Money, money, money…what’s the best way to handle it?

I’m accustomed to USA dollars; you know, the green kind with George Washington’s stern countenance peering out at you. In various denominations, of course, and sometimes accompanied by coinage. But it’s all based on the same old money system I’ve been loyal to all these years. Well, really, I had no other choice; the local coffee spot only takes that kind of money and this is the first time I’ve ever even needed a passport—so you can tell my international financial experience isn’t overwhelmingly grand.

The idea of “new” types of money to use is pretty exciting to me (euros and forints, oh, my!). But it took some figuring out, too. And more of that pre-trip “planning.”

  • Should I get euros ahead of the trip?
  • Should I use a debit card for cash withdrawals while there?
  • Would my credit cards work everywhere I needed them to?
  • How would I keep my money safe?

You may have a lot more experience with international travel and aren’t even concerned about it the money thing…

…But I am concerned, and there’s a very practical reason for that focus: I understand that most (all?) public toilets in Europe are only open to the needy amongst us if you have the right coins in hand (between 30 and 70 cents, I’ve heard). At a critical moment I definitely do not want to be left wanting for the right coinage, be it euros or otherwise.

Our Viking Grand European Tour cruise covers almost every cost for meals, touring and transportation. But there are other things to spend on—think some of those famous German pastries, or ropey pretzels or a ride in that huge Ferris wheel in Vienna. And of course those toilets (gee, do you think they’re any better than ours because they use all that money for spiffy upgrades?).

So here’s my plan:

CREDIT CARD: I’ll use my credit card when possible for any “larger” purchases. I’ve heard you can even use them for meals, but you may not be able to put any “tip” on the card. I checked with my card companies and there is no foreign transaction fee for either one. One card is the typical magnetic strip type, the other has the chip and the strip. This second one has a PIN number; but it is not the European preferred “chip and pin” card that can be used in the automated kiosks for trains, etc. Neither of my credit card companies had that version available yet and I figured getting a new card just to have that probably wasn’t necessary. And, yes, I called the companies to tell them I’d be traveling (gee, it was fun to rattle off the five countries we’ll be in!). Mom and I will split up the credit cards so if one of us loses a card, the other of us has a “different” card we can fall back on.

ATM CARD: I’ll ‘fess up: I’ve never had a debit card before this trip. I figured, though, that a debit card would allow me to withdraw cash just about anywhere pretty easily (it’s not free: 3% foreign transaction fee and $2.50 charge per withdrawal). I opened up a separate checking account at my very friendly local bank (Bank of the West, in case you’re wondering); this way, if something does “happen” to the debit card, there’s just a limited amount of money in that account and it’s not linked to our regular checking accounts. I figure I can email Mark back at home and have him transfer some more money into that account if I find something I absolutely must have cash for. Again, I notified the bank I’ll be traveling (more thrills saying those five countries again). And, don’t think I’m weird, but tomorrow, my last day here in my own neighborhood, I’m going to go “try” that debit card at the bank ATM; I’ve never done the “let’s go get money at any hour from the ATM machine” thing and I think it’s time I practiced once before I really need it. Remember those restrooms…

CASH: I know I can get euros from an ATM right at the airport in Amsterdam when we land, but Mom and I decided we’d be a bit more comfortable if we had some of that colorful European money in hand when we land. So I ordered euros from my friendly bank (they are really friendly) and now I have them ready to go. We’ll also be carrying a small amount of US dollars with us to have when we land back in Los Angeles.

KEEPING IT ALL SAFE: Or, as safe as is practical. I’ve read that the Viking Atla has a small safe in each room and we’re planning on keeping our “extra” money in it during day trips off the ship/boat (which one is it called, really?). I’m wearing my “hip and shoulder bag” (ahem, okay, it’s really a fanny pack, but doesn’t “hip and shoulder bag” sound so much cooler?) by PacSafe; it has the anti-theft features (tough-to-undo zippers, slash-proof material and straps) so I’m comfortable wearing it with my daily supply of cash that I need to have easy access to. I’m using the front zipper for a small coin purse (yes, those bathrooms again…) so I don’t have to open the whole thing up to retrieve my Eagle Creek wallet (RFID, big enough to hold those chunky euro bills). And, for those times when we’re traveling between the cruise portion and the pre- and post-cruise trip extensions, I have an Eagle Creek money belt (I had the money belt from Lewis & Clark first but returned it; the “extra” part of the belt dangled unattractively; the Eagle Creek model has little clasps that hold it tight to the body).

What am I missing? Please tell me!

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6 thoughts on “Money, money, money…what’s the best way to handle it?

  1. Betty Maxey

    I like the Eagle Creek ‘undercover neck wallet’. On our last trip I found it easier to use than a money belt. Both are good though.
    Getting Euros from an ATM with a debit card worked just fine for us, as did using credit card for purchases. Make sure both the debit card and credit card banks/companies know you are going to Europe. We never had a debit card before either.
    Some small stores with pay-to-pee bathrooms would give us a bathroom token with a small purchase, if I remember correctly. It’s still good to have a handful of change of course.
    The flight over seems like it’s going to go on forever. I dreaded the flight back home, but a day flight seems way easier to me than an overnight.
    I know absolutely no German, but our Rick Steves tour guide told us the best way to walk up to a store and ask for help from them is to start with “Bitte?’ (‘bee-tuh’) Kind of an all purpose word, like ‘Excuse me’

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    • I had such great goals, Betty, for learning some neat little phrases in the languages of the places we’ll be visiting (as well as the countries of the Atla’s staff). Sigh, life got in the way and I never did it. Since German is a prevalent language on this trip, I’ve definitely put “Bitte” on my “things to say” list. And, since it’s just one word, I’ll hopefully remember it.

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      • Betty Maxey

        In Italy my most-used phrase was ‘scuzi!’ because we took the subway and bus to get around Rome.

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      • Betty Maxey

        In German, Einbahnstrasse does not mean First Street. It means one way street. Luckily we were walking, not driving.

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  2. Sally

    If the public bathrooms in Barcelona are typical, cleanliness is not an issue. There we were directed to one free standing in a park. It looked stainless steel. It was spotless inside. After each use it locked automatically and the entire room was sanitized. We were quite impressed!

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    • I’ve been in one of those ultra-clean, self-sanitizing bathrooms at Coit Tower in San Francisco, Sally. It was worth the time just to “experience” such a clean public restroom. They’re not always that way in San Francisco…

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