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What do I do about money in Europe?

Updated: Nov 9, 2021

You’ve booked your dream trip to Europe. The trip is paid for, and now it’s just a matter of getting yourself (and your family) packed and prepared.

One of the most important things to consider is what you’ll use for incidental purchases during your trip. This is not a detail you want to leave to chance, as you can wind up paying a lot more than you should. Or worse, you can end up in a situation where you cannot access your money at all.

It’s not always as simple as saying, “Just put it on my card.” Carrying large amounts of cash isn’t the safest approach. And are traveler’s checks even a thing anymore? Let’s explore the options so you’re well prepared to handle any money-related issues that may arise during your trip.

Traveler’s Checks

Yes, traveler’s checks are essentially a thing of the past. They still exist but, compared to your other options, they aren’t worth the trouble. They can be a hassle to obtain, and you’ll be subject to fees both purchasing and using them. You’ll get more “bang for your buck” with the following options.


Most experts advise against traveling with large amounts of cash. Nevertheless, having some cash on hand is helpful when paying for incidental expenses, such as gratuities.

  • While you’ll generally get a better exchange rate converting after you’ve arrived, it never hurts to have at least a couple hundred dollars’ worth of the local currency prior to traveling.

    • If you’re a member of AAA, you can purchase currency from them. For purchases of at least $200, you can generally avoid a service fee.

    • Ask your bank or credit union what their policies/fees are for buying currency.

  • If you simply prefer to use cash, make sure you’re implementing safety measures, such as distributing the monies between all adult travelers, carrying your cash somewhere it’s not easily stolen, and/or having your ship or hotel concierge hold excess cash in a safe.

  • Only convert money at the currency exchange kiosks in the airport as a last resort. These tend to have the worst possible exchange rates.

One of the best ways to get cash while overseas is by using a reputable ATM, which brings us to our next subject…

Credit/Debit Card

In general, the safest and simplest way to pay for things on vacation is to use a credit or debit card. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t important considerations to take into account before you travel.

  • When withdrawing cash at a foreign ATM, your card must have both a chip and a PIN. If you have difficulty remembering your PIN, save it somewhere that’s not easily accessible for potential thieves (i.e., do not write it on a sticky note that you keep with the card).

  • Know the ATM and/or cash advance fees your bank/credit union charges you. And be aware that the ATM owner may charge an additional fee.

  • Call the issuing bank for your credit or debit card and let them know when and where you will be traveling. Standard security measures can cause your bank to flag any purchases that seem suspect (such as those from a different country), resulting in unnecessary headaches.

  • Most banks and credit unions have daily maximums for purchases and cash advances. Some also charge a Foreign Transaction Fee (FTF). You’ll want to check before you leave to avoid any surprises while overseas. If they do charge an FTF, it can be helpful to write that percentage on the front of your card in permanent marker.

  • If you have a secondary account with a debit card, consider using that. With a simple phone app, you can make transfers from your primary account as you need funds. And if that card is lost or stolen, your main account is safe.

Prepaid Cards

Finally, you can purchase a prepaid foreign currency card from companies such as TravelEx. The exchange rate might not be as good, but these cards are a solid option for travelers who don’t have a credit card or are nervous about traveling with one.

Ideally, you should also know the current exchange rates or have a reliable way to find out. Websites such as can provide up-to-date rates. You can also download a currency app to your smartphone or tablet.

Bottom line: Know before you go.

For additional questions or concerns about money while traveling, contact us. One of our knowledgeable travel advisors will be happy to help you decide which option works best for you!

Thinking about a river cruise in Europe? You can join the River Cruise Community Facebook page, to share tips & ideas with fellow river cruise travelers.

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