Money Money Money Money… Money!

Yes, that is part of an O Jays song; however, today, I will use that phrasing to discuss the money aspect of traveling.  Money is the primary resource that makes it possible to travel.  Without it, plane tickets cannot be purchased, vehicles cannot be rented, hotel reservations cannot be made, and meals cannot be ordered— well, they can, but someone needs to have the ability to pay the check at the end of the meal.  As you see, money is the key ingredient to vacation.  However, just having available funds is not enough, you must know the value of money.  Without knowing the value, that sweet bottle of perfume or nice bottle of vintage scotch may not be such a great deal.  As such, I offer some key suggestions that you should keep in mind when preparing for your vacation and when actually on vacation.

  1. How much is that US dollar worth in your pocket?
    • While this may seem like a crazy question, it is definitely a valid question.  With the downturn in the economy, the value of the US dollar has deflated significantly in value.  Whether you are spending money in the US or abroad, you need to be certain the item that you purchasing with your dollars is actually worth the amount that you are paying.  Why pay $6 for one bottle of beer when you can get a six pack for $8?  You much understand the value of the items that you are purchasing and determine whether or not you are willing to spend said amount for the item.  I always use the want versus need method; however, if you are celebrating a special occasion or you just want to treat yourself to something special, go for it, but don’t go overboard.
  2. Is the US dollar accept?
    • Believe it or not, the US dollar is actually accepted in several places outside of the states.  In my personal travels, I have used US currency in the Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, Canada, Curaçao, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Mexico, and Trinidad.  In many of these countries, the US dollar was pretty strong and I was able to get more bang for my buck.  However, in others, the dollar was pound for pound the same as the local currency.  Only in one of the aforementioned countries was the dollar not as valuable as the local currency.  The bottom line is that you should do a bit of research on your own or through the enlistment of friends or a travel agency to find out if you can use the US dollar in your overseas location.
  3. How much does it cost to convert to the local currency?
    • As to be expected, there are some countries where you will need to convert the local currency.  One of the places that most people exchange money is at the airport cambio.  While this may be a convenient place to exchange your money, be aware of the fact that these locations have fees that can take quite a chunk out of your net funds.  You can also exchange money at a local cambio or bank in the country that you are visiting.  Often the fees at this location are not as high as the airport.  Another place where an exchange is possible is the front desk of a local hotel.  It has been my experience that you get a better deal using this route.  However, keep in mind that some local establishments do not keep a significant amount of currency on hand.
  4. How much does that XYZ cost?
    • It is important that you understand the upfront cost when traveling abroad.  Therefore, you can know whether or not you want to partake in a particular excursion, dine at a specific restaurant or take a local taxi.  On a recent trip to Barbados, I decided to take the local taxi versus hire a private taxi because it only cost me $1US Dollar ($2BDS) per ride, no matter how far I was going.  If I were to hire a private taxi, I was guaranteed to pay $5 – $10 per ride (or more).  Failure to ask for the cost in advance could result in embarrassment for you or the individual providing the service if you find that you cannot or do not want to pay the cost quoted.
  5. Is that cost in US dollars or local dollars?
    • Why is this question important?  Well, you need to identify whether or not the cost you are being quote for something is local currency or US currency, if US currency is accepted.  The last thing that you want to do is pay more for an item because you failed to inquire about which currency is quoted for an item.  There is a big difference between paying $36US dollars for a dress when the price is actually $18US, but you failed to see the note that all prices were in BDS not USD.
  6. Cash, Credit or Travelers checks.
    • This is a matter of personal preference.  If you are checking into a hotel where you will be required to leave a deposit, you may want to take at least one credit card.  You may also want to take a credit card just in case you need to cover incidentals which require more cash than you have on hand.  Bear in mind that some credit cards charge a foreign transaction fee, so you will need to keep this in mind for any purchases you make as they inflate the cost of your purchase.  If you choose to use a credit card, you may want to contact your credit card issuer to inform them you will be out of country so that they do not block your purchases.  Cash is always a good option; however, I do not recommend carrying wads of cash that can be easily stolen (pick-pocketed in some places) or lost.  Cash cannot be replaced and is the least secure of all of the available options.  Another option is the old-time travelers checks.  I have not used travelers checks in such a long time, so I am not certain whether or not they are as widely accepted now as they were in the past.

The bottom line, when traveling, keep your mind on your money and mind your money.