You may barely use cash here at home, but once you go abroad, trust me, you’ll need it. Sure, most countries accept credit cards at major stores and restaurants, but you’ll likely find yourself at a market or small vendor who only accepts cash. So where’s the best place to get it? Let’s review your options.
Order from Your Bank Before Your Trip
Your bank likely offers a foreign currency service that will allow you to get some cash before your trip. This is an okay option, but realize that the bank has to make money off of this, so the exchange rate might not be as good as it would be elsewhere. If you really want to have cash in hand before touching down (because the airport is not a good place to get cash, as we’ll see), order a little cash from your bank (like $100).
At the Airport
Likely you’ve seen currency exchange booths at airports. Avoid these. They offer terrible exchange rates because travelers in an airport are a captive audience. They can’t get cash elsewhere, especially if they’re exchanging it. But you’re smart, so steer clear.
At an ATM
This is your best bet, and you’ll get the best rate. Check though, to see if your bank charges a transaction fee for you taking out cash (it likely does, but this just tells you to take larger quantities out each ATM visit rather than paying the fee over and over again). Look for ATMs affiliated with banks rather than independent ATMS (this are prevalent at the airport; again, stay away). The ATM should have matching symbols to what’s on the back of your debit or credit card. You can find banks with ATMS in any town, but plan ahead if you’ll need cash for a taxi to get there from the airport.
Bonus: What to Do with Cash at the End of Your Trip: If I know I’m going to return to that country (or continent, like with Europe), I’ll hang onto the money and put it in an envelope. Otherwise, I like to spend it at the airport on coffee, gifts, or snacks. It’s fun to have a mini shopping spree with leftover money!