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The Graduate Escape

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(Travel) Money, Money, Money

Must be funny, in a rich man's world. Prepaid cashcards, debit cards and credit cards, or even the long-forgotten traveller's cheques. Exactly what is the best option for carrying cash abroad?

Unfortunately I'm still not 100% sure on the best way to carry cash abroad. So that's the end of that. Nothing to see here. Do I get a prize for the shortest blog post ever?

In all seriousness, I have just sorted out what I'm doing money-wise for my Asian travels and the first part of my time in Australia (but more on Oz another time) so I thought I'd share my plans with you and, as with every other post on here, I'll keep you updated on how it goes ;)

Prepaid Cashcards

If I got a £1 for every time I've googled 'prepaid cashcards' in the last few weeks I'd be able to fly first class.

Prepaid cashcards are just like debit cards in the sense that you pre-load them with the chosen currency then you're free to spend whatever you've put on there.

Pros

  • Convenient: there's no need to carry round great wads of cash or worry about being stranded without any money. All of the cashcards that I've looked at are CHIP & PIN so can be used at most ATMs.
  • Budgeting: I find cashcards really useful tools for budgeting. You can see exactly how much you're taking out and spending, which'll make future budgeting a breeze.
  • Easy to load: times are a-changing and the vast majority of cashcards can be topped up, for free, online or via an app. If, like me, you've got a bank account with all your savings in at home and don't want to transfer all your money at once, this feature is a dream.
  • Easy to get: most cashcards can be issued immediately, providing you have some form of ID with you.
  • Separate from your bank account: these cards aren't connected in any way to your bank account. That means if you lose it all of your precious savings back in your home bank account will still be safe. Huzzah!

Cons

  • Limited currencies: unfortunately most of the main cashcards only offer cashcards for the 'Big Dogs' of currency: we're talking the Mighty British Pound Sterling, US dollars, Aussie dollars, Euros, Swiss Francs, etc. For most SE travellers that's not really of any help, but you can load them up with US dollars or GBP and convert the money whilst you're out there.
  • Fees: some cashcards, such as STA's, cost £10 to buy but there are plenty that are free. There might also be some charges for actually using the card so it's always wise to check before you buy. For example, sometimes there's a charge for loading on GBP, or for using the card in the UK. Other times you'll get a transaction fee when withdrawing money or using the card in shops. Either way you'll be charged for something.
torre-del-mar-andalucia-spain

Where to buy?

There are plenty of different choices for prepaid cashcards but I've decided to list the five or so that I considered for myself!

  • Thomson: I ended up going with Thomson because Steph also went with them and I'm incapable of having an original thought of my own. Anyway, I particularly liked the sound of Thomson's cashcard because they give you not one but two cards, just in case you misplace the first . . . and at the rate I'm going at the moment that's basically guaranteed. If you happen to lose both cards, they'll get your money to you via Western Union within 48 hours. There is a fee for loading on GBP and the minimum loads vary by currency, but for Aussie Dollars it's just $50, which equates to around £35.
  • Thomas Cook: Again this was a strong contender but their shop was further away than Thomson's . . . seriously. As with Thomson's prepaid cashcard, you can load multiple currencies onto the one card and it can be topped up online, via the app, over the phone, or in person. I actually ended up going to Thomas Cook to get some dollars and Thai Baht in cash so there's really nothing in it.
  • Post Office: I used one of these cards when I went to backpacking through Croatia and Slovenia the other year and it worked a treat. Unfortunately it's one currency per card which is slightly annoying, but they do also have an app to make life easier.
  • Caxton: Caxton come recommended by my dear friend Tasha, lender of the travel towels. She used their prepaid cashcard during her travels through SE Asia last year and said it was a really useful thing to have. Caxton also offer this 'buy back' thing, whereby for an extra £4.99 you can guarantee the exchange rate at which they'll buy any unused currency back from you. These do have to be ordered in advanced and are usually delivered within 3-5 working days, and had I had the time I'd have got one myself. 
  • STA Travel: I almost, almost went for this option as I've used STA for pretty much everything else during my trip but the only drawback is the £22 cost to buy. Admittedly you do get £10 loaded on so technically it's only £12 to pay, but still. In terms of how it works it's the same as the other cashcards and perhaps for peace of mind it'd be nice to have everything all under one roof?

Living in Europe?

Or are you moving to another European country, say for Erasmus? When I did my year abroad I chose not to open a bank account in either Spain or Austria, instead I opened a Metro Bank current account at home. It's just a regular bank account but it offers free transactions in Europe! Hollaaaaaaa. The exchange rate is set by MasterCard so you know it's a fair deal and it was just so much more convenient than having to open a bank account in both countries and transfer money across, which can prove costly.

torre-del-mar-andalucia-spain
 

Photos from Torre del Mar, Spain. Taken October 2015.