A Travelers Check Misery Story

Apr 2nd, 2008, 04:04 PM
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A Travelers Check Misery Story

Too bad the advice on this forum does not get published daily in local newspapers! Particularly the advice we give on not using travelers checks in Europe.

I volunteer at a local hospital and my supervisor told me about her nephew and a group of his fellow students who went on a group trip to Paris during spring break. Seems like the teacher who organized the trip demanded that ALL of the students take their money in the form of travelers checks! (I guess no parents knew any better either.)

Seems like the teacher's mother went to France in 1960 and told her that tcs were how it was done.

The group of about 10 students and 2 adults arrived at CDG on a Saturday and were de facto penniless!! I think the cambio at the airport got a fee of at least 10% to convert the checks to euro currency.

There is more to the story, of course, but I have omitted the details. However, my supervisor said they got the good word when the teacher-leader tried to buy Air France bus tickets with tcs.

Despite our best efforts, the belief dies very slowly that tcs are the best way to carry money.

I know I have a few tcs that have made 11 round trips to Europe! I carry them on all trips as a doomsday reserve. Only one of the original set was cashed in a "needed to" situation.

Of course there are those among us with graduate degrees who don't know the differences among credit cards, debit cards and ATM cards!! I was accused once of giving bad advice when I told a friend who is a Ph. D. psychologist to use his ATM card in Germany to obtain euro. Turned out that he used his credit card for EVERYTHING including spending money!!

He stuck his VISA credit card in the slot, and money came out. So, need more money? Simple. Go with what has been proven to work.

Oh well, we try.
bob_brown is offline  
Apr 2nd, 2008, 04:24 PM
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My parents insisted on sending me with TCs in 2001 when I spent the summer backpacking around Europe. I was so angry to see all my summer job money slipping away when I had to pay 10€ per TC to cash them in. The TCs were in €s, but I couldn't find any bank willing to change them for cash without the 10€ per TC fee. I went back for a longer backpacking trip in 2002 after graduation and insisted on an ATM card. The money and time saved over a long trip was quite measurable.
TexasAggie is offline  
Apr 2nd, 2008, 04:27 PM
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bob, you are so right. On our trip to the UK in 2004, we took our ATM card because I had read about it on Fodor's. However, I still was worried -- what if the machine ate our card, etc. So, we took about $1,000 cash as well as a couple of TC's.

After being turned down by just about every bank we approached to convert our US dollars into Pounds, we decided to try the ATM card. Eureka! It worked just as it does at home.

Now, of course, we always take our ATM card (after notifying the bank that we will be using it out of the US) and have never had a problem getting cash anywhere in Germany, Austria or Switzerland.
bettyk is offline  
Apr 2nd, 2008, 04:29 PM
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I have several hundred dollars in TC's that have traveled to Europe for years. Mine are AMEX so maybe they give a better rate?

In 2001 we were traveling with someone that had €TC's and no one wanted to cash them. They would cash regular TC's, but not the €'s.
kybourbon is offline  
Apr 2nd, 2008, 04:57 PM
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"Mine are AMEX so maybe they give a better rate?"

Short answer. Absolutely NO.
NeoPatrick is offline  
Apr 2nd, 2008, 05:36 PM
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I think you get a good rate if you actually go to an AMEX office in Europe (I used to do this 10 years ago when in places like London or Madrid) with your AMEX travelers checks.

I would never use travelers checks in this day and age.

Proenza_Preschooler is offline  
Apr 2nd, 2008, 08:48 PM
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Patrick - You don't think AmEx gives a better rate than a bank if you did need to use one?
kybourbon is offline  
Apr 2nd, 2008, 09:17 PM
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We leave in 3 days for Italy, where I hope to use my ATM cards to get Euros. I even got cards for a separate account - just in case I had trouble with the first cards. I also have 300E that I got at Amex. But - being a nervous wreck that we could end up stranded in Italy without enough Euros if my ATM cards were denied, I also have a small stash of American Express Travelers' Checks, in dollars, and a list of every AmEx office in the areas we are visiting. At least I know that there is a place where I can exchange the Trav. Checks for Euros without usurious fees. An added plus is that I was able to charge the Trav. Checks to my Am Ex account, and I can return them for their full value if I don't use them.
butnotrmpt is offline  
Apr 2nd, 2008, 09:17 PM
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AHA perfect example of how teachers do not all know how to lead these school field trips abroad,, as we have been reading in Missypies thread.

I don't understand how teachers feel qualified to lead these trips when many of them have so little experience themselves( and admit it) and I do not understand parents who send kids off with these people.
I take my own kids to Europe I don't think they would get " more" out a teacher led experience. Of course I have done my homework.

Anyone who goes on ANY travel forum should know that TC's are dead, so a TEACHER who is responsible for other peoples children should be MORE prepared, not less then the average tourist.
bozama is offline  
Apr 2nd, 2008, 10:28 PM
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The one and only ATM I had troubles with (besides those who were out of order altogether) was located in a gas station in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Most airports in Europe which I used in the past had ATMs already in the baggage claim area, or later in the arrivals hall. If there was one thing I did not waste one single thought on, it was on how to get cash with plastic.

Cowboy1968 is offline  
Apr 2nd, 2008, 10:35 PM
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As I posted in a thread I started last week, I go with ATMs and have had no problems, no hassles, and get a good exchange rate (last October in Honolulu, the USD I took out at an ATM in Ala Moana mall cost less in CAD!!!!!!) That's because, despite being in my second half-century of life, I am a total geek and love doing things the techno-way.

The boyfriend unit, on the other hand, is such a Luddite - he takes TCs (and a fair-sized chunk of the local cash) - worse, he doesn't take CAD TCs, but buys them in USD. That, folks, is one of the many reasons why I maintain a separate residence and lifestyle from his.
luna is offline  
Apr 2nd, 2008, 11:45 PM
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I bury my head in shame by asking this but:

Can I use my Swiss debit card in the States too? What's the cheapest way for a European to obtain dollars in the US?
kleeblatt is offline  
Apr 2nd, 2008, 11:57 PM
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of course you can use your Swiss debit card at ATM's in the USA...and that will be the cheapest way to get devalued US currency.
xyz123 is offline  
Apr 3rd, 2008, 12:33 AM
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While I am surprised that a bank in the U.K. was unwilling to exchange U.S. dollar bills, there are lots of alternatives. Most Post Offices, larger branches of Marks & Spencer's, travel agents, bureaux de change, and even some convenience stores will change money. Some mainly deal Brits travelling abroad, but the same Brist change money back when they return.

I have read that large denomination bills are not popular because of forgery problems, but you should have no problems with 10s and 20s.

Personally, I never travel without some of my home currency, to pay for drinks and meals, etc, on the way to the airport. It doesn't hurt to have a bit extra which you could exchange if necessary.
chartley is offline  
Apr 3rd, 2008, 05:08 AM
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So Chartley, what are you saying? That the students should have all carried US cash for the full amount of their spending needs while there because it would have been possible to exchange it somewhere -- albeit with as great or greater fees than cashing TC's? Or are you just saying they each could have had enough for a few items that were necessary? In that event, sooner or later they still would have needed to cash some travelers checks and the whole point of this post was how difficult and expensive that is to do. In either case, what does your comment have to do with the whole situation?
NeoPatrick is offline  
Apr 3rd, 2008, 05:51 AM
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I always take some TCs to Europe as backup (in USD) because I get them free from AAA. Obviously, it doesn't make sense financially to carry around TCs for 11 years, either, as you are giving Amex (or whoever) free money. So that's isn't a great fiscal choice, either. I never do that, I use them or put them in my bank account when I return, unless I plan another trip shortly, then I get new ones the next year or whatever.

It is odd a teacher planning a trip wouldn't find out more than advice from a mother from 20 years ago, however, it is a problem for students who may not have a bank account. The situation wasn't really as bad as cited, however, as there certainly are places to cash TCs in Paris, more than in a lot of European cities now, actually. And their rates aren't as bad as many other cities, either. Airports always charge a large commission, so nothing new about that, and it would have been the case many years ago, also. So what did the teacher expect, to cash them with no change in the exchange rate?

They were not de facto penniless at all, they could exchange them at the airport, just pay about a 10 pct commission. Only the teacher should have needed to cash any, anyway, if the teacher was responsible for the bus, the students could have waited to get into Paris where rates are a lot better. The adults surely had credit cards which they could have gotten cash on, if they truly were penniless, and since they didn't know anything, they probably wouldn't have even been aware of the large excess charges the CC companies charge for that (ignorance is bliss).

Frankly, if the teacher didn't know much about TCs or money, I find it amazing the teacher even knew the exchange rate at the airport and could figure out that it was about a 10 pct markup.
Christina is offline  
Apr 3rd, 2008, 05:53 AM
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The parents should have opened bank accounts for the kids and gotten them ATM cards.

That way the kids get money when necessary, and the parents' main bank accounts are protected from fraud.

ira is offline  
Apr 3rd, 2008, 06:25 AM
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Our credit union has a savings program for children. Then when they turn 13, they are eligible for a checking account and debit/ATM card. My kids do their own banking and know how to use their debit/ATM cards. The only thing I have to do is drive them to the bank. Oh, and I should probably show them how to write out their checks...

I think it's a good thing to learn, before they are on their own.
travelgirl2 is offline  
Apr 3rd, 2008, 06:31 AM
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I know this varies from the 'norm' but when my husband and I went to Europe for four months in 2006 we took both traveller's cheques (in pounds and euros) and two different ATM cards.

We had to pay for longer term self catering accommodation - they did not accept credit cards - and the traveller's cheques worked perfectly. We cashed them at Lloyd's Banks in England, where there was no additional charge, they were AMEX, and because we had joined a credit union before leaving, there was no cost to buy them (other than the exchange rate).

In Italy, we needed them twice and both times cashed the TC at AMEX offices in Venice and Florence. The offices were very easy to find and we were charged nothing.

That said, we used our ATM cards for all our spending money. Although we had increased our withdrawal limit with our bank before we left, banks in Europe have their own withdrawal limit so we sometimes had to withdraw two or three times a day, depending on what we needed the money for. At $5 a pop per transaction, that kind of added up over 4 months.

Whether we are dinosaurs or not, I would still, particularly for longer visits, travel with:
- some cash in local currency for the first few days;
- two different ATM cards in case there are problems (there were);
- some money in traveller's cheques depending on accommodation costs;
- a credit card for emergencies.
rickmav is offline  
Apr 3rd, 2008, 06:34 AM
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The first time I used an ATM in Europe was 1996. I had used TCs exclusively up to that point. Toward the end of the trip I noticed an ATM in Paris which displayed a network logo that my ATM card had. "Could I possibly use this here," I wondered. To my surprise it worked!

When I returned home I compared the exchange rate on my ATM transaction to what I got from the banks and I got a much better deal -- to say nothing of the time saved by not standing in bank lines. That was the last time I ever saw a travelers' check.
Edward2005 is offline  

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