Q: Hi, Peter. We have been lucky enough to take some extensive, wonderful trips all over the world. These were all done with traveler's checks (no credit cards). We are about to start again, and still do not want to use credit cards — they are hard enough dealing with hacking and personal information here in the states. Are travelers' checks acceptable in different countries (including Cuba) or is there another way to go?
- Bonnie Brown, Louisville, Ky.
A: Bonnie, there are many options for spending your money abroad and still avoiding theft and transaction fees.
In my experience, a traveler's check is nothing more than the bank betting that you'll never use them all, and will never get around to getting cash back. Not all merchants accept them, and due to political regulations, certain countries like Cuba, Iran and North Korea cannot take American Express products, for example, at all.
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I prefer the method of withdrawing money from an ATM at your destination in the local currency. If you feel more secure having some cash on hand, pre-paid check cards tend to be easier to use than a stack of traveler's checks. They aren't attached to your personal information like credit cards, and if they're lost or stolen, the issuer can replace them.
Here is my little secret: almost every time I travel, especially if it's a long trip, I will go to the bank and get $200 in $2 bills. It's great for tip money, because people remember you. It is also a conversation piece. U.S. dollars are still widely accepted abroad, including the $2 bill.
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