I’d like to think of myself as a seasoned traveller: over the years, there’s been a three month road trip to the US, annual visits to see family in Australia, week-long European holidays, and countless work trips.
And yet, while I nailed my packing technique, when it came to travel money, I just couldn’t get it right. No matter how much I planned, it inevitably worked out as expensive or inconvenient (or a combination of both).
Talking to friends and family, it seems most of us have been in a similar boat.
Sometimes it doesn’t pay to be organised...
I’ve tried prepaid travel cards, and while you might get competitive exchange rates, there can be some major downsides. Some of them charge ATM withdrawal fees, others have low limits on how much you can take out per month. And if you’re planning to hire a car abroad, many places won’t take a card that doesn’t have your name on it. Of course, this doesn’t go for all prepaids or apply in all places you visit, but the inconvenience of not knowing whether your card will be accepted can add an extra special layer of travel anxiety.
Live a little, and pay a lot
There’s been times I’ve winged it and decided to just take whatever’s in my wallet: a not-exactly-winning combo of debit and credit cards. There’s no doubt about it, this can be one of the worst methods of travel money.
Many banks charge a fixed fee for every spend, as well as a percentage for currency conversion. So that £2.50 coffee might suddenly be inflated to £3.50.
Plus, that spontaneous trip to Madrid seems like a fab idea right up until your card is declined post-patatas bravas because you forgot to tell your bank you were heading overseas and now you need to make umpteen overseas calls to fix the issue.
We’re all aware that getting foreign currency from an airport exchange bureau is not exactly one of the best deals you can get — but I’ve still been there, irrationally panicking that when I arrive to another country, every ATM will have stopped working, and therefore I must arrive with some cash. At these bureaus you’re typically paying a premium for the convenience of last minute or out of hours service and getting much worse exchange rates than if you’d organised yourself a little better. Never again.
Doing travel money right: using my Starling card and app
So imagine my relief when it came to planning my latest trip to Australia and I realised I wouldn’t have to cart myself to the Post Office or order a ‘specialist’ card with additional fees and charges. No, this time I could just rely on the Starling card already in my purse.
First stop: Dubai. A three hour layover called for a refuel and time to test out how the Starling card fared — so off to the Shake Shack we went. One Shack Stack and a root float order later and any lingering worries were dispelled. The payment went through without a hitch, the real-time notification popped up, and my card wasn’t blocked just because it was half way across the world. Phew.