National Geographic Traveler editor at large Christopher Elliott is the magazine’s consumer advocate and ombudsman. Over the past 15 years he has helped countless readers fix their trips.
Here’s his latest advice:
Reader question: I’m traveling to Europe. Should I change my money before I leave or when I get there?
My answer: After you land, find an ATM and grab a little spending money. Then use your credit card for big purchases (alert your card provider of travel plans ahead of time to avoid credit freezes).
Before you travel, find out if your card incurs surcharges on international transactions or fees for foreign exchanges and cash advances, says Oliver Cook, the head of foreign exchange at HSBC UK.
Exchanging dollars at home may sound simple, but the rate isn’t typically in your favor. “I would use this as a last resort,” says Chris Gaffney, president of EverBank World Markets.
If you must convert cash, you can determine if you’re getting a good deal by looking for an exchange rate that’s closest to the “interbank” rate (aka the wholesale exchange). Just remember that every time currencies change, value is lost.