Money Talks, So Should You

Balancing Act: The hassle of ATM fees while traveling

Esther Goh
by Esther Goh , Dimespring 30 (@eemusings)

I hate cash. Absolutely loathe it. It's far too easy to lose, and to lose track of.

Back home, I swear by my cards, electronic transfers and Internet banking. I could easily go months without cold hard bills passing through my hands.

On the road, it's a different story. Cash is king in many countries. I've had to get used to making large ATM withdrawals every few days and watching my wallet swell and contract accordingly.

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We're not exactly spoiled for choice in New Zealand when it comes to credit cards. When I was researching the best cards for overseas use, the choices were bad, crappy and worse. I ended up getting an Air NZ Onesmart card, which doubles as an airline loyalty card and a debit MasterCard. You load money onto it, then either make cash withdrawals or swipe the card at merchants to pay for purchases. Easy. It seemed like a great deal, with basically no fees and the ability to store multiple currencies in different "wallets" on the card.

Of course, it isn't always that simple. In Asia, for example, local ATMs charge extra fees, usually about $5. Given that withdrawal limits for any individual transaction in Asia are usually only equivalent to a few hundred dollars, you can imagine how that might add up. I'm not too proud to zigzag from machine to machine looking for a better deal, though I was taken aback by one bank in Vietnam that blithely informed me “customers should check fees beforehand” without offering any indication of what those might be.

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Thankfully, ATMs in the UK and Europe seem to be fully behind the concept of letting you withdraw your own money for free. We may be spending a lot more per day in this part of the world, but (small comfort) at least that money is all being spent to our own ends, rather than going toward a faceless bank.

How do you handle money while traveling?

Esther is a 20-something writer and editor from Auckland, New Zealand, trying to balance living for today with saving for tomorrow. Esther is a member of the Dimespring 30, a community of bloggers sharing their thoughts, experiences and perspectives on personal finance.