The prospect of traveling to a foreign country for a holiday is always excited, yet one should never let the minor details get in the way of having a good time. Considerations like type of plugs to use in outlets, keeping necessary paperwork current, and what to pack and what to leave behind are hopefully decided well in advance, so you can relax and enjoy this experience. Most of all, one should consider how to handle finances while away.
Currency exchange can be a tricky business, particularly in this day of the wavering dollar value as it relates to the foreign markets. Oftentimes when traveling, friends strive to hang onto American dollars to make transactions easier for them. Especially when traveling to Canada, Mexico, Jamaica, and other Caribbean islands where the American dollar is valued, some may find it simpler to negotiate purchases with merchants who will accept American cash. One advantage to this is that no extra fees are taken as they would be were you to withdraw foreign money from an ATM machine, and if you are a good judge on the value of souvenirs you may not feel as though you are being cheated.
However, not every foreign country is as accommodating. In Europe and Asia, you may find some places will not accept a Lincoln for that pint of ale or bag of chips. It becomes inevitable then that you must exchange your cash and keep track of its worth.
The question arises then, where to exchange the money? Is it more economical to obtain necessary cash in the US, or try a bank in a foreign country? Are hotels a better source, or specialized exchange offices? The answer is not always simple to pin down, as the fluctuation of the dollar varies too much. The simplest solution one can offer is to constantly study the exchange rate of the country you plan to visit. For the few weeks before you leave the country, check the daily rates online to determine how much your American dollar will be worth on foreign soil.
Determine how much ready cash you think you will need for your trip, though it is prudent not to carry more than a few hundred dollars regardless of where you go. Travelers checks, though rarely seen or advertised these days, are always handy to have in the event of loss or theft, whereas cash is more difficult to reclaim in such a situation. Once arrived, exchange a small amount at the airport immediately for incidentals (a newspaper, drink, or transportation fare), then inquire with your hotel's concierge about nearby exchange offices and banks. Compare the current rates and make your decision from there.
Depending upon where you travel, most ATMs will accept American bank and debit cards. Look for matching symbols and look for machines associated with banks. Ultimately you may pay an exchange fee, and bank machines may be easier to negotiate. Keep track of everything you buy, and don't forget to enjoy yourself as you shop.