A reader wrote in yesterday to ask what currencies she should bring along on her Danube river cruise. It is the reader’s first river cruise, and she wants to ensure she has enough cash on-hand to pay for any incidentals for the first few days of the journey.
The question was: Should she get Euros before leaving the United States, wait to withdraw them from overseas, or would US currency be acceptable?
When travelling in Europe, offering US dollars as payment is never a good idea, unless the shop specifically states it takes US dollars, though typically this is more prevalent on itineraries that travel through Russia. Offering up another country’s currency as payment is often seen as insulting to local people and businesses, and isn’t treated the same way as, say, a transaction in Mexico or Canada, where the Dollar is more commonly accepted.
For incidentals like tips, it’s always good to have some cash on-hand. It may, however, be more advantageous to withdraw some Euros from an ATM overseas. Exchange rates tend to be lower, though your banking provider may hit you with a one-time service fee.
What I like to do is withdraw some Euros from an ATM at the airport once I’ve touched down. If I am going to be travelling to countries where multiple currencies will be used (Hungary or the Czech Republic, for example), I will typically visit a Currency Bureau before my trip and gather up a small amount of banknotes for each country.
On a typical Budapest to Nuremberg journey along the Danube, I might take 10,000 Hungarian Forint (about US$44) and €200 (about US$257) for the rest of the journey, which I can either use to pay off any onboard expenses or buy lunches or souvenirs ashore. Of course, these amounts will fluctuate depending on your own spending habits.
River Cruise Advisor’s Ralph Grizzle prefers to pay with credit cards that have no “currency conversion fees.” There are a number of these cards on the market from American Express, Visa and Mastercard, and exchange rates are favorable, plus Ralph prefers credit cards because he can accumulate loyalty rewards (typically one point per dollar charged) that can be used for future travel. There’s also added protection in using a credit card should a souvenir break or get stolen (some American Express cards offer protection against theft and breakage, as well as doubling the manufacturer’s warranty on some items, though typically this is for items purchased in the U.S.).
Remember to tell your credit card company you’ll be travelling; holds and account freezes following large purchases overseas can be a nightmare to clear up.
The one thing that isn’t wise to do is to keep changing money from one currency to another at exchange bureaus. Rates are typically not in your favor, and shuttling currencies back and forth will cause you to lose a significant amount of cash in the transfer. I will only change currencies at such a place if, say, I ended up missing a connection flight at Heathrow and need UK pounds, or unexpectedly find myself in need of some emergency cash.
The bottom line: Whether you get the currency you’ll need here or once you land, having some local cash on-hand is always a good idea.