When you’re traveling in Europe, it’s best to steer clear of using your American credit card, especially when you need to get cash. Those currency exchange offices? Avoid them too. They might seem convenient, but they often come with hidden fees and lousy exchange rates.

Embrace the Local Cash

Instead, plan on paying for most things with cash in the local currency. Whether you’re buying a croissant in Paris or a gelato in Rome, having a pocketful of euros will make your life much easier.

Make ATMs Your Best Friend

So where should you get that cash? Your trusty bank debit card is your ticket to the best exchange rates and lowest fees. When you use your debit card at an ATM, you’ll get that day’s exchange rate, which is usually much better than what you’d get at a currency exchange office or by using a credit card.

Plus, the fees charged by your bank for ATM withdrawals are typically lower than what credit card companies and exchange offices will hit you with.

Plan Ahead for Arrival

That said, it’s a good idea to have a little bit of local currency on hand when you first arrive in Europe. You never know when you might need to pay for a taxi, bus, or some other unexpected expense right off the bat.

Consider getting about 100 euros from your bank before you leave home. That way, you’ll have some cash to tide you over until you can find an ATM.

Budget Like a Boss

Once you’re on the ground, a good rule of thumb is to budget about 100 euros per person per day. That should cover your basic expenses like food, transportation, and entrance fees to museums and attractions.

Of course, your actual budget will depend on your travel style and the specific destinations you’re visiting. Countries like Switzerland and Denmark tend to be more expensive, while places like Portugal and Greece are generally more affordable.

Be Strategic with ATM Withdrawals

When it’s time to restock your cash supply, look for ATMs that are associated with reputable banks. Ideally, you want to use an ATM that’s physically part of a bank branch, rather than a standalone machine in a grocery store or tourist hotspot.

It’s also a good idea to avoid ATMs operated by third-party providers, as they often charge extra fees on top of what your bank charges.

To minimize those bank fees, try to withdraw enough cash to last you a few days or even a week at a time. Just be sure to store that extra cash safely. Consider splitting it up and stashing it in different pieces of luggage, or divvying it up among family members so you’re not carrying it all in one place.

Give Your Bank a Heads Up

Before you jet off to Europe, be sure to notify your bank and credit card company about your travel plans. If you don’t, they might flag your overseas transactions as suspicious and put a hold on your account. That’s the last thing you want to deal with when you’re trying to enjoy your vacation.

While you’re at it, ask about any fees you might incur for using your debit or credit card abroad. Some banks charge foreign transaction fees, which can add up quickly if you’re not careful.

Have a Backup Plan

It’s always a good idea to have more than one way to access your money while you’re traveling. Along With your primary debit card, consider bringing a backup card from a different bank, just in case.

You might also want to have a small stash of emergency cash hidden away somewhere, like in a money belt or a hotel safe. That way, if your wallet gets lost or stolen, you won’t be completely out of luck.

Don’t Forget About Coins

One thing that often trips up American travelers in Europe is the prevalence of coins. In the U.S., we’re used to coins being more or less worthless. But in Europe, coins are used for much higher denominations.

For example, one and two euro coins are common, as are 50 cent pieces. In some countries, like Switzerland, even five franc coins are widely used.

The point is, don’t be too quick to disregard your change. Those coins can add up quickly, and you don’t want to be stuck with a pocketful of them at the end of your trip.

Know When to Splurge

While it’s important to be mindful of your budget, don’t be so frugal that you miss out on once-in-a-lifetime experiences. If there’s a particular restaurant you’ve been dying to try or a special tour that’s a bit out of your price range, consider splurging.

After all, you’ve likely saved up for this trip and you deserve to enjoy it to the fullest. Just be sure to balance those splurges with some more budget-friendly activities so you don’t blow through all your cash too quickly.

Get Creative with Accommodations

Lodging is often one of the biggest expenses when traveling in Europe. To stretch your budget further, consider staying in hostels, vacation rentals, or even camping if you’re feeling adventurous.

If you do opt for hotels, look for ones that include breakfast in the room rate. That can save you a significant amount of money over the course of your trip, especially if you’re traveling with a family.

Take Advantage of Free Activities

Europe is full of incredible cultural experiences that won’t cost you a dime. Many cities offer free walking tours, where you simply tip your guide at the end based on how much you enjoyed the tour.

Museums often have free days or discounted hours, and some are always free to enter. For example, in London, museums like the British Museum, the National Gallery, and the Tate Modern are all completely free to visit.

And of course, simply wandering through charming neighborhoods, picnicking in parks, and people-watching at local cafes are all wonderful ways to soak up the atmosphere of a European city without spending a lot of money.

Don’t Be Afraid to Haggle

In some parts of Europe, particularly in markets and with street vendors, haggling over prices is expected. If you’re buying souvenirs or gifts, don’t be shy about trying to negotiate a better deal.

Start by asking for a price, then counter with a lower offer. Be polite but firm, and be willing to walk away if you can’t agree on a price that seems fair to you.

Of course, haggling isn’t appropriate everywhere. In most shops and restaurants, the prices are fixed and trying to negotiate would be considered rude.

Keep an Eye on Exchange Rates

Exchange rates can fluctuate significantly from day to day, so it’s a good idea to keep an eye on them throughout your trip. There are plenty of apps and websites that can help you do this, like XE Currency or Google Finance.

If you notice that the exchange rate is particularly favorable one day, that might be a good time to withdraw a larger sum of cash or make a bigger purchase that you’ve been considering.

Consider a Money Belt

Pickpocketing is unfortunately a reality in many European cities, particularly in crowded tourist areas. To keep your cash and other valuables safe, consider wearing a money belt underneath your clothing.

These slim, inconspicuous pouches can hold your passport, credit cards, and a small amount of cash, keeping them hidden away from potential thieves.

Don’t Stress Too Much

At the end of the day, the most important thing is to not let money worries ruin your vacation. Yes, it’s important to be mindful of your spending and to have a budget in mind. But don’t be so frugal that you miss out on amazing experiences or end up feeling stressed and anxious all the time.

Remember, you’ve likely been planning and saving for this trip for a long time. You deserve to enjoy it to the fullest. So go ahead and indulge in that delicious pastry, take that once-in-a-lifetime excursion, and create memories that will last a lifetime.

With a little bit of planning and some smart money management strategies, you can have an incredible time exploring all that Europe has to offer without breaking the bank. Bon voyage!

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