How will I pay for all for everything along the trip? It is a good question and one that has lots of potential answers. Everything from credit cards, ATMs, debit cards, and even the quaint American Express Travelers Checks. One of the greatest improvements in world travel has to be the globally interconnected banking system. The ability for an ATM in Vietnam to access your US based checking account, check the balance and allow you to withdraw 1.8 million Vietnamese Dong (about $100 USD) is quite amazing. That being said there are some things to be aware of as you look to stretch every dollar for your trip. We will be using two methods almost exclusively, credit cards and ATMs/Debit cards for access to local currency at favorable exchange rates.
Credit Cards: The most important aspect when choosing a credit card to use while traveling is to get one without a conversion surcharge. Most major cards have them. American Express is 2.7%, and while here in the states I am a huge fan of the Starwood AMEX card, a 2.7% “tax” on everything we buy abroad for a year seemed excessive. So we went with a Capital One MasterCard, which has no exchange surcharge, and we get 1.25 travel points for every dollar spent with them. Not to mention you can put you own picture on the card. One last note on credit cards, along with almost all other financial preparation for a big trip: getting approved for a reasonable credit limit (greater than $2,500) is MUCH easier if you still are employed, so if possible take care of this before leaving your gainful employment.
ATM Cards: The key here is to make sure your card has a 4 digit pin, as many international banks will not accept cards that have longer pins. Also be sure to use basic ATM safety while traveling. Keeping your pin safe, only accessing ATMs in public and highly visible places, and making sure that the swipe does not look tampered with. This is to prevent your card from being skimmed and a duplicate card created without you knowing about it. In general, unless you are traveling to very remote places, access to ATMs and thus local cash is a great way to control your daily expenses as well as keep your accounts and yourself safe by not carrying significant amounts of cash or travelers checks.