We’ve traveled to Europe for over 15 years, starting when a biscotto cost 80 lire (4 cents!) up until today, when it costs €1.50 ($1.60). Here are some useful money-related tips, based on lessons learned:
- At least 2 days before leaving on your trip, notify your debit and credit card issuing banks that you will be traveling and tell them where you will be going and for how long. Doing so will help ensure that you don’t find yourself someplace that your bank doesn’t expect you to be, significantly reducing the chance that your card will be blocked.
- Load up your checking/savings account and use your debit card as your primary source of cash. If possible, upgrade to a chip-based card, as they are prevalent in Europe. This will provide an audit trail and proof of virtually all of your spending.
- After clearing customs at your travel destination, use major bank ATMs to withdraw cash in the local currency. NEVER exchange money at a kiosk, booth, or exchange counter staffed by humans, as ATM exchange rates are usually much more favorable. A good rule of thumb is for each traveler in your party to do this, ensuring that you have cash, options and flexibility.
- Reduce transaction fees by reducing the number of transactions you make: Withdraw the maximum amount that you feel comfortable having on hand.
- Check with your credit card issuer(s) to determine what surcharges they put on international card use. Many cards today, especially airline and hotel-branded cards, will have no or lower international surcharges.
- When eating in restaurants, check to see if there is a cover charge. If so, this is basically a tip and reduces the need to add 15-20% to the bill. For example, if your meal for two comes to €40.00 and there is a €4.00 cover charge on top of that, that’s a 10% tip. If you feel the need to tip more, just remember that the first 10% is included. For example, adding €2.00 makes for a total tip of €6.00, or 15, or €4.00 more takes the tip to 20%.
- Remember that there are €1 and €2 coins, not paper currency. Check your coins carefully before using or casually tossing on the bed or dresser! (We learned this the hard way, I’m afraid.)
- Do not assume that hotel rates you find on TripAdvisor or similar sites are cast in stone. Before reserving, call or email the hotel directly. Odds are, you can negotiate a better rate, especially if you book directly with them.