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How Much Money to Take When Traveling?

How much money/ currency/ cash should I carry with me when traveling? Hello D, Yes, I advised a reader on the page, Exchanging Currency How and When, to be sure to carry at least $500 in US Dollars with him when traveling in the Middle East. But his trip was only for three weeks, and [...]

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How much money/ currency/ cash should I carry with me when traveling?

Hello D,

Yes, I advised a reader on the page, Exchanging Currency How and When, to be sure to carry at least $500 in US Dollars with him when traveling in the Middle East. But his trip was only for three weeks, and he had two other traveling companions with him.

US Dollars

In a similar circumstance, I would give the same advice regardless of any changes in the global economy, as when the economy is bad in the USA it is often worse abroad. So the US dollar often retains its relative value. In fact, during the height of the economic crises, I was able to exchange my USD for a far better rate than I was two years ago. As far as I have been able to determine, the economic crises has not lowered the relative street value of US dollars in many countries.

Though I do highly recommend that, if planning a longer trip, that travelers should carry with them at least $500 to $1000 USD in various places on their person.

It is true that ATMs are available readily in most countries in the world, but many of these money machines cannot be trusted. ATM fraud is now rampant:

A traveler inserts their card into an ATM and the numbers are then used later on by other people. I do not know how often I have been around travelers who have had mysterious “charges” taken out of their debit cards after using ATMs in foreign countries. When this happens — and it could happen to anyone — the traveler usually needs to cancel their card, and, if this is their sole source of obtaining funds,  they then find themselves in a very precarious situation.

My recommendation is to use ATMs as little as possible, only make withdrawals from money machines connected to major, well known banks during business hours, and to take out as much money as you think you will need for an entire month.

I also suggest, in addition to the month supply of local currency, to also always keep $500 to $1000 on you, as this would enable you to stay afloat and to continue traveling as you wait for your bank to send you a new card in the case of a compromise in security or outright theft.

US dollars can also be exchanged anywhere, and having a large supply of them will remove you from being tied into ATMs as your sole source of obtaining funds, and will also limit the pressures on you to use unsecured money machines.

Traveler’s checks are not worth the paper they are printed on.

This is the strategy that I usually use when traveling. I hope this helps.

More information on carrying money and exchanging currency when traveling

Walk Slow,



Original question about how much cash to carry when traveling


I just read your article on currency exchange and where you say that you should carry $500 American on you. With the economy the way it is, is there anything in your article you would change or does it pretty much still hold true today? Thanks a lot, -D


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Filed under: Money, Travel Help

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3720 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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3 comments… add one

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  • trevor warman February 12, 2012, 9:41 am

    love all the Vagabond articles……. am researching what others say about the best ways to carry money…… was checking out your Prepaid credit cards post from Jan 4 2012…..reviews on most cards have been crap. why do you think travellers cheques are not ‘worth the paper the printed on’ ? i love cash….i know you can loose it….. i follow the exchange rates and buy dollars when i can at a good rate. I hate all the high bank charges added by all UK banks, and now all the bad reviews from Pre paid cards… i travelled for 18 months straight and used my cheques in China….i got a good rate when i bought them, and needed only to pay 2$ on cashing 100$ or 2 100$ cheques…. no body uses them any more but they are still useable and never run out of date unlike bank cards…..on loosing a bank card, replacements are sent to the ‘home’ address….. and then have to be DHL’ed to some remote place… a BIG expense…… Most countries do have Amex offices that can replace ‘stolen’ cheques…. and all these countries whose ATMs only accept locally issued cards….. Cash is still king …… ‘specially the green backs…. everyone loves the dollars……… and my experience in Nepal where the banks had no power to process the transaction even though the ATM had battery back up…… my bank cancelled my cards 3 times in Nepal cos i had to try and find a working ATM….. resulting in expensive calls to UK to sort it out……

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    • Wade Shepard February 13, 2012, 10:53 am

      My experience with traveler checks is that they are a hassle (or even impossible) to cash in some countries. I use an ATM card with a VISA logo on it, and generally only get charged a 1% transaction fee unless the ATM I’m using has its own fee (which is still pretty rare). Yeah, if you have American dollars, they can be exchanged or even used almost everywhere — and you can often exchange them on the black market (ask at jewelry or other shops that sell expensive goods) for more than they are officially worth. I stick with the ATM card though and in over 12 years of travel have rarely had any problems. Check out Bank and ATM Fees for International Travel for the downside of using ATM cards.

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  • trevor warman February 18, 2012, 7:18 am

    i checked out ur site above….. very interesting……. i met lots of Dutch in China, and they all used ING bank… who as of 2011 did not charge and would also reimburse if in the event that a banks ATM added the charges…..

    in the UK….. rip off Britain as we all call it…. there are no banks that offer good deals….

    and when i was travelling in SE Asia…. i topped up with Dollars in Cambodia……. always a good idea………. cashing travellers checks in China at the Bank of china was straight enough forward … i was surprised how many travellers who did not have a back up of ready cash……. no idea how they get across borders… and also the number of them who turn up in a small village and expect to find at ATM and then have to back track to a larger town with a bank…..i do use ATMs. but have a supply of cash and travellers cheques in the event that the bank cancel my card… which happened 2 times in Nepal and once in Cambodia….. tried to take out too much.

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