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Cessnock, New South Wales

General Travel

Travel cards vs credit cards vs cash

Is it best to have a travel card from bank, or use credit cards or carry cash

10 Answers

top answer by
Sean from Hudson Valley

Hello Laurene,

A lot depends on several factors; where you traveling to, how long you'll be there, and what activities you'll be taking part of.

One thing is certain; you can't rely on only one form of payment.  I worked in banking operations for twenty years.  Most of that time was spent dealing with electronic banking systems (ATM cards, Debit cards, ect).  I can't begin to tell you how many phone calls I received started with, "My card didn't work!"  Relying on only one bank card, or only one credit card invites problems.

That said, one of the best thing you can do for yourself is to use cash whenever possible.  Use your bank cards or credit cards to obtain cash from automated teller machines, rather than carrying cash to your destination and exchanging it.  In spite of the fees placed on top the exchange rate, ATMs are still the most economical way to obtain local currency.

Depending on where you travel to, many places are not set up for card use.  This is specially true in very rural areas or at smaller establishments.  There are still restaurant in major cities in the United States that do not take credit cards.  You can minimize expenses by only withdrawing what you need for several days, and only carrying what you'll need for one day. 

In addition, using the local currency is appreciated by the locals.  They seem to respect the fact that you made an effort to "figure out" their money.  This goes a long way toward a more pleasant experience when traveling.  I know this sounds somewhat funny.  That's because, well, it is!  With the exception of the pictures and colors, money is pretty much the same all over the world.   100 of the small things equals one of the bigger things.  There are various denominations of small things on the way up to the bigger thing, and larger denominations of the bigger thing to avoid carrying a whole bunch of the bigger things.

Where you're traveling impacts your withdrawal frequency, also.  For instance, traveling in the US or EU there is a great deal of space between boarders that will require you to use a different currency.  Therefore, you can make fewer, though be it larger, withdrawals.  This same thought applies to how long you'll be traveling (or at least how long you'll be traveling in any one country). 

Finally, the things you'll be doing in you travels will dictate the type of payments you can use.  As I said earlier, there are still plenty of restaurants that don't accept credit cards.  Trying to pay for a donkey/camel/elephant ride with a credit card?  Good luck!  On the other hand, don't bother trying renting a car without one.  I don't know of a hostel or B&B that accepts credit/debit cards.  Then again, trying to pay cash at an intercontinental-style business hotel is like trying to barter chickens for gasoline at a filling station.

So, here is what I usually do. 

A) I carry one credit card, one bank/debit card, and a little bit of "starter cash" for my initial destination. 

B) I withdraw cash from ATM machines that are in, or attached to a bank. 

C) I carry one day's worth of cash in my pocket, and I carry both my cards and the bulk of my cash in a money belt. 

D) When I travel with a companion, I make sure they do the same, and I make sure the accounts attached to the bank card are different from mine.

E) I make use of on-line banking to transfer funds, pay bills and such, ONLY when I'm assured of a secure network connection. 

F) and always, ALWAYS, ALWAYS contact your bank prior to departure and inform them that you'll be traveling, where you know you'll be traveling to, and when you'll be traveling.

A final thought; Over the years I've developed an emergency back-up system in case of a real catastrophic situation.  I usually have an extra credit card, ATM/Debit card, and a day or two of cash in an envelope I've left with a trusted relative.  In the event that I loose everything, I can call them so that they send it to the local embassy, consulate, hotel, ect.  I also admit that I've never had to make use of it.  So, the long run I usually just annoy that trusted relative.

4 thankscomments (2)

answered by
Jacqui from London

Hi Laurene, 

I was a banker for eight years and have been travelling around the world for almost four - So, I wrote a post about your travel card, credit card and cash options for travel.

I hope this helps! 



2 thankscomments (3)

answered by
Onur from Los Angeles

Another alternative is smartphone payment. You carry your smartphone with you anyway. You sync. your phone with your credit card before leaving home and when you are abroad you simply use the apps installed on your phone. This method is valid in most of the western countries.

What you need:

  1. A smartphone with NFC feature (most models have it now)
  2. Google wallet, Apple pay, Samsung Pay, etc app.

2 thanks

answered by
Michael from Tacoma

Sean offered many helpful suggestions. I only use my debit card at ATMs. My debit card is issued by Bank of America. I can get fee-free cash at these B of A international partner ATMs:

  • Barclays (United Kingdom)
  • BNL D’Italia (Italy)
  • BNP Paribas (France)
  • China Construction Bank (Mainland China)
  • Deutsche Bank (Germany)
  • Santander (Mexico)
  • Scotiabank (Canada, Peru, Chile and the Caribbean)
  • UkrSibbank (Ukraine)
  • Westpac Bank (Australia and New Zealand)

At these banks one can avoid the Non-Bank of America ATM $5 usage fee for each withdrawal, transfer or balance inquiry as well as the ATM operator access fee. In March of 2015, the money I received was converted at that day's exchange rate plus a 1% foreign transaction fee. I don't know whether the fee has been raised to 3% since then. For example, a €100 withdrawal from a BNP-Paribas ATM in Paris caused my bank balance to be reduced by about $111.10, based upon that day's €-US$ exchange rate of €1-US$1.10.

I don't use my debit card in stores while overseas since those purchases incur a 3% foreign transaction fee.

I used cash for smaller purchases and a credit card that charged a 1% foreign transaction fee for larger purchases, including my hotel room. I know that there are credit cards that don't add a foreign transaction fee, but I don't have one of those cards, yet.

Hopefully, both your debit and credit cards are chip-and-signature or chip-and-pin-enabled since American bank-issued magnetic strip cards won't work in self-service machines at subway and train stations, toll roads, parking garages, self-serve gas pumps, luggage lockers, and bike-rental kiosks. If you don't have chip cards yet, check with your bank to see if they are available.

I don't work for any Bank of America-related companies and never have. With some research, you might find other banks that offer rates that are better than those presented in my examples. Charles Schwab, Capital One, Citibank and TD Bank might have options that will work for you.

Check with your credit union before you travel. They might waive ATM fees for foreign transactions.

I always travel with a money belt in which I keep my airline tickets, passport, extra credit cards and extra cash. I only carry enough cash in my pockets and wallet to cover one day's purchases, or less.

I like to arrive in a new country with enough local currency to get me to my hotel, just in case I arrive when banks are closed, or if I have trouble finding a fee-free-partner ATM or bank. In the past, I have ordered British pounds and Euros from my local bank. I was charged a significant fee for the exchange. On my last trip, I returned home with about 50£ and €60. As a result, I'll now have enough money to allow me to head directly to the train or subway, grab a snack or a drink along the way, and pick up a Time Out London, a Pariscope, or a local newspaper. On the trip to the City Centre, I choose some of the plays, shows, or movies I'd like to see during my visit.  

Happy Travels!

1 thanks

answered by
Janelle from Charleston

Depends on where you're travelling.  If you're in a first world country then plastic is preferable to cash (but make sure you have a card that doesn't charge foreign currency transaction fees).  However, it's best avoid using your ATM card for any purpose other than withdrawing cash as most ATM cards charge foreign transaction fees. 

However, most third world countries are primarily cash economies.  You'll find that only major airlines and international brand hotels accept credit cards and that cash will be needed to pay for food, drinks, transport, entertainment and local, non-branded accommodations.  So be prepared to carry cash on you and protect yourself accordingly.  In some third world countries the largest bill in their currency is only the equivalent of less than 10 Euros/US dollars, so you'll need to constantly be carrying huge wads of cash.  I had that experience in Madagascar...the largest bill (10,000 ariary) is worth only a bit over $3 USD, so I was forced to do a George Costanza and carry a wallet so fat it made me look like I had a tumour growing out of my arse!

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Madagascar (attraction)
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answered by
Yuksel from Kuşadası


I think you better use credit cards and cash!! Do not trust AMEX cause some countries do not except amex cards!

Have a good holiday

1 thanks

answered by
Will from Chicago

Here is my system.  I have two cards for traveling purposes.  One primary and one backup.  These cards have no foreign transaction fees which makes them best for both domestic and international travel.

Next I have a Charles Schwab checking account that is separate from my primary bank account.  Before a trip, I would transfer some funds over to that account so I can have access to cash. Schwab accounts refunds unlimited ATM fees all over the world so like the credit cards mentioned above.  The reason for doing it is I had my debit card skimmed in Paris, so now I have them separated.

This system allows for me to maximize credit card points and in the off chance I need to ATM withdrawal cash, I can use my debit card that is separate from my primary accounts.

P.S. Make sure you do the travel notifications on your cards.  You don't want to be stranded and have to call the banks on your time off.

1 thankscomments (1)

answered by
Kathryn from London

Sean covered most of what I would say, though he's more thorough in his practice than I can say that I am. :)

The only thing I would add, is to do a quick search on foreign cards at atms in the places you'll be visiting. I've only ever had one problem, but if I'd looked in advance it might have been a bit easier. Brazil is notorious for not taking foreign cards at their atms, or at least they used to be. While there I did find one machine that would take my US card, but it took some doing. 

Travel and expat forums often have information like this, because we all run into the same problems. So, if there's an issue, it's usually pretty easy to find out before you go. 

Also, check to see if any of your credit cards waive foreign transaction fees, I have some that do. Charles Schwab has a checking account that both waives foreign transaction fees and refunds all (even foreign) atm fees. I think they're US only, though there may be an Australian bank that does something similar. Of course, if you're only going to be gone a short time, then that's probably not worth the effort. 

1 thankscomments (1)

answered first by
Janice from Toronto, Ontario

It all depends on the fees your bank or credit card charges. Many charge 2.5% "fee" on top of what the exchange rate it. Withdrawals at ATMs (travel card from banks) sometimes charge $3-5, depending where you are travelling (ie. USA/Canada). When I travel to France, I bring some cash and charge some to my credit card. Debit charges (ie. at stores) are not possible with my Canadian bank cards. By the way, some banks do belong to affiliates which provide lower (or free) withdrawals at ATMs in other countries. In Canada we have Tangerine (used to be ING) and the withdrawal rates are lower than the banks. Hope that helps.

1 thanks

answered by
Lyn from Manhattan Beach

I concur with the others.  The only thing I would add is that if you are going to purchase something that has to be shipped, use a credit card.  If anything happens such as the item arrives broken or doesn't arrive at all, you have recourse with the credit card company.  You don't any protection with debit cards or cash.

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