Do your homework now to stretch travel dollars
By LISA SCHWARZ
The beleaguered dollar is in a record-setting weak spell against the euro, which makes it an expensive time to be addicted to travel.
If you're determined to not kick the habit, here are some strategies for dealing with the anemic dollar, short of giving up your hopes of a trip.
Choose your destination wisely: There are three ways to play this one: Pick a place such as Morocco or China where dollars are still relatively valuable; choose a destination that's close to home (Mexico, Canada, the Caribbean) to minimize transportation costs; or explore a corner of the U.S. you haven't seen before.
Manage your money: Don't use currency exchange kiosks. ATMs almost always offer the interbank exchange rate, which is much better than the rate you'll get at the kiosks. Take out enough cash from the ATM to last you for one day or a few -- whatever you're comfortable carrying -- to minimize ATM fees. If you must use a currency exchange kiosk, avoid the ones in airports and train stations and around major tourist attractions. Even when they claim to have a favorable exchange rate, they make up for it with high commissions. If you're traveling on credit, find out before you go which of your cards has the lowest fee for foreign transactions.
Stick with the greenbacks: Your hotel, rental car, plane and train tickets are your most expensive vacation buys. Ask whether you can pay for them in U.S. currency before you go. If that's possible, get a quote in dollars, then run the price through a currency converter like XE.com before committing to see whether it gets you a better deal than buying in the local currency.
Don't let them make you pay in dollars: Counter-intuitive, but important. A practice called dynamic currency conversion seems like a good idea. You're checking out of a foreign hotel or buying a pricey souvenir and the clerk asks (or, often, doesn't) if you'd like the charge calculated in dollars. Saying yes means you will very likely be socked with an unreasonably high exchange rate. On big purchases like several nights worth of hotel charges, that's a punch in the wallet.
Don't spend it all: If you happen to be traveling when the rates are favorable, don't go on a last-day buying spree to "get rid" of your foreign currency before you come home. Save those cheap pounds, euro or yen as seed money for your next trip. If you're sure you'll never return, give or sell it to a traveling friend, relative or student.