You’ve chosen a destination, bought your tickets, arranged any necessary visas, packed your bag, and set your travel documents aside. But wait, there’s still one thing that you can’t make up your mind about. How much cash do you need? In this modern world of credit cards and payment apps, do we need any physical cash at all? Here’s some things that we think will help in determining how much cash you should bring on your travels.
Research the Destination
This may sound obvious but trip research goes deeper than checking out a list of the main attractions, best restaurants and nightlife scene. Paying with debit and credit cards is second nature to many regardless of whether it's for a bottle of water at a convenience store, settling a restaurant bill or buying a bus ticket. This isn’t always the case in other countries around the world, so try to find out about the likelihood of being able to pay with plastic. Small, independent retailers may add on unwanted service charges to purchases, which would ultimately make the item more expensive than if paid for in cash.
Determine how hotels work in your chosen destination. Can you book and pay online in advance? How accessible are ATM machines, do they charge commission fees and are the exchange rates more favorable than when exchanging cash? Tipping isn’t customary the world over but, when it is, service people will often prefer a cash bonus than an amount added to the bill.
Research Your Card or Bank
Take a look at your credit or debit card's travel policies, especially those which offer travel perks and rewards. While it's becoming rarer, there are still many card companies that will add an extra tax for purchases abroad. If you don't want to add on an extra few cents or dollars (which will add up) you might save the card for only emergencies. While you're at it, remember to confirm your spending and withdrawal limits; the last thing you’ll want is to be faced with a $700 debt and only have half to offer.
Compare your bank's exchange rates and fees - odds are you'll get a more favorable exchange at home than you would when you arrive, and most banks will buy back any foreign currency you don't use. A quick call to your bank should help you understand their policies.
Make a Budget for Your Trip
If you are going all cash or even part cash then creating a budget is key. As a rough estimation, budget $50-100 per person for each day that you will be away. This should cover your accommodation, food, drink and transportation costs. Of course, this number can vary according to the destination and your style of traveling. Alternatively, calculate the maximum you have to spend for the vacation and then divide it by the duration to get your daily budget. Here’s a good tool for calculating vacation budgets.
Be sure to think about special purchases that you are likely to make and any once-in-a-lifetime activities that could require cash payments. There might be a rug that you want to get in a bazaar in Marrakech, a hot air balloon ride you’ve dreamed of taking in Cappadocia or a farmers' market that has your favorite cheese.
A Few More Things to Consider
However much you decide to bring, break it up into the currency of your destination and your home currency. That way, you won’t lose out when changing back anything that you haven’t spent.
If you are traveling overland between countries, especially in Africa and Southeast Asia, you might need cash to pay for visa fees. Likewise, keep some set aside for an airport transfer or taxi at the end of your trip.
Finally, if after all of your research you conclude that your destination is card-friendly then bring anywhere between $200 to $500 for emergency use only. Split this cash up and keep various amounts in different spots in your luggage, in case you lose your luggage or are robbed. The same caution applies to credit cards. Take two cards, if possible, in the event of one getting lost or not working. Lastly, research whether or not travel insurance is necessary for your trip.