Now I know what you may be thinking…”Traveler’s checks? What is she, 80?” But please give me a minute to explain why you can use traveler’s checks to have an amazing stress free vacation.
You don’t typically hear about traveler’s checks anymore but seriously, I use them all the time and I love them. I use American Express Traveler’s Checks and I get mine from AAA (Automobile Club of America) and since I am a member of AAA (pronounced triple A for those of you outside of the U.S) there is no fee for me to purchase them.
As you know, American Express is everywhere, so before I leave for vacation I call Amex (the 800 number on the back of the card) and find out where the American Express Office is located in the country I’ll be visiting and then I figure out how far that is from where I will be staying. Or you can check this website for locations nearest you.
Do you know what traveler’s checks are?
This is what a traveler’s check looks like, there may be a couple of variations depending on what bank you get them from. Each check is worth a dollar amount, from 20, 50 and 100 dollars. If you want to take 500 dollars with you, you take your 500 in cash and in exchange for your money you are given 50o dollars worth of traveler’s checks.
Why is it called a check? Because there are two places for your signature on the face of the check. You have to sign and date them in front of the teller when you get them and then when you change them you have to sign again. The checks can only be cashed if the signatures match, which is why you have to sign the second one on front of the teller who will be giving you the cash equivalent.
For me, having traveler’s checks helps me have peace of mind. How so? When I have traveler’s checks, I don’t have to worry about theft. Because when you get your checks, you are given a piece of paper with the serial numbers of each check you have purchased.
That paper is left with someone you trust, and/or put in the safe at your hotel (I always make copies and leave one with my mom and take one with me). If you lose your checks or they get stolen, you call customer service, give them the serial numbers and you get reimbursed for what was stolen. If you only have cash and you get robbed or lose your bag, you have absolutely no recourse. Your trip may be over because you have no more money.
I have used traveler’s checks in Argentina, Ecuador, France, Spain, Italy, and several other countries that I can’t think of right now. Having these also helps me not to spend too much money because I only change about a hundred dollars at a time and since I have been going to countries where the exchange rate is pretty good for me, that hundred dollars lasts me a long time.
Since I’m on vacation I don’t mind going back to the office and waiting in line if I have to, that just gives me a chance to observe many locals doing their daily routine.
This is what I recommend you do before you leave the United States:
1. Call American Express to see if there is a branch where you are traveling. Call a couple of times to make sure you get the same answer from different agents to make sure you’ll be able to change your checks.
2. Withdraw the amount you want to take with you.
I start this process several weeks (sometimes months) before I leave. Why? Because I’m not rich and I don’t have tons of money laying around in my account to be withdrawn for vacations. However, if I take out a little bit at a time every couple of weeks, I will eventually have the amount I decided on taking with me.
If I wait and try and do it at the last minute, more than likely I’m not going to have as much money as I’d like and I’ll be forced to use my credit cards. But since I take money out a little at a time, I am able to steadily build on what I need and still be able to pay my bills and live my daily life. This works for me.
3. Upon arrival find your branch and change the amount of checks you feel comfortable with changing.
Do not try to use these in a store as that is almost an impossible task. Make sure when you leave the office you have out your money in your purse and do not bring attention to the fact you changed money. No one knows what you do when you walk into an office and you don’t bring attention to yourself as some people do when they go to an ATM.
But if you don’t mind going to change them, I think traveler’s checks are a hidden gem that more people should take advantage of, and I hope you will.