Traveller’s Cheques

I don’t think I have found one web site that promotes the use of traveller’s cheques. The debit card or the credit card that can access ATMs are the most popular method of getting money when travelling. My big problem with both of these vehicles are service charges and fees. Even if you have an account that allows for free withdrawals on your banks end, you can be dinged big numbers to use ATMs elsewhere. With credit cards there is a double whammy, first you get charged interest the moment you take out cash, which can be solved by paying up a positive balance on your card before you leave, but every time you get cash that is in foreign funds the credit card company charges you a 2.5% foreign exchange fee over and above the regular exchange rate. If you use $10,000 on a trip that adds up to $250, enough to spend an extra day away or maybe splurge on that 5 star hotel you have been eying up. Both are better ideas than giving the money to the credit card company.

Traveller’s cheques are not as much hassle as most of the other folks on the web make them out to be. Debbie and I have used a system for many years and last year carrying insured cheques paid off. We had two $100 cheques stolen from the safety deposit box at the front desk of a fancy resort. I phoned American Express and cancelled the cheques, when we got home there was a $200 cheque from American Express waiting for us.

There is another advantage of carrying traveller’s cheques. You do not have to put all of you metaphoric eggs in one basket. If you carry a card and that card is lost or stolen, you do not have access to cash or credit. Not a good situation 2000 kms. from home. If you carry a bundle of cheques and you stash them in different places like your money belt, your suitcase, your purse or pack, and your passport pouch, and if your travelling companion does the same, no matter which bundle gets misplaced you have several more to dip into.

Here’s how we use traveller’s cheques. First we find a place that will sell us the cheques for no fee. If you have the right kind of bank account, one that is san fees, you can often obtain cheques from them. If you are a member of the local automobile association they may sell cheques to members without a fee. We belong to Alberta Motor Association and we can buy American Express cheques fee free. This all means that you pay the piper $100 you get a $100 cheque. I’m sure there are other venues that offer the same service but up to now I have not had to find them.

We always buy cheques in Canadian dollars. The net and most travel books say to carry U.S. dollars because you will find it hard to exchange other currencies in country X. This is completely bunk. I have cashed Canadian dollar traveller’s cheques all over the world in the most obscure places and never had a problem. The reason we use our local currency is again saving a few bucks. If you exchange your money to U.S. dollars you pay an exchange fee. Then when you change those U.S. dollars to the local currency you pay another exchange fee. The banks are double dipping and you are the one paying.

So, we purchase a pile of Canadian dollar traveller’s cheques. We usually try to buy American Express cheques. The reason is that they can be cashed without fee if you know where to cash them. Many years ago there was an AmEx office in just about any city you might find yourself. A few years ago AmEx started closing their satellite offices and entering into partnerships with banks. Now if you know with which bank AmEx has partnered with you can walk-in and cash your cheques fee free. Locating those banks takes just takes a few minutes at http://www.aetclocator.com/us/. Every once in while Debbie and I will have to suck it up and pay a fee to cash a few cheques, but quite frankly not very often.

The actual cashing of the cheques does take some time out of every second or third  day but we use that task as a way to see a very small part of how the people in the countries you visit contend with everyday life. The banking system they have is not necessarily the same computerized system of your homeland. On a trip to Vietnam, I was off exchanging a few cheques for some cash and Debbie waited in the chairs provided across from the tellers. She was totally amazed at the number of people that came in with gym bags full of cash and handed bundle after bundle of bills to the cashier. It was a 1/2 hr. of free entertainment and it occupied our conversation for a few blocks as we surmised what was going on. Best we could make was these folks where all small business owners depositing a days receipts, a result of what is still basically a cash society.

Convenience isn’t everything. I’m quite sure you can put your money to better use than giving it away to a banking system that is just getting richer by the day. Give traveller’s cheques a try and maybe extend you travel an extra day.

 

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