Travel Smart

Don’t leave home without this money guide

Deciding what to put in your wallet can be the hardest part of packing for a trip. Consider these pros and cons when choosing your on-the-road monetary means. (Hint: Mix and match.)

Credit Cards
Pros: Convenience, great exchange rates and theft protection are key. Many cards also offer 24-hour emergency assistance and travel insurance. Monthly statements let you track expenditures and prevent unauthorized use of your digits.
Cons: Even major cards aren’t accepted everywhere, and using one to get cash can be pricey. Also, some banks will deactivate your card if you make too many purchases abroad (you can prevent this by alerting them in advance), and most now charge a 2% foreign transaction fee.
Expert tip: Have your travel companion carry a separate credit card, says Fred Siegel, host of the radio show “Talking Money.” Replacing a lost or stolen card can take several days. “If you’re on a one-week vacation, that’s a disaster.”

Traveler’s Checks
Pros: No one can cash your traveler’s checks but you, which makes them virtually theft-proof. And if they’re lost or stolen, they usually can be replaced within 24 hours.
Cons: There’s a fee to purchase them unless you’re an American Automobile Association member or American Express card holder, and you’ll probably need cab fare to reach one of the thousands of locations worldwide where checks can be cashed at no charge.
Expert tip: Beware bank fees. Says Tonia Papke, of the financial services firm MDI Consulting: “I bought some traveler’s checks for a recent trip and ended up losing 12% in commission buying Euros in a bank. The commission for using cash for the same transaction was less than 1%.”

Pros: You’d be hard-pressed to find a travel destination that doesn’t accept greenbacks in exchange for local currency. In some foreign cities, you can pay for everything in dollars.
Cons: If cash is stolen, there’s no replacing it.
Expert tip: Don’t carry more cash than you can stand to lose, says financial adviser and world traveler Eva Rosenberg, of She says her personal limit is $100.

ATM Cards
Pros: Getting cash from an ATM is often the cheapest way to go; most banks give the wholesale rate. And most ATMs are available 24 hours a day.
Cons: Ask your bank about the fees (most are nominal), withdrawal limits and international access codes. Some banks require a different PIN for withdrawals abroad.
Expert tip: “ATMs are my favorite,” says Susan L. Gilbert, globe-trotting author of “The Land of I Can.” “You can show up in a foreign country and in every town will be a hole in the wall where you can get as much [cash] as you desire, in the currency of that country.”

Kimberly Lisagor, a travel writer in San Luis Obispo, Calif., is the author of “Outside’s Wilderness Lodge Vacations.”