‘Insufficient funds’. It’s a phrase which strikes fear into anyone who’s owned a bank account, for sure, but it’s two words which are particularly impactful to those trying to access their money from abroad. That far flung, freewheelin’ adventurer doesn’t seem quite as carefree when dialling up the bank of mum and dad to bail them out.
Not that we’re judging or generalising. Things can go south, fast, when far from home; a lost or swallowed bank card, a fraud situation, an emergency in need of the holiday budget to fix…there are myriad ways in which the fun and good times can be curtailed by a financial mishap. Fortunately, there is also plenty of opportunity to be mindful about your money when abroad. With that in mind, here are 5 IDEAL ways to manage your money while travelling.
BIG WITHDRAWALS, LESS OFTEN
It was recently reported that British travellers waste £1.3 billion annually on avoidable money mistakes abroad. One of the main contributors to this huge amount is bank fees. When you check your statement post-holiday, the amount of small withdrawals and purchases which incurred a fee is staggering. One way to mitigate this daily drain on your bank balance is to make big withdrawals which will see you through a good portion of your trip. The transaction fee for a £250 and £25 withdrawal is the same, so it makes sense to do it with as little frequency as possible.
Of course, this isn’t hazard free. Having a big bundle of cash about your person is at best stressful, at worst, inviting the risk of getting robbed. Most reputable hotel rooms will provide a safe; so use it or lose it, as they say. And when out and about, wear a money belt or keep your cash in an inside jacket pocket for an extra layer of security. When in transit, store large amounts of money in safe cash bags which are made from high quality durable, weather-resistant material – it’s better to be safe than sorry after all.
AVOID AIRPORT ATMS AND CASH EXCHANGE
It’s the simple economics of supply and demand. The more desperate you are, the more the system will shaft you. With this in mind, avoid using the first source of cash you come across when arriving in a new place. Airport ATMs offer criminally bad exchange rates on withdrawals and at their dedicated bureau de change counters. Stay well away. Uber or Grab Taxi now function in most places globally, so jump on the airport wifi, book a ride via the app, and get as far away from there as possible before you access your money. Easy.
GET A PREPAID TRAVEL CARD
Many travellers swear by prepaid debit cards, such as Monzo and WeSwap, which grant flexibility with finances, a little more security, a convenient way to monitor your spending and dodge some withdrawal fees too. You can simply load up the card with your spending money for the week and use it accordingly; Monzo allows withdrawals of up to £200 a month fee free, while a Starling debit card with similar perks charges absolutely nothing for use abroad.
The app which runs alongside a prepaid travel card is particularly useful for travellers. Here you have the option to ‘freeze’ your account at the click of a button, ideal for those times when your card may or not be lost or misplaced. Another click can have any transactions blocked.
Travel credit cards are also a wise move for those often on-the-go, as they offer protection on purchases made abroad as well as a safety buffer in case emergency funds are needed during your trip. Having money in multiple accounts when abroad is generally a prudent move.
BAIL OUT NEED-TO-KNOW
It’s an unfortunate truth that personal finances are always in a slightly precarious state when abroad. It doesn’t take much to set the emergency alarm ringing. There are companies, however, who specialise in facilitating bailouts for when you really do have no other option but to phone home and ask for help.
Should you have had your bank card stolen, or it’s lost or been blocked, one of the easiest and most globally accessible ways of getting cash is through Western Union. A friend or family member simply makes an online payment, specifying the location of collection (a bank, shop or somewhere else official where you’re based) and you can normally collect immediately after the transfer has been made. There is of course a fee; anywhere between around 2 and 5% of the amount transferred is normal.
‘In exceptional circumstances’ (their words, not ours) the British consul may agree to a short-term emergency loan to get you back to Britain but this really is a last resort and is very rarely granted.
WHAT TO DO WITH EXCESS TRAVEL MONEY
We’ve all got that drawer full of lira, francs, Cambodian riel and more, all gathering dust and destined to be lost in decluttering, reorganising or moving. Of course you can use it at the airport, blown on sombreros, keyrings and other tat. Or you could try to exchange it, although many services won’t do a deal with you for smaller notes and coins. Why not donate it to charity instead; many airports have change ‘globes’ for such a purpose, and some major airlines are part of UNICFE’s ‘change for good’ program. If yours isn’t, you can still send any excess currency to the charity by post.