Carrying foreign currency is a drag. Not only is it a hassle to exchange, you’re usually left with unwanted currency that can only be used if you go back. Although that may be a good enough reason to go back to that country, for me, I’d rather only have small bills just in case I have a layover in that country and the rest in dollars. That said, here are some final thoughts on money:
Only carry as much cash as you need and never leave it all in one place. Even when I’m travelling, I’ll have my wallet in my pocket as well as a separate wallet with an extra credit card and cash tucked away in my luggage. This way if anything should happen, I’m not completely screwed and will have some access to money to get home.
If you’re about to grab some money from a ATM and someone approaches you to convert money at a better exchange rate than the banks, walk away. It seems obvious but so many people will be told that an ATM is broken or unavailable and then convert money from a perfect stranger only to be told they were given counterfeits.
Small bills are really necessary if you’re going to be doing any type of shopping or need to buy a transit ticket. Unfortunately the denominations given at ATMs aren’t always conducive to ease of use. As an example, I had a few thousand Baht (about $100) in Bangkok but it only takes about 40 Baht to use the subway. Obviously, getting change or finding someone to break a large bill was nearly impossible and I eventually had to walk until I was able to sneak onto a ferry. If you need to get change, try going to a major transit hub where tourists are. Those hubs know that tourists are using the ATM and are better suited to break large bills into more manageable denominations.
Plastic or cashless is the way to go if possible. Nowadays, so many credit cards have no foreign transactions fees that it’s cheaper to use. Also, with things like Apple Pay and Android Pay, cash is becoming less and less important. Sure, it all depends on the country you’re visiting but more places are moving toward a cashless system. You also have fraud protection or can cancel cards if lost or stolen…obviously with cash, you’re screwed.
Finally, have a couple hundred dollars tucked away somewhere as emergency money (like a shoe or in your toiletries bag at the hotel). I’ve been lucky that I’ve never had to use it but it does offer some peace of mind. If everything goes wrong, you’ll have some cash to hopefully put you in a spot to get somewhere safe or in the right direction. Look, if $200 is life changing money, you’re still screwed…but it’s better than nothing.