Decisions: Best Currency Exchange vs Peace of Mind
This week I’m cruising on a Croatian yacht, and along with my add-ons in Montenegro and Slovenia, all these countries use the Euro. Since I travel to Europe often, I always make sure to return home with some Euros so I’m prepared for the next trip.
But when I took my trip to Japan, I cringed as I purchased my yen ahead of time from my bank, knowing that I was paying an extra $20-25 in currency exchange rate over what it would cost in Tokyo at an ATM.
When it comes to money when traveling, my standard stock answer is “just get your money at the ATM when you arrive at your destination airport”. The primary reason for this advice is that a bank operated ATM will provide the best exchange rate when you are getting foreign currency. I want to talk a little bit about why I went against my own advice and other times it is better purchase currency ahead of time.
In general, I look at currency exchange for two factors – cost effective exchange rate and convenience.
Using the ATM is very convenient since you don’t have to do anything ahead of time except to call your ATM bank to let them know you’re traveling, which you would need to do anyway. Then no other action needed and then it’s usually very easy when you arrive at your destination airport to find an ATM and take out some money.
Here are a couple of reasons why the airport ATM may not be the best option and when I would suggest exchanging your money ahead of time for peace of mind while traveling.
Arrival fatigue and language complexity – The reason I ordered Japanese yen was that we were going to be on a 13-hour flight from Atlanta to Tokyo, arriving very tired in a place where I would have NO clue about the language. While I assumed there would probably be some signs in English, I didn’t want to deal with finding an ATM in my sleep deprived state.
Group trip – If you are part of a group and need to keep up with group’s movements, ordering currency ahead can be a good plan.
Large cash requirement early in the trip – If you need a sizeable amount of cash within the first few days of the trip, ordering it before leaving home is a smart idea. Some airport ATMs have cash limits of $200-300, which means if you need more, then you are just going to have to go find another ATM on another day. If you’ve got a private tour scheduled on day two and you’re supposed to pay the guide in cash, you definitely want to take that proper currency with you when you depart.
Comfort and ease – Just knowing you’ve got the currency exchange taken care of so you don’t have to worry about finding an ATM right away can be of great value to you. An extra $10-30 in currency exchange may not matter as much as peace of mind.
I’m still a strong advocate for getting cash at the airport ATM, but I wanted to acknowledge those times when ordering ahead makes sense.