down for hostels and hotels online

Along with credit cards you usually get a decent currency exchange rate than if you use a cash card.

If someone swipes your card, you’ll be protected against fraud & can claim back compensation on what they’ve spent.



The pain is that banks charge a lot in fees for each withdrawal, this usually adds around 2% on the amount you take out so get yourself a bank account which doesn't have high withdrawal fees. Some will also add a fee around £1.50 on top, as well as whacking on a foreign exchange fee too. The best thing honestly is to look on comparison websites and see which have the lower fees. The guys and girls over at Money Saving Experts have a really good breakdown of the best cards.

Another heads up is to try and pay in local currency if you can, as your bank will most likely give you a better exchange rate that the retailer - so you’ll save money.

Using Cash cards

A cash card can basically be used as a debit card and all you need to do is load it up before you go (you can also do it while you’re out there over the internet). They keep the same currency rate from the date you loaded up your card so if the quid gets knackered on the markets while you’re away it won’t matter. Check out this detailed guide of what you should know about cash cards.

Ultimately you do need to spread your risk; cards get stolen, eaten up by cash machines, lost or blocked so it’s best to have a couple of debit cards and a cash card with you.

Looking after your money

Disperse your cash

Because you’ll want to be using cash 99% of the time instead of putting things on your card (with the transaction fees and all) and because you’ll want to take out money as few times as possible (see above) it’s likely you’ll have wads of it on you. Keep some in your purse, some in a bumbag (if you’re feeling super trendy) or your backpack and definitely have the majority of it safe in the locker at your hostel or hotel.

Before you draw out your money figure out the exchange rate so you know how much you’re going to be taking out and how much that’s worth. The app is a useful one for that.

Also, make sure that you dump that cash as soon as you’ve drawn it out, don’t wander around with it. I learnt this the hard way in Cambodia.


Get acquainted with the ATM machine

First of all, does the machine seem even in the slightest bit dodgy?; check the camera isn’t pointed down (it should be pointed at you), make sure that there doesn't seem to be an extra keypad on top the “real” one, see if the card slot looks as if it has been tampered with, and be aware if it feels like your card isn’t being easily accepted. If anything seems a bit weird you’re better off finding another ATM.

Secondly, ATMs can vary between bank and between country and while we’ve become so accustomed to the ones we know we go into autopilot during the actual process of withdrawing money. Some buttons and screen selections are in different places, the order of a transaction can vary and very importantly quite a few machines will, unlike the average UK one, give out your cash first leading you to believe you,be already taken out your card but you haven't and you walk away blissfully unaware that it’s probably gone forever. I learnt that particular lesson the hard way too, in Moldova.

Track what you’ve spent

Again, I know it sounds like a totally boring thing to concern yourself with especially when you’re busy arranging to hang out with some Buddhist monks. But it can be a huge pitfall, particularly if you’re backpacking around the developing world and getting used to the lower prices, that you begin to stray away from your budget. This is totally okay from time to time and it will happen but it could also lead to a situation where you can’t afford to do that fun thing you’ve been dying to do.

The minimal requirement as far as keeping track goes is to regularly log into your online banking (also to ensure there has been no weird activity) and see where you stand with your budget at this point in the trip.

If your budget is even a little bit tight then it’s best to keep proper track, by writing things down and keeping a pen and paper tally or, apropos of the age we live in, there are a host of apps for that stuff too.


Enjoy the art of haggling

Whether you like it or not you’ll partake in the convivial craft of haggling. Some find it annoying but personally I think if you tackle it with lightheartedness then it can actually be quite a playful exchange. Generally assume that a price is negotiable and that the starting price - whether offered by market stall holder, a trip organiser, or tuktuk driver - is not the one you have to end up paying. So you can save yourself a few quid here.

There are two hard and fast rules here I reckon; decide on what you should and would be willing to pay for whatever it is you’re buying so that you don’t get too caught up in the deal (and the disorientation which can happen when dealing with currencies in high denominations). Lastly, be polite and be kind. Yeah okay they might be trying to charge you three times more than he would a non-tourist because the assumption is that you’re rich (you have been able to afford the luxury to travel after all) but be sensitive to how hard a lot of them have to work to make their living.

Top takeaways & handy advice

- Pop into your bank before you leave to ‘find yourself’ and tell them roughly where in the world you’re going to be and when so your foreign transactions don’t ring alarm bells for them and they block your card.

- Set up a parent or mate to be linked to your account if you’re having issues so they can deal with it directly from the UK.

- Don’t take all of your credit or debit cards away with you. Keep at least one safe and sound at home.

- If your cards are registered with a card protection agency, make sure you have their phone number and your policy number with you.

- Keep a note of the emergency phone number for your cards.

- Take a butcher’s at your online banking regularly and check your statements when you’re back to make sure nothing looks dodgy.


Author bio: Kimberley is a freelance journalist investigating the world of personal finance for giffgaff Money, while exploring and trekking through Asia. She adores Prince, Louis Theroux and Persian rugs.

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