Travel Situations That Make You Wish You Had Carried More Cash

When planning a vacation, most travelers struggle with the choice of bringing cash, or only using their cards for purchases.

As much as credit cards increase convenience, you will thank yourself for bringing along some cash on your trip.

These are seven reasons why you should always carry cash on your international holiday.

1. Immediate expenses

The first few hours of arriving at a foreign destination involve a litany of expenses. You need to catch a cab or take a bus to your hotel, pick up something to eat, and tip the concierge. Having cash handy for these small, but numerous expenses is super convenient.

If you are in the habit of paying with your phone, it might take a while for your international data plan to kick in. The Wi-Fi could also be a bit spotty. So, save yourself the hassle and pay with cash.

You should either carry the local currency before leaving for your destination, or exchange your money at an authorized center immediately after your arrival.

2. Convenience for small charges

You will have to make hundreds of small transactions throughout your vacation. From paying the cab driver to renting a bike for the day, you will be swamped with small payments.

This is where cash comes in handy, because most of these establishments may not accept cards or electronic payments. You will find that in most European and Southeast Asian countries, small businesses trade exclusively in cash. You might be able to pay with your MasterCard or Visa at some shops, but other service providers like American Express and Discover will almost certainly not be accepted.

3. “Do you accept cards?”

Some countries are more card-friendly than others. Research your destinations before you plan the finances for your trip.

Save yourself the rejection and embarrassment of being turned down by local stores by keeping some cash handy for spontaneous expenses.

If your destination is card-friendly, it is recommended to carry 20% of your budgeted amount as cash.

4. Avoiding card fees

Load up on cash upon your arrival, and portion it out for the rest of your time in the country. If you use your credit card to withdraw cash at a local ATM, you might be in for a rude shock. You will be charged a hefty transaction fee each time, and that can eat into your budget.

Consider withdrawing €100 at an ATM in Europe with your regular credit card. Here’s how much you will lose with transaction fees:

  • Around €5 for the withdrawal charge.
  • €3 for using an international card.
  • At least €1 as interest on your credit card.

If you don’t want to pay 8-10% as transaction costs per withdrawal, convert your currency at the beginning of your trip and limit your visits to the ATM.

5. Using universal currencies

Most countries accept universal currencies like US dollars. So, if your holiday is a multi-destination trip with different local currencies at each stop, paying with US dollars is the most economical solution. Carry your money in US dollars for a holiday in Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and most Latin American countries.

An added benefit is that if you have a cache of dollars left over from this trip, you can easily use it on your next one.

6. Going off the grid

If you are planning for an off-road adventure this vacation, or perhaps a week-long camping trip across the wild countryside, then you better stock up on cash and loose change. The probability of finding a working ATM or Point of Sale machine in the middle of nowhere is close to zero. In most parts of the rural Middle East, small towns in South Asia, and Africa, cash is your best option.

This also applies to hotels and restaurants in remote places. Remember, the further away you travel from urban centers, the more cash you should have on your person. It is recommended to keep around 60% of your budgeted amount in cash, and the rest on a credit card or travel card when traveling to rural areas.

7. Worrying about exchange rates

When you use a credit or debit card to pay, you are beholden to the daily changes in exchange rates. An unexpected swing in either direction means that you could end up paying a lot more than you would have in normal circumstances.

In March, 2021, the Indian Rupee advanced 0.1% to the US Dollar over a month. But, those gains came crashing down on March 30, 2021, with a sudden fall of 1.2%. You certainly don’t want to find yourself facing these wild variations.

If you withdraw cash in local currency beforehand, you won’t have to worry about the exchange rate going up suddenly. It is easier to predict your cash flows and stay within budget.


Now that you are aware of the requirements for carrying cash, here are some quick FAQs to help you financially plan your international holiday.

1. Should I carry a credit or debit card? What should I use it for?

Yes, regardless of how much cash you carry on your trip, you should always have one or two cards for emergency payments. You should also put large expenses like flights and hotel bookings, tour reservations, and shopping bills on your card to conserve cash for smaller purchases.

2. What are the cons of carrying cash on my vacation?

The biggest risk associated with cash is related to safety. If you lose your wallet or get mugged, you will lose all your cash. Unlike cards, there is no provision to ask your bank to block any future transactions. So, if you are unfortunate enough to lose your cash, it would be an irreparable financial hit. In case your wallet or anything else gets stolen, it is essential to have travel insurance in place to help protect you.

3. How do I protect my cash while traveling?

From the experience of thousands of frequent travelers, the best way to safeguard your cash is to store it in multiple places. Keep some in your wallet, and distribute the rest in different bags and purses amongst your luggage. This way, if you lose one of your belongings, you will not lose all of your money.

Don’t keep large denominations in your wallet that are visible every time you open it. You should always be alert for pickpockets, and not display any signs that could make you a potential target.

Stay safe, and travel stress-free with a balanced mix of cash and cards on your foreign trip.

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