Cash or Credit? How to Pay While On Your Honeymoon

When to use an ATM, how to stretch a dollar and more tips on handling greenbacks abroad.

passport and other travel necessities

The playwright Aphra Behn said, "money speaks sense in a language all nations understand." And whether it's greenbacks, pesos or pounds, you'll need to know exactly how to speak the universal language  while on your honeymoon.  Here, my two cents:

Know the Rates  

Before you take off, familiarize yourself with a few numbers. Call your bank for your international ATM rates. Some charge the same out-of-network fees, others can have high tariffs on top of the usual out-of-network fee. Same holds true for credit cards. Depending on your company, you may encounter surcharges for out-of-the-USA usage; others like Capital One and certain American Express levels, are surcharge free. Lastly, look up the exchange rates in your destination. Banks ofenpos0t the common currencie, as do the financial television networks. I use XE.com, a site that lets you plug in the currency for every nation imaginable. At this point, you may consider getting some foreign cash, which you can do at any back or American Express office. Note: you'll be charged a transaction fee no matter where you exchange money.  Airports, hotels, and cash-for-cash outposts tend to skew higher. You may have to order the money, especially if you are asking for not-oft utilized bills like Pacific francs (used in French Polynesia) and Thai baht (Thailand). Personally, I find it easier to use ATMS (generally located) just outside the luggage carousel. And one more thing—some foreign ATMS give you the option to take out American dollars, others simply translate the exchange rate on the screen. Ask your local guide before trying the USD option—I was stuck with a stack of twenties instead of the appropriate equivalent of Peruvian sols that I needed to shop at a local market in the Andes. 

Be Prepared 

If you don't have a credit card, you may consider getting a low-interest one just for this trip. Car-rental offices may refuse debit cards or put a large hold on your account. Although great wedding gifts, prepaid cards are often not accepted abroad. And if for some reason your ATM card doesn't work in the machine—which happened to me on Tahiti—you'll want to be able to access or buy cash. Don't forget to establish a four-digit pin for your credit card; as you'll need it to use at the ATM or, in some cases, make a purchase. If you're headed beyond the beaten path, you may want to consider getting traveler's checks. They may be a bit old-fashioned, but you don't want to be in the wilds of Costa Rica without a way to pay for dinner—trust me. 

Alert Your Bank 

If you want to avoid receiving a fraud alert—or worse—suspended charging privileges, call your credit card company to let them know you are traveling. A few big banks (Capital One and Chase) offer this service online. If you use mobile banking, you may skip this step, since your foreign login may be able to indicate that you're out of your usual banking area.  

Read the Fine Print 

Some credit cards (the American Express Platinum, for example) have exclusive travel offers.  Cardholders are welcome to use the Global Pass service (an express customs line in the United States) at no charge. Look online or call your company to confirm the details. 

Talk Numbers 

Being able to crunch the exchange rate on the fly will make shopping and ordering off menus easier. I tend to round up to multiples of five or 10. So, for example, if the Mexican peso is at 13 to the dollar, I tell myself it is about 10 to one. And would read 500 pesos as $50 or 20 pesos as 2 bucks. If that equation doesn't work for you, download one of the many currency converter apps to your phone. 

Learn to Haggle 

The art of barganing is one that is practiced around the world. Learn its nuances and you can enjoy low prices and bragging rights. Some basics: Always talk in local currency. There's a fine line between being aggressive and assertive, and offering half off the quoted price is considered rude. Instead counter the first quoted price with about a third off. Bargain until you feel satisfied with the price.  

Tip: Stash about $50 in small bills in your travel documents pouch. It is easier to count off for gratuities than making change.

Photo Credit: Patrick Ng