Reproduced (and tidied) from my TripAdvisor Post
Here I’ll try to explain my approach to Bargain travel at the destination. It’s not my strong point and I’d say I’m still finding my mojo with it.
The Money Problem:
Reality is once I step off the plane in Malaysia (or any other destination) my Australian dollars are worthless except at currency exchanges, and airports have some of the worst exchange rates because you’re stuck needing a local currency and a bathroom and a coffee and usual a good nights sleep.
My money Tips:
Know and understand your exchange rate for your destination country. Use an app on your smartphone, understand the cycles of exchange rates, know what your should get, roughly, on any currency exchange. If you don’t arm yourself with this knowledge you will lose money.
If you are going to exchange your normal currency into the local currency of your destination don’t do it at the airport. Utilise the experience of hundreds of Tripadvisor members and ask about currency exchange in the appropriate destination forum. At the Airport only exchange enough more for some food, a taxi or transport ticket to your hotel and not much else. It’s pretty much a certainty the exchange rate will be worst at the airport, and worse still at the arrivals area.
My preference is to carry as little Aussie cash as possible and upon arrival head for the nearest group of ATMs. I use a Citibank Plus VISA Debit card (not a credit card) specifically because it has no international currency fees, NONE, no fee for using it, no percentage fee on the amount withdrawn or spent, and it’s spending my money not borrowing money. At this first ATM I’ll withdraw enough cash for a day or so, in Malaysia this may be 500RM, it’s enough to by some food, get a local SIM card set up, pay for a taxi to the city, handle incidentals the following morning and yet not so much that I’m walking around the airport half asleep dropping a fortune everywhere. Thanks to the Citibank Plus VISA debit card I pay basically spot on the market rate shown on www.xe.com/ucc
I’m making a big deal of the fee-free international transactions and cash advances because these fees add together really really fast.
Imagine using a card where there was a 3% surcharge on the currency exchange, and perhaps a AUD5.00 on every foreign cash withdrawal (excluding any local ATM fee). It adds up. If you’re on a long trip or spending bigger amounts you could be giving your bank hundreds!
Lets face it, the less cash you carry, the less you’ll lose if you’re the victim of crime OR just get careless and lose your wallet.
Local ATM fees can suck, but not all banks charge the same fee. My Citibank Plus VISA Debit card attracted a fee in some ATMs, when I was told of the fee I’d cancel the transaction and try another banks ATM. Turns out if I avoided ATMs from one bank only I was completely fee free! So yes it can look silly but don’t just accept fees as a fait accompli. Test out the competition.
The more you rush, the more you spend
I’m also a big fan of avoiding cash altogether. It’s amazing how easy it is to buy Starbucks when you want one and don’t have to run around trying to exchange another lump of Aussie $$ in Ringgits and probably pay less in the process! In short if you can use your fee-free card for “every day” transactions do it. Your bank statements will become another part of your travel memorabilia!
For me my happy medium of cash withdrawals is around AUD200 chunks. Seems to be enough money to get by anywhere for a day or two without overstuffing your wallet. Naturally if you’re anticipating needing to pay for long taxi trips or theme park food pack a bit more….