I am a bit carefree with my money when I travel, especially now. When I travel for vacation, it’s like a major once a year thing and for the most part I don’t care how much it costs. I mean, of course I like a deal, but I am not going to go out of my way to save like $20 in the grand scheme of things. My ATM card charges a fee. My credit card charges a fee. I don’t travel enough anymore to make switching these things cheaper at this time. Maybe I will in the future. But for now, I am fine with where I am at.
Since I had never been to South America before and I had heard horror stories about cards getting eaten by machines, for the first time in my travels, I bought money before I left. Unlike the banks in New Zealand where I could order money online and then pick it up a few days later (just one of the millions of reasons why American banks SUCK!!!) I had to go in person to order money. And then they called me when my money was available to pick up. I hate waiting in line at the bank and I had to do it TWICE!!! Agh. I requested approximately US$100 in mixed bills and got a call 2 days later that my money was ready. I was prepared and requested it about a month ahead of time, just in case as Peruvian soles aren’t the most popular of currencies. The teller at the bank told me that some people request like 100’s of pounds or euros and need them like in an hour. Man, I am such a planner. Anyway, the exchange rate I got was pretty bad (about s/2.60=US$1, when it was about s/2.70=US$1 in country) but for the most part I don’t regret it. I had money on arrival and I learned my lesson!
The biggest thing I probably would have changed is requesting all small bills. Things are dirt cheap in Peru and while I always used my bigger bills in more popular locations, I worried about using big bills in places that change might not have been available. Thankfully, I never got into that situation, but I was always aware of what bills I had and what I was using at each location.
I wanted to pay cash in as much as possible so I ended up hitting the ATM a lot. In most places you have a choice between taking out soles or USD. My biggest recommendation to anyone anywhere when traveling is always take out the max amount. In Peru it was US$100 or s/300. I used Chase in the US and my charges were s/10.00 (less than US$3.00) and US$5.00 for each transaction as well as a 1% fee when taking out soles. I noticed when I got home when I took out USD that I didn’t get charged the 1%! I actually took out USD’s most of the time as I had to pay for my Lake Titicaca trip in cash on arrival, so there was a bit of savings there. The reason I didn’t bring the cash into the country with me on arrival was for safety. I didn’t want to be carrying around like US$500 with me everywhere so while I probably ended up spending close to US$40 on fees, I just take that as a life lesson and factor it into my vacation budget.
Change places are everywhere. I had a pile of US cash on hand near the end of my trip and I didn’t want to waste more money at the ATM, so I would go into random store fronts and change a US$20. Of course, I was always a bit worried about counterfeit money, which is why I always changed a very small amount at a time (plus, US$20 will get you pretty far in Peru) but I never had an issue. Plus I got a decent exchange rate.
I had read about money changers on the streets of Lima in my guide-book and while I told myself I would never use them because they look shady, I ended up using one on my last day. They stand on major tourist street corners with piles of money in their hands and wear these bright yellow jackets (sort of like construction workers) and wear huge official medallions. They made eye contact with me all the time because I screamed “tourist” from my look (whatevs) but for the most part I waved them off. But when I did need one, I just gave them US$20 and then handed back a decent exchange of money. I never counted it but it seemed fine and the money was not counterfeit. Hell, it was only a US$20 and it was my last day. Plus, I get to write about my positive experience! I would never use one at night (I don’t think they even legally change money at night) but during the day, they are super helpful.
Moral: This was the first time in a while I traveled without having a bank account in the country I was travelling in. Yes, I know I could save money here and there and whatever, but this works for me right now with my lifestyle. I am really anal about my purse and keeping an eye and hand on my stuff and never traveled with a lot of money and didn’t worry too much about pickpocketing. I was just always alert and aware of my surroundings. I don’t know what I would do differently. This works for me. Everyone is different when it comes to money so I try not to give too much advice but just tell you what I do in certain situations.