Not to make you jealous, or not too jealous anyway, but I just came home from a spring break cruise with the family. When packing for our trip, we had a bunch of critical items – sunscreen, bathing suit, passport, Dramamine, and cash. Why is cash so important? The cruise line has had my credit card on file since we first booked our stateroom, but once you leave the ship it’s a whole new world – a world where the benefits of cash really stand out.
One of the great things about a cruise is the ability to sample many different ports in easy-to-digest pieces. Go ashore and step into Diamonds International or John Bull and you can always pay by card after haggling your way into a new tennis bracelet or Swiss watch, but visit any of the hundreds of street vendors and stands set up near port and cash is truly king. Want to try authentic Jamaican jerk chicken? Best have some cash on hand. Bringing home handmade ponchos from Cozumel? Paper will get you a lot farther than plastic. The fact is, many small merchants in ports the world over don’t even have access to a reliable phone line let alone a merchant account accepting MasterCard, Visa, or American Express. To truly experience the culture and engage in some exciting price haggling, cash is the best – and often the only – way to go.
You can get your cash before you leave home or top-up on the ship – every ship will have multiple cash machines. Just about every merchant in every Caribbean port will accept a U.S. dollar in addition to the local currency, often eliminating the need for currency exchange before, during, or after the trip. Outside the Caribbean and Mexico, local currency may be necessary.
Of course, cash isn’t just great for cruising… any time you take a trip, whether for work or pleasure, cash plays an important role. Just a few of the advantages of cash when traveling include:
- Better budgeting – spend what you can afford and avoid the dreaded post-trip credit card bill
- Tips, tips, tips – showing your appreciation is hard without cash in hand
- Avoid card fees – when traveling overseas, many card issuers will charge a foreign fee or currency exchange fee, hiking the cost of anything you buy
- Cash always works – enough said
While cash is great to have while traveling, there are real personal security implications too. Smart travelers have a plan to stash their cash and protect it and themselves from theft or loss. A few simple tips:
- Utilize the in-room safe – store the bulk of your cash here and only take what you need with you when you go out
- The ATM is your friend – you don’t have to bring an entire trip’s worth of cash with you in one big wad, you can use the local ATM to get cash in manageable chunks
- Spread your cash on your person and beyond – keep some cash in your wallet, sure, but keep some in a front pocket, a money belt, etc. Want to make it really hard for a thief to pick your pocket? Put some cash in your shoe, or use a messenger bag you can wear across your chest and stash some cash in it. You can also spread your cash among your party if traveling in a group.
- Use a water wallet at the beach – don’t leave your cash on land when you are splashing in the surf, get a water wallet to hold your cash and other valuables, and keep it on you no matter where you go
- Get some more tips on traveling safely with cash here, here and here
Whether taking a cruise or jetting out of town on a quick business trip, make sure to pack some cash when you go – you never know what you might find when you dock, land, or pull into town, but you always know cash will be there for you.
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