Tuesday, March 22, 2011

What is Your Travelers Check IQ?

Quick quiz:

When you travel, do you still use traveler's checks or cheques? No should be the right answer. They are not yesterday's news; they are decades old news. For more years than I care to think back on, I have been warning about the financial harms of traveler's checks and have backed it with experiences. 

In 1989, when in Munich, Germany I could not get any merchant to take my checks. Even the banks were reluctant as they sent me to their competitors. There was only one bank willing to cash them for German marks, long before the Euro was conceived. 

Not only did I waste a day bouncing around like a steel ball in a pinball machine, out of fear of running short of cash, I turned in more than I would have wanted. There went the security of the traveler's check. More insulting was the bank's fee, which carved a hefty niche from my budget.

American Express closed their offices here years ago. If you want to cash a traveler's check, you have to use Western Union or UniBank. Both will lovingly toss you upside down to see how many coins and bills will fall out to collect their fee for the aggravation of having to deal with your travel paranoia.

It is time to play grown-up. If you are going to travel, use your intelligence. Alternatively, that means don't do stupid things. The partner of one of my private students recently visited Athens with 1,000 Euros in cash sitting in his pants pocket. It was with him at the airport on arrival, but someone took pity on the heavy burden he was carrying and relieved him of it. They tried to believe he forgot it at home in a different pair of pants to spare the anguish of the short get-away, but once home, there was no cash.

The value of an ATM card is priceless.

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