Planning a holiday or trip is always an exciting time, and there is a lot to organise before take-off, including what to pack, how to spend your days, and how to get your travel money. The latter can cause a lot of confusion, with many individuals not sure of the best options for their needs and not knowing how to get the best value for money.
There are a few tricks and tips that will help you to stretch your travel money a little further, get the best possible exchange rate, and cut your costs on your holiday spending.
It can be difficult to guess what the exchange rates will be on any specific day, but if you put in a bit of time, effort and patience, you could send up saving some serious cash. We are all aware that spending some time on researching the best deals for flights and accommodation can save money, but many individuals don’t even consider putting the same effort into their travel money.
A recent poll revealed that nine in ten British people will overspend on a trip abroad this year because they don’t fully understand the exchange rate or simply don’t care.
We know it can be overwhelming and challenging to know where to start, so we have put together this guide to cover everything you need to know about your holiday funds.
Get to grips with typical local prices advance of travelling, so you roughly know how much things are going to cost so you can prepare a budget accordingly.
Exchange rates and why they matter?
An exchange rate is how much one currency is currently worth in terms of another, and it is always changing. You can’t predict what the exchange rate will be on any given day and for any given currency, but you can check it online at any time. The majority of the world’s major currencies are determined by the foreign exchange market and are dependent on supply and demand.
A considerable number factors can affect exchange rates, and they are usually determined by the current trading relationship between two countries. This can make it difficult for even the most experienced financial experts to estimate an exchange rate for the future, but if you are aware of the factors that influence exchange rates, you have a better chance of roughly predicting how they will fluctuate. The main factors are;
- Interest rates
- Current account deficits
- Public debt
- Political stability
- Terms of trade.
There are two forms of exchange rates; spot and nominal. Spot exchange rates are the rates that banks give each other when they buy and sell foreign currency. Nominal exchange rates are the rates consumers receive. This is the spot exchange rate with a markup to cover the financial institution’s expense and to provide them profit. It is always worth shopping around for the best deal when comparing exchange rates and fees whether you use a bank, money changer or travel agent.
The best exchange rates are almost always at an ATM. However, banks will often charge international transaction fees. While carrying some cash when travelling is sensible, a credit card with no transaction fees can often help you get the best exchange rate.
When is the best time to buy travel money?
Most holidaymakers wait until the last minute to exchange their travel money, which usually means they aren’t getting the best value. Once you leave it to be an urgent matter, you are at the mercy of that day’s exchange rates. Best practice is to spend a bit of time checking the exchange rates every few days, this will give you a good indication of what a decent exchange rate is.
Once you have an idea of what a good exchange rate looks like, keep an eye out and buy your currency when it is at a good value. It can be worthwhile ordering your currency online, which gives you the option to lock in a rate on any given day. The best part about this method is you can still turn that rate down if the pound improves further. For example, some companies allow you to reserve money 30 days in advance, but cancel up to 24 hours beforehand, enabling you to get the best value for money.
If you are not sure about the exchange rate, then it is best to hedge your bets buy only buying half of your travel money in advance, then you can take a chance that the exchange rate has improved just before you go. This way, you’ll definitely receive at least half of your money at a better rate, which feels like a win.
Where is best to exchange travel money?
There are plenty of places that you can purchase currency, and some will offer a better deal than others. Many travel money companies operate online where you can buy currency for home delivery or collection. Alternatively, you can visit a bureau de change on the high street, most travel agents and post offices have their own travel money service, which allows you to exchange money in person.
Bureau de change
A bureau de change may not stock every currency, but most will give you the option to order in if you are after a less common currency. Airports also always have their own bureau de change, but these are often much more expensive. Airport rates are higher than elsewhere as they see you as a captive customer and they are the last option to exchange money before leaving the country.
If your only option is to get travel money at the airport, then always pre-order online for an airport collection for better rates. Travel money can also be exchanged once you are abroad by using a debit or credit card at a foreign ATM.
However, this option is usually very expensive due to international usage fees. You can also pay on card abroad in many shops and restaurants, and you will be given the option of choosing to spend in your currency or the local currency. Always select the local currency, and never pay in pounds as the overseas bank, restaurant or store is doing the conversion on your behalf, and the rates are usually very poor.
Look for specialist overseas credit and debit cards if you are thinking of relying on the plastic while abroad. For example, Starling offers a fee-free debit card, and Halifax provides a fee-free credit card and gives you £20 cashback. Below we’ve listed our top choice cards.
Different forms of travel money
As well as where and when to buy travel money, it is also important to think about how you are going to purchase your currency. There are a few options available, and it is essential to understand which form is best for you and your trip.
One very common option is to bring your foreign currency with you as cash. The benefit is that you know exactly what you are spending and what exchange rate you purchased it for. It is also beneficial to have some cash abroad in small denominations to pay for things like taxis, tips or the odd snack or bottle of water while out and about.
However, carrying a significant amount of cash is not the safest option as it can be easily lost or stolen, and travel insurance will only cover cash up to a certain value. Taking cash also requires you to accurately budget for your trip as you will only have a set amount if you overspend you will be left with nothing at the end of your holiday.
Debit and credit cards
Using your existing debit or credit cards abroad can be convenient and easy as they are accepted around the world, but they can work out as an expensive option. Debit cards are useful for withdrawing cash from an ATM while abroad and work in a similar way to in the UK. However, you will often be charged more in currency exchange costs and additional fees.
Credit cards can be a cheaper option, depending on the card you choose, some providers won’t charge extra fees for using credit cards abroad, whereas others can charge as much as 3% on anything you buy. Using a credit card abroad offers the same protection as using them in the UK, so you are covered if you purchase faulty goods or have your card stolen.
These are a popular alternative for bringing money abroad. They work by simply loading an amount you want onto the card before you leave, and then you can spend it as you would a debit or credit card. The benefit is you cannot spend more money than you preloaded onto the card so you will stick to your budget, and if you have any cash left at the end of your trip, you can continue using the card in the UK.
This is also a great option if you are travelling to multiple countries, as you can load more than one currency onto the same card. Pre-paid travel cards are considered a very safe choice for travel money, as the money loaded is protected if the card is lost or stolen, and they aren’t linked to your bank account, so the most you can ever lose is what is on the card.
The drawbacks to pre-paid cards are that you may be charged a fee if you need to top up the card or withdraw cash from an ATM. Some providers will allow a set limit a month that you can withdraw from an ATM. Many prepaid card providers also charge a monthly fee or incur additional charges if the card is not used within a certain period. You may also find that some retailers and restaurants will not accept the pre-paid card.
Traveller’s cheques are pre-printed cheques for a fixed amount that can be used to pay for things or exchanged for cash once you are abroad. Major currencies such as sterling, euros and US dollars are available as traveller’s cheques, and they can be purchased from banks, travel agents and bureau de change. They work much like cheques in the UK, and you will need to write the name of the person you are paying and countersign the cheque. Occasionally you might be asked to show ID when trying to pay with a traveller’s cheque. They can be used to buy things for less than the cheque value, and the change will be given in local currency.
In general, these cost more than using cash or card as you need to pay a fee when you purchase them and then a commission when you use them. They are also not accepted everywhere. They are, however, fairly safe to use, as they can usually be replaced within 24 hours if they are lost or stolen – as long as you keep your receipt.
Often it is worth using a mix of these different types of travel money. It is useful to have some cash in local currency just in case you need them, and then having the majority of your money as a safer method such as card or traveller’s cheque.
Usually overseas credit cards provide a much better deal than debit cards. Credit cards are usually easy to acquire and give you much more consumer protection. Just make sure to pay off the credit card in full every month to avoid interest rates.
The best travel credit cards
The Halifax Clarity credit card does not charge any fees when spending money abroad. Furthermore, it does not charge you any extra for withdrawing cash from a foreign ATM. Halifax is known for excellent customer service and low rates. However, you will be charged interest, even if you pay the amount off in full at the end of the month. For the best deal, pay off the credit card as soon as you can via internet banking when you are away.
Tandem does not have fees for foreign spending or withdrawals. The benefit of Tandem is that you earn a 0.5% cashback when you use the card in the UK or abroad, which is credited on your statement. You do not get charged interest when spending abroad. However, you will be charged interest from cash withdrawals at foreign ATMs.
Barclaycard promises no overseas fees until August 2022. With the Platinum, you do not face interest charges providing that you pay off the balance on the card each month. The drawback of this card is it is Visa, which typically offers a worse rate than Mastercard.
Always look at other providers beyond your usual bank. Many financial institutions offer great deals for new customers so you may find a better travel card by opening a new account with a new bank.
Top tips for travel money
There are a lot of ways to save a bit of money when travelling, and some best practices to keep yourself and your travel money safe during your travels. Here are our top tips for managing your travel money and spending during your trip:
Take more than you think you will spend
The majority of travel money companies offer a service where you can repurchase your currency at the same rate that you bought it, so there is no downside to bringing a little more money than you think you will need. There are often times you will overspend while travelling and setting an accurate budget can be a struggle. Having some extra cash will help you avoid withdrawing extra money from a foreign ATM or having to resort to pay for things on your debit or credit card and incur additional charges and fees.
Get to grips with tipping customs
Every country has its own customs and normalities for tipping, so be sure to do a bit of research online before you leave. Find out the average percentage of tips in the country you are visiting, and make sure you always have some small denominations of local currency on you, so you have something to tip your waiter, taxi driver or hotel porter.
Keep cash in various places
Popular tourist destinations are often prone to pick-pocketing, to avoid getting all your money for the whole trip stolen, don’t keep it all in one place. Try to just carry enough cash on you for what you need that day and leave any extra at your hotel. Also, don’t put all your travel money in your suitcase or hand luggage when travelling, split it between your various bags in case your case goes missing at the airport or your hand luggage gets stolen.
Don’t be scared to haggle
If you are getting your travel money from a bureau de change, don’t think you can’t ask for a discount. Many will consider your request, especially if you are exchanging a large amount of money. Haggling is also an excellent skill to have when shopping abroad, many countries haggle much more than in the UK, so when visiting a local market make sure to ask for a lower price than advertised.
Tell your bank your plans
Most banks and credit card companies will detect foreign transaction and block them if they seem unusual compared to your usual use. Always let them know when you are planning on travelling so they are aware and won’t block your bank card and access to funds during your holiday. It is good practice to do this even if you are planning on using your debit or credit card for your travel money, as there may be an emergency situation when you end up using a card unplanned.