Caroline Says…Count Your Pennies (or Pesos)

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Without a doubt, the most frequently asked, anxiety-provoking questions from clients about to leave the country involve money:

How to access it and how to tip with it

The good news is that neither is as hard to do as making it.

The best way to pay

Cash is king. Credit cards are not accepted everywhere, and, despite what your mother might say, Travellers Cheques – like 8-track tapes, pay phones, and Kodak film – are best left at home (in the attic). Debit cards and ATM machines, now found in nearly every corner of the globe, including airports, make currency conversion easy.

There are, however, a few things to do before leaving home to ensure fast cash when you need it.

Call your bank. Tell them when and where you’re going, confirm that your debit card will work, and try to determine your daily withdrawal limit. You may also want to *order a small amount of cash, already converted, to hold you over until you find an ATM abroad, although you can and should hit the airport ATM immediately upon landing. Then, throughout your trip, always withdraw as much cash as you can per transaction to limit fees, and then tuck it safely away in your zipped purse, wallet or – say it ‘ain’t so! – moneybelt until you need it.   *Cash can also be obtained in advance from American Express, AAA, etc.

Call your credit card companies.   Ask about foreign transaction surcharges and take along one or two cards, those with the lowest fees, to use for large purchases, like hotels and all the leather goods you’ll want to buy in Florence. Capital One’s Venture Card (What’s in your wallet?) is consistently ranked as one of the best. American Express is not accepted everywhere. Be sure to make and take copies of all credit cards as well as your passport in case of theft. There are apps for storing such information, but that’s for a future blog post.

How much to tip?

You’ve probably heard that we Americans are big tippers compared to the rest of the world. While Europeans have grown accustomed to our largesse, there’s no need to tip the customary American way of 20 percent for anyone but an extraordinary guide who has enhanced your trip experience exponentially (as our guides do). For daily helpers you may encounter – waitstaff, bellhops, taxi drivers – consider rounding up, say 5 or 10 percent.

Think about your surroundings, too. Money flows more freely in big, cosmopolitan cities like London and Paris, so you’ll want to tip a bit more generously there. Also, sometimes gratuities are automatically included on your bill (called il conto in Italian, l’addition in France, la cuenta in Spanish).   There’s no need to tip twice.

When feasting in a small village, nothing more than a few euros or pesos are expected. If, however, you are basking in the glow of good wine and feeling the love, go ahead and tip away. You’ll make their day.

Caroline Travels the World (without a money belt)…And So Can You.

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