Saturday, August 01, 2009

Travel Expenses

Well, at last check, the euro was up to $1.42. Fortunately, I budgeting the trip for €100/day when the dollar was lower, so I'm not behind...I was just hoping the euro would've stayed below $1.30. Oh, well. Things to consider before travelling overseas.

Another hot item I looked into was the cost of buying stuff while I was informing my bank/credit card companies about my impending travels. Dig this: it's $5 extra per ATM withdrawal, (and from there you must add whatever the ATM's fee is going to be). To make point-of-sale purchases, Visa tacks on an additional 3%...never mind the cost of exchange rates, Value-Added Taxes (VAT), etc. American Express charges 2%. Might not want to leave home without it. On the plus side, VAT will get refunded at the end of the trip, but that means keeping all my receipts until I get Stateside. I didn't even ask about personal checks--I presume the Europeans aren't stupid enough to accept an overseas check.

A few things my seasoned-traveler friends have been telling me:

  • Don't bother with traveler's checks. They're becoming passé, and credit cards are accepted nearly anywhere anyway. The joys of electronic money.
  • American Express offices are supposed to get good currency exchange rates--better than the guys at the airport, anyway.
  • It's probably better to just buy euros stateside or use ATMs in larger chunks.

The tricky question will be: is it cheaper to make purchases as I go or just rack up the ATM fees and risk carrying more cash? The 2-to-3-percent charges make the cost issue academic. $5 ATM fees are fine as long as I'm taking out bigger chunks of cash and stowing them safely. Going to have to think like a smuggler without looking like a spy, I guess. Pickpockets are reputed to be infamous across the pond, but then so are pickpockets in New York City, and I never had anything stolen there. Have to chalk that up to the Lord's protection; it certainly wasn't due to any smart or precautionary behavior on my part.

The idea Rick Steves advocates in his books is to keep larger amounts of cash in your money belt and smaller amounts in your wallet...and to make your wallet a cheap one so you don't miss it if it's stolen. I particularly like this little card, which Steves recommends keeping in the el cheapo wallet (printed in five languages):

Dear Thief: Sorry this contains so little money. Consider changing your profession.


Anyhow, my list of things to do/buy continues to shrink. Put down some change today to buy a backup pair of eyeglasses. There are some bills I need to start double-paying to keep the collection agency people off my back when I get home. I need another travel lock for my backpack and more batteries for the camera. I probably need a bigger memory card for the camera, or just a backup. Need to buy a soap container and transfer money from savings to checking before I head out the door. Otherwise I've left a lot of optional stuff to the family if they feel inclined to buy. And yes, I need to get back to at least a refresher on my rudimentary French/German/Italian. I've got a three-language phrase book and can match the sounds to the written spellings (mostly), but otherwise I'll be doing a lot of gesticulating and faking it with those folks who didn't bother to learn any more English than I learned of their language.

The countdown continues.

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