Money, Money, Money

Cash/Debit

As an inexperienced traveler – my dad helped me order Euro before I left on my first international trip. I thought – this is great, I have what I need to get by on this trip. I thought € 200 was the perfect amount of money for a month long trip in Greece and Turkey. Little did I know – my trip wasnt that cheap at all – AND I had overpaid for my Euro.

So what did I learn for the next trip? Well I didnt really. I decided against getting Euros before I left – and opted to get money at the airport. That seemed reasonable!! However, it wasnt and still isnt. I watched my classmates exchange USD for the Euro at the bank. While it offers a “Zero Fee” explanation – you get the worst exchange rate. But they get you – that “Zero Fee” gets everyone! I opted for the ATM near the exchange bank. Also – not a great idea – I paid a whole lot in fees! The international transaction fee from my bank at 3%, plus the ATM fee levied by my bank at $4, plus the ATM fee levied by the ATM at ~$3.50. All of that for $100. Needless to say – I was over that.

After my trials I decided to figure out the best way to get cash in a foreign country. Step 1: Get yourself a good bank! I ended up choose Charles Schwab. Charles Schwab offers ZERO international transaction fees. Most banks (Chase, Wells Fargo, local banks, etc) have a 1-3% international transaction fees on EACH and every transaction used with that card. If you use your regular bank – be ready to pay fees. Doesnt seem like much, but they all add up – and 3% is just mean! Using your regular bank is an option, you should first call the bank and let them know you are traveling internationally so they dont shut the card off on an assumption of fraud or theft.

if you need cash – get enough to make it worth your while. You will be paying the international transaction fee and an ATM fee. So taking out $10 could cost you $3.90 with ATM fees and transaction fees. If you want cash I recommend taking enough out for you to buy trinkets and snacks with for the time you will be using that currency. Say you are going to be in Paris, Rome and Munich for a week – then flying to London to end your trip for a few days. A week in those three countries (all on the Euro), I would recommend about € 200 for your snacks and trinkets. Some places only take cash (think side of the road trinkets) and small museums sometimes only take cash as well. That € 200 would only cost you about $10 in fees (transaction and ATM).

The final piece of advise on the debit card/ATM front? Cover your pin. This is actually the most common way of theft – a pick pocket will watch you and catch your pin, then steal your card from your pocket or wallet. Every ATM will instruct you to cover your pin, many now have a cover over the numbers to make it more difficult to have someone catch your pin being entered. If you are really worried about your cards/wallet getting stolen, I would recommend one of these: RFID travel money belt. Keeps your money safe under your shirt at belt level. You can also use it to hold your passport (though I would recommend the hotel safe for that.)

credit cards

The most important thing to remember is in industrialized countries – is that their security on using credit and debit cards is actually better than the US. So, dont panic using a debit or credit card at a small restaurant or shop. Over a DECADE ago, Europe (and actually most of the rest of the industrialized world) switched over to the chip. Ya know the fancy little chip that causes you to stick your card into the machine and have it yell at you to take it out? Yeah, that one.

So use your credit card (with ZERO fees) with the chip and your debit card with the chip and feel pretty safe doing so. If you are hesitant, use your bank app to verify your transactions – but in all my international travels, Ive never been hacked or had my information stolen – that has only happened in the US.

Iceland

Looking to head to Iceland – to see what the hype is all about? Here are some things you should keep in mind!

  • Almost everyone speaks English (but you should get the Google Translate App just in case to read signs, packaging, instructions, etc)
  • They take American Express! Random fact, but it can be difficult to find an Amex accept-er outside the US. And here they take it! (Check your credit cards and debit cards to see who has the best/lowest international transaction fees)
  • Their gas stations only take debit card or cash – or a credit card with a pin! Many gas stations are unmanned, but the system is pretty much self explanatory. Keep in mind, it works exactly like the US – it verifies you have enough to cover a FULL tank (or you can pick a smaller set amount) and then you only actually pay what you use.
  • Many gas stations have a grocery store or restaurant in the parking lot or very near. Utilize them! Food is very expensive here – your best bet is to stock up on snacks and food that you can cook at your Airbnb or Hostel.
  • Bringing your own reusable bags will come in handy as well. Iceland is actually very green (reusable energy, recycling, minimal waste, etc) Lauren recommends these. They are silicon, water resistant (think phone in wet situations), and perfect for holding sandwiches, oatmeal (bowl on the run), cut veggies, etc. They also take up like no room in your luggage to get here!
  • The weather really can change every 5 minutes. It may sound crazy, but the weather there can be unpredictable and random. From snow to sleet to rain to sun – expect it all and expect it all in an hour.
  • Bring gloves in the winter – the amount of times your hands spend out them taking pictures is almost equal to the amount of time your hands are in them – but your little fingers will thank you for the warmth.
  • Get out of Reykjavik. In most cases its actually cheaper to rent a car than to take the day tours out of the city. There is so much more to see outside of the city (like the rest of the entire island) so get out and explore the hidden gems of this beautiful country.
  • If you rent the car, get at least the gravel protection – they offer a million different plans, but the gravel protection is the most useful. This is especially true if you go North in the country.
  • Make a list of the things you want to see and on your way to see them you will end up seeing even more than you planned. Be prepared to have your plans altered due to weather.
  • Many of the attractions here are free – unless you do a tour – so take advantage of that and see all you can!
  • Unless you do tours, I would recommend about $75-100 a day for budgeting purposes once you are on your trip. You will probably come home with money (unless you drink a lot or do tours) but this would cover food, gas and souvenirs.
  • I would budget about $50-100/night for housing. Using Airbnb gives you options – but if you are traveling solo you are looking at $100-150/night for Airbnbs. In that case I would use hostels (they have many) to save some cash. If you can really splurge on your trip stay at FossHotels – primo properties with modern flare!
  • You can really only find true more, American style hotels in Reykjavik – otherwise they are more like guest houses. They may call themselves hotels – but they may only be 6-8 room quarters, some you even have communal WC.
  • Stores close pretty early here, usually between 6-7pm. Restaurants are open later usually until about 10pm. If you want groceries or to shop, get out early!
  • No need to tip! Another nice benefit of leaving the US is not needing to tip – there is a service charge in your price, so just swipe, sign and walk!