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70 year old female traveling solo concerns re ATM's for cash

Hello all,
I don't travel very much and am a bit apprehensive about solo travel and using ATM's for cash. I'll be in Italy, Florence, Arezerro and Naples. I feel like I'll be a sitting duck for pick pockets. I never use ATM's here in States. Am I being overly concerned? On my one and only last trip I exchanged money at my home airport bank, and that worked well for me, but at a high price. Any comments are welcome! Would like to hear from solo women travelers. Can I walk into a bank and use my card to get a cash advance?

Posted by
2351 posts

No, you can't walk into a bank to get cash unless you have an account at that bank. Your North American bank is unlikely to have a branch in Italy so this isn't a viable plan. Just use the ATM. Everyone does, it won't make you a sitting duck if you are reasonably mindful.

Best option is to find an ATM inside the doors of a bank, accessible during bank hours. This is common, and since you are inside a bank with security you are at less of a risk. Put your cash away before you leave the lobby.

In "regular" ATMs (outside, not in the bank), just use it during daylight when there are plenty of people around, but no one hovering right near the ATM itself. If it feels deserted or iffy don't use it. Italy has so many ATMs that you can wait for one in a batter location. If you are really concerned, use the ATM then immediately go into a store or cafe or church - anyone who saw you use the ATM will not follow you or still be around when you exit.

Posted by
120 posts

Good advice above. I just returned from Italy, and many of the banks have a glassed in room where you can access the ATM. In one instance, I had to insert my bank card into a device on the door to even enter.

Use ATMs in broad daylight. They will give you an English option, and it's quick. I didn't feel unsafe when using them.

Posted by
3101 posts

People advise to use or avoid airport ATMs, but I think it depends on whether the ATM is part of an actual bank system or another service. I do often use the airport ATM for my first cash withdrawl. I feel this is much less conspicuous than on the street. Alternatively, as recommended....an inside the bank ATM during daylight hours.
I am a regular independent traveler, but I know a lot of women are more cautious or nervous. I think that peace of mind is worth a bit more money. I know we don't want to waste it, but maybe it is worth it to you to do exchanges at home, or perhaps buy the bulk of your cash from your home bank. You most likely will get a better rate of exchange than from the airport exchange office, at least. If you aren't prepared to take out a lot of cash from a foreign ATM, then you may spend a lot more on multiple small withdrawls - ATM fees from home and local bank, and foreign transaction fees. Personally, I take out what I think I will spend all at one time. Put it into your wallet, into your purse and then find a change room or toilet to move the bulk of it to your money belt under your clothes. Depending where I am, I either put it in the room safe or hidden in my locked suitcase. Since I tend to rent apartments, I do the latter. My travel habit is to lock away anything of value regardless of my rooming method.
Keep in mind, however, than much of our travel spending can be, and is done, by credit card. Therefore your withdrawl may not need to be so much as to keep you in nerves all your trip.
If you trust your home bank to be travel knowledgeable, and since I sense you are a regular, perhaps they can provide some advice. Alternatively, consider higher exchange rates to be part of travel expenses, accept them and be confident in your decision.

Posted by
537 posts

When always get cash from ATMs in Europe but I'm careful. I have my husband with his back to me watching anyone near us. You can probably get a fellow traveled to do than same for you.

If you really don't want to use an ATM you can likely get euros from your bank or credit union. Ours doesnt have them on hand but can order then I have to pay extra for the cost and it takes several days. Not sure how it compares cost-wise to airport exchanges. Both are expensive choices.

Use your credit card for everything you can. We only use cash for small purchases like postcards, some food purchases, toilets, etc. Read the advise here on the website under Travel Tips "Money".

Re pick pockets, again go to the Travel Tips here under "Thefts and Scams" and read everything. Buy and use a money belt or purse with anti theft features like those from Pacsaf or Travelon.

Posted by
1570 posts

Hi erob,

Do you own a good and strong cross body bag to put your money in until you can sort it out? - Back at your hotel?

If you go into a restroom, just make sure of surroundings. Of course you will be in a stall. Don't rush where you may be more apt to drop money.

I don't know your accoms. Maybe it may be better to get a large sum out every few days, put it immediately into your purse, and return to your hotel to sort it out. Perhaps get and use little white "bank" envelopes, separate euros, mark envelopes, put them in a cosmetic case and secure safely in your room - either in room safe or deep in luggage - put that bag in closet if possible.

Are you familiar with or are you comfortable with a money belt? That's of course for your deep storage of extra money, an extra credit card, and your PP if you choose to carry it.

Some use credit cards for most things - a card with no foreign transaction fees would be good.

You would be charged the exchange rate of the day. Same with withdrawals from Bancomat - ATM. With ATM's, keep in mind the additional fee for withdrawal -most likely from your bank.

Also keep in mind the daily exchange rate when taking out money. You want to make sure that your daily limit will cover your withdrawals. Some banks will increase the daily limit if you tell them that you are traveling abroad.

Italy is a cash-based country for a lot of things.

I walked around solo in Rome with no issues. Still with that said, practice big-city awareness and keep track of your valuables at all times. Don't carry in your purse more than you can afford to lose IF your bag is taken.

With a crossbody bag, you will never have to hang it on the back of a chair, set it on a table or a place it on the floor.

Posted by
4706 posts

If you have never used ATMs in the U.S., it would be advisable to practice a few times before you travel. My bank, Bank of America, has advised in the past that a "new" ATM card should be used in the U.S. before it is taken abroad!

Would you describe yourself as tech-savvy? This is an investment in flexibility and resources, not knuckling under to modernity. If you stay at full-sized hotels and eat in large restaurants, you may be able to use your credit card instead of cash. But you'll be surprised when they bring the credit card terminal to your seat at the table. But it's true that many of the best travel experiences are so "local" that they don't take involve credit cards.

You did not say that you have credit cards that you use at home. Do you? When you wrote, "at a high price", do you feel bad about that? If not, why not do what makes you comfortable for the next trip? It does mean that you have all your cash at the beginning of the trip. Do you go to big cities in the U.S.? We have pickpockets too, and much more street crime than most European cities.

Posted by
2995 posts

First of all, you can do this! If solo travel is new to you, I understand the apprehension. However, Solo travel is possible and you will do great.

I agree with practicing using ATM’s prior to your trip. On your trip, choose ATMs that are next to or inside a bank during open hours in case you have an issue. Be sure to notify your bank you will be traveling prior to your trip.

Finally, you can reduce the amount of cash you need by charging most things.

This is your vacation. If waiting until you get to Europe to get cash still clauses you distress and anguish, then get some cash before you go. Maybe it costs more, but what is the cost of worry on your trip?

Posted by
20726 posts

The idea of pickpockets hanging around an ATM terminal is over worked. I have used probably a hundred or more ATMs through out Europe with no problems and never seen anyone hanging out around an ATM terminal. Possible ??? Sure but if I thought I saw someone I would move onto the next terminal. Remember ATMs are primarily used by Europeans and are not there just for the convenience of American tourists.

I use reasonable precautions. For example -- I will remove my debit card from my billfold (or your purse) prior to the ATM and carry it loose in my pocket so that I am not fumbling with a billfold, etc., getting my card out while standing front of the terminal. I simply step up, insert the card, grab the money (don't bother to count it), stuff it and the card into a pocket and move on to a more secure location to properly store the money and card. I prefer to use an ATM inside the bank entrance. It is fairly common to have a multi terminals inside a small lobby often protected by a locked exterior door. Even if using an ATM attached to a bank outside, I prefer and will wait to use a terminal that I have seen someone else use successfully. If it works for them it should work for me. I would avoid any stand-alone terminal in a market, airport, etc.

Please use you local ATM a couple of times prior to your trip just to be knowledgeable about how a terminal works. They all work about the same with the exception that European ATMs will have a language option at the very beginning. Also have a password with numbers only. The European key pads do not have alpha letters on the keys. Using a bank owned ATM with your debit card is the cheapest and most convenient way to obtain local currency.

Posted by
7791 posts

I concur with practicing with ATMs here at home before you travel!

I travel solo and when I make withdrawal I usually do it in the AM near my hotel, then head back and stash it in my money belt along with the Debit Card.

If I am in an unfamiliar area I'll walk by to scope out the ATM, then sometimes I'll wait for others to use it. Before I was comfortable at my regular ATM in Paris I would pick out an older couple or older woman who appeared to be tourists and ask if they would wait with me for 5 minutes while I made my withdrawal. No one has ever turned me down!

When I was first traveling I would start with a couple hundred "whatevers" from my regular bank so I had cash for a couple of days and didn't have to go until I was over jet lag. Now I just bring home seed money for my last trip.

Have a wonderful time!

Posted by
104 posts

Thank you everyone for your wonderful replies!! Such wonderful people on RS's and so very helpful! I plan to use my credit card as much as possible, (taking at least 2, will notify them of the trip) and I think I will get the all of my cash before I leave home Separating it is a good idea. I can budget better that way. I wanted to have a back-up plan in case I run short of cash, just for emergencies, and so want to have access to an ATM. Great idea to use ATM's inside bank doors. I would feel much safer inside a bank , and wonderful tips on how to stay safe when getting the money and putting it away. I use a money belt and a hidden wallet under my arm, next to my skin. Two of my hotels are full service, if it looks safe I will store some money in the safe. I will practice using a walk up ATM at my bank before I go, which is a good suggestion. I used ATM's many years ago before the advent of ATM fees. My bank doesn't do money exchange. My home airport has an exchange service. That's a good point that the ATM fees - which I resent and that's why I don't use them- may out-weigh the exchange and fee cost of getting cash from the back ahead of time.
You all have anticipated and answered all the questions I could possibly think of .
Thank YOU RS TEAM!

Posted by
104 posts

Also a good idea to ask people to stand by while you get the money. again thank you so much for the help!

Posted by
1570 posts

Erob,

A couple of additional thoughts - not sure if you are aware or it has been mentioned already -

Get familiar with the different Euro denominations - the smallest is 5.

There are one and two Euro coins - similar but still distinct on the edging. Those coins will be used and given a lot.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Euro_banknotes

From a Bancomat, you may receive higher denoms - maybe more 20's and 50's than usual. A twenty can be easy to exchange when buying lunch or dinner.

A 50 note may be a bit trickier - because you are solo and won't have a partner to split, say, as in a dinner) to exchange; unless you buy some souvenirs and then have the smaller change. Take the time to count your change. Sometimes, a mistake can happen - even in the States.

Most Mom and Pop corner markets prefer cash - or that was my experience as of last year.

Also, typically there is no tipping for services in Italy compared to what we do in the States. If you are inclined, round up a Euro on the bill if you really liked your waitstaff.

In honesty, my first trip, I used a money belt. My second trip, I used a Hedgren cross body - about? 6"x8" - it held my PP, an extra credit card, extra euro, hotel business card, etc. The game changer though was that my trips to Rome were in December, so easier to conceal that under my coat. (Just thought I'd share my ideas.)

I did take a Kipling cross body purse tote to cart around my "dailies." It is about 14" or so - lightweight, pliable and small enough that I never had to check it where bags had to be checked if too big. I had my flat, Euro style wallet to hold the bills and a little coin purse for the change. I had my water bottle and some other day stuff.

I believe organization is key - it can help cut down stress when out and about. Put the stuff back into the same spots so there is no fumbling or confusion.

*tweaked for a typo

Posted by
11732 posts

My home airport has an exchange service.

Just a mention that airport exchange services are notorious for having terrible exchange rates. Even with a modest fee, you'd probably do better at an ATM.

Posted by
2506 posts

You have received good advice from the female solo travelers posting. I, too, am often a solo female traveler, in my 60's. Credit cards are so much more encouraged these days by many countries and with no transaction fees, I find I need less and less cash with me. I feel more secure just using a credit card (with another or two for back up). However, I haven't been to Italy in the last few years so others will need to say how successful the card users are there. Some people just insist on using cash, which is fine, but I'd rather save mine in case of an emergency.

If you don't use your ATM card at home, you might find your bank has cancelled yours. So do take others' advice and make sure it is working at home a few weeks in advance of your trip so you have time for them to send you a new card should they have cancelled it. I've learned to use mine for 10.00 dollars here and there just to keep it active.

This being said, I always start out with the local money from home, $200.00-300.00. My local AAA office seems reasonable. I guess AAA rates vary per region, but worth it regardless, IMO. (People will argue against this, but to me it is worth another few dollars for the security of already having it and taking my time picking my ATM.) It also lets me become familiar with the different bills, particularly if they are not Euros or Pounds. Lately, I've found with this amount of pre-trip money, I'm spending it during the last days of my trip because I haven't needed it. (Or in the case of Sweden, I spent little of it and paid cash to the airport for my trip home to get rid of it.) More important, by bringing cash with me, I have a few days to choose my ATM. I've never found one inside a bank...might be my lack of observation, but whatever. What I do is ask at the reception desk of my hotel where I can find a safe, reliable ATM. I've never been scoffed at, but rather they will send me to a specific ATM saying it is secure and very busy. I'll stuff my card and money into my pocket or purse and go back to the hotel to organize.

I've only been in Naples for a limited time and I can't wait to go back for a few days. However, if Naples is at the end of your trip, I would have money before arriving there, but there are solo women travelers who have been there and needed money who will hopefully chirp in here. Otherwise, IM Chani as it seems to me she's spent time in Naples. I think it is mainly having a system and keeping money/financial separated. In all my trips through the years, money belt or not, I have never had a pickpocket problem. Look confident whether you feel it or not. And ask your hotel for recommendations.

You'll have a great trip. Traveling solo is great fun and you meet many people throughout the day. I've never felt a threat from pickpockets and never had an issue, but keep the items you are not using each day in a harder to reach spot than your daily cash or daily credit card...no worries, really. Pick pockets are rather overblown on this site unless you tend to leave your purse not attached to you in a restaurant, open, or walk away from it; ie, in a shopping cart in a grocery store (drives me nuts). Common sense works wonders. LOL. Have a wonderful trip and if you get momentarily nervous, just take a deep breath, compose, and move on.

Posted by
104 posts

Kathy, Would taking out the small amount allowed from an ATM several times be cheaper than getting all or most of my money at an airport bank? BTW, I searched banks close by, and the only banks I've been able to find which offer money exchanges which are Real Banks, (not commercial money exchanges,) are at the airports in my area of Cincinnati and Louisville, KY. If anyone knows of any other please let me know.

Posted by
1570 posts

Take a bit if this and that on suggestions/ideas and make it your own. You will be fine, I am sure. It will come together.

Follow Italy's mantra - "Don't worry" :)

Posted by
1570 posts

Erob, making withdrawals in Italy on a daily basis or every two days will be more expensive for the reason that you may/will be charged fees from your own home bank. Not sure if some Italian Bancomats charge a withdrawal fee.

As I mentioned in one of my posts above, keep in mind the daily exchange rate and withdrawal fees - unless you have a bank that waives them.

People have mentioned credit unions that waive fees and have no FTF (foreign transaction fees.)

Airport banks may charge a higher exchange rate. Do not use money exchange kiosks at airports - you will pay a premium.

I think someone mentioned AAA? A little high, but for your peace of mind, it may be worth it to buy about 250€.

I don't know if someone mentioned it above - Notify your home banks about your travel abroad.

Some banks like Cap One, Chase and Citi say you don't have to notify. I always do.

And, make sure you advise what countries you are traveling to and from - what I mean is, say, your layover is at Heathrow. You want to buy a little something. Your card could be declined because you only put Italy as an advisory - so it can be "understood" someone swiped your card and used it without your knowledge. I believe in sensible precautions.

Posted by
7791 posts

BTW, you get bonus points if the folks you ask to watch your back at an ATM are carrying a blue and yellow guidebook, hahahaa!

I'll add that my credit union does not do foreign exchange so when I was needing to get currency before I traveled I opened a small "travel account" at another bank that did have FX capabilities. Now that I can just keep a constant stream I've closed that account. They also changed the charges on their ATM boosting it to 3% AND a $5 transaction charge every flipping time. But, it served it's purpose when I needed it.

You might also check your local AAA. They may have currency exchange. The one nearest me has a terrible exchange rate as they sell you premade packets of money and charge a premium for it.

I'd not think it would be an advantage to take out small amounts frequently. I'd go for 300E each time and I have no idea why I like that amount. I start with 200 whatevers.

Posted by
1570 posts

Oh erob, I guess I missed your reply to us at 10:09 AM So good! You have a planned action. I think you will be fine.

It is always the "unknown" that makes us worry, but Italy, especially Rome, have very friendly people - locals and even travelers alike. I made a few friends over my trips.

I have not been to Florence yet, but surely it holds the same.

Naples has a "little reputation" - just be extra careful about securing your valuables.

Posted by
2109 posts

I'm a solo traveler and always bring some cash with me, my bank orders it and I like being able to start my trip without worrying about finding an ATM that suits my particular comfort zone: part of a bank so I can use it during open hours in case of a problem, and not on the street--I like the ones with private lobbies. I place my cash at the bottom of my purse until I can get to a restroom to redistribute. I use less cash now and prefer my credit card with no foreign transaction fees, but there are times when cash is preferred, especially when I go to flea markets.

Posted by
3101 posts

Have you asked your personal bank if you can buy Euros through them? 'Buy', not 'exchange'.

Posted by
104 posts

My bank- a credit union- won't do it? What is the difference between buying and exchanging?

Posted by
104 posts

Haha Troy! I'll carry around that little book like a Badge Of Courage!

Posted by
104 posts

Pam thank you for the suggestions. I phoned AAA Travel Agent and am waiting to hear back. I assume that's what you meant- not the insurance end... Small amounts of cash, I meant the max I could take 300, ay amn atm as opposed to getting a few thousand dollars exchanged at a bank all at the same interaction.

Posted by
3101 posts

Buy vs Exchange. Sure it is essentially the same thing, but asking to buy Euros typically directs you to a bank or ATM (so lower rates) whereas asking to exchange will send you to a bureau at higher rates.
If what you use is a credit union with no foreign currency options, then I guess your option is to exchange at the home airport, or withdraw from ATM in Italy. As mentioned, you will pay more bank service fees if you make multiple small withdrawls.
Ultimately, don't stretch your comfort to save a few dollars.

Posted by
104 posts

OMG you all are wonderful! Encouraging, enlightening, funny.
So from what you all have said, and given my available resources here in the hinterland of Indiana this is my plan:
Get Euros from the bank at the airport or AAA a few days/weeks before departure to get used to the money. Get as much money as I think I will need, then 25% more.

Separate the money per location, Florence, Arezero, Naples.

Use charge cards whenever possible.

Learn how to use an ATM, get pins for all the charge cards.

Notify cards of departure and countries.

Use ATMs as a back up for cash

Find friendly looking women/couples who carry Blue and Yellow Books to stand by while I get Cash from an hotel approved ATM or inside the doors of a bank.

Use common sense and have fun.

Thank you all so VERY VERY much!

Posted by
2506 posts

As Pam indicated, you need to check out AAA at the location closest to you to see how much it will cost you, as they seem to vary greatly. My AAA does not charge a fee, because I am a member. They do not give you pre-made packets, but rather they order the amount of money you want just like a bank would do, so you do need to go back and pick it up. Granted they deal with Wells Fargo, which I despise, but you can't have everything. Over the published exchange rate my exchange has varied between $.00 to .05 cost per dollar. So my cost for $200.00 has varied costing me at most, so far, $10.00. This for the peace of mind and ease of not having to hurry to find an ATM during my first days, or lately, any days of my trip. I will pay for convenience happily. The added benefit for me is that it is less than a mile down the road... :) So do do your own research on costs for any recommendation. The information could have changed, be exaggerated, or not apply to your specific area.

Posted by
3101 posts

My one concern is what are you going to do with the 'estimated money needed +25%' if you don't use it? Unless you know you will be returning to a Euro country in the near future. If you come home with say 50% of what you took, then you will have to exchange it back to US$ at a high rate of exchange (from the exchange bureau at your airport). Now, if we are only talking about $125 vs $100 well, okay. You can spend the last Euros at the airport, or if you haven't settled your hotel bill on the last day, add the Euros to the payment and put the remainder on your credit card. Just have a plan to spend it while in Italy.

Posted by
1001 posts

I'm going to add that I use a Travelon cross-body bag for daily use. It has a little led flashlight on a ribbon which I remove and use the connection to secure my wallet (which has a little decorative ring on it.) I also keep the zippers locked to make me less of an obvious easy target. I won't leave home without it!
I also use this bag at home most of the time and so I'm familiar with the various compartments and where I have put things.
(Ebags is having a sale right now in case you want to check them out.)
I've only once walked away from an ATM because it felt unsafe -- and it wasn't in Italy but in Amsterdam!
Have a wonderful time!

Posted by
44 posts

Lots of good advice here! I've been trying to weigh different options for how to handle our cash needs for our upcoming October trip to Sicily and Naples/Rome. Usually we got the ATM route, starting at the airport or close to our hotel/apartment upon arrival. And then we try to use a credit card for most things, so we can conserve our cash for those instances when only cash will do.

For our October trip, I've booked several private tours, directly with tour guides, and most require payment in cash on that day. So we'll have to keep some kind of tally to make sure we have enough when we need it (though I am sure a guide would be happy to swing us by an ATM to get their fee!). The benefit of traveling as a couple is that we can each withdraw money and avoid bumping up against a daily/weekly limit. In the past, before ATM's were so ubiquitous in Europe, we ordered Euros in advance through AAA. Not just a starter pack, but enough to waive the shipping fees.

Any leftover Euros at the end of a trip go into the kitty for next time....I think we have about a 60 euro head start.

I like the idea of using a payment or transfer app, like Venmo. There's another one that one of our guides mentioned, TransferWise, that I may check out. And there's always PayPal.

Posted by
20726 posts

I think you are beginning to get conflicting advice because some of us use different travel pattern --- My comments on your plan --

Get Euros from the bank at the airport or AAA a few days/weeks before departure to get used to the money. Get as much money as I think I will need, then 25% more.

If I understand correctly -- bad idea. Get a hundred to a hundred and fifty euro from your local bank or AAA. We never take more than a hundred. You buy it from your bank and with fees may cost $125 for 100 euro. You really do not need more than that to get started. In a day or two hit a local ATM and withdraw maybe 200 euro with your debit card. Then periodically withdraw cash as needed. You may find that with a credit card usage you might not need a lot of extra cash but only you can control that.

Separate the money per location, Florence, Arezero, Naples. Not sure what that gains. The money is the same in all locations.

Use charge cards whenever possible. Sure but you will find min purchases requirements. Could be 10 euro. So you always need a cash option. And sometimes, especially at hotels, you may get a discount of 5 to 10% for using cash. Always ask.

Learn how to use an ATM, get pins for all the charge cards. Good idea. Cash advance on a credit card is expensive BUT it does serve as a good background in care there is a problem with the debit card. We always carry two debit card tied to two different accounts. In our many years of travel we have never (knock on wood -- whatever that means) had a problem with our primary debt card.

Notify cards of departure and countries. Call the security or fraud departments.

Use ATMs as a back up for cash NO -- you use your debit card/ATM for your primary cash needs.

Cash from an hotel approved ATM or inside the doors of a bank. Have no idea what a hotel approved ATM looks like. Banks are everywhere. You will have no problem finding ATMs.

Use common sense and have fun. Of course, the whole purpose in going.

Keep it simply. Do not make it complicate or over think everything. European functions much like the US.

Posted by
2351 posts

Personally I would feel VERY uncomfortable carrying my full budget in cash at once. That’s just asking for trouble if you loose your purse or get pickpocketed. Loosing the $100 in your purse one day is bad but probably manageable. Loosing the purse with over $1000 is a whole different ball game. At least for me.

Just use the ATM. Get a few hundred each time, whenever you need. No worrying about getting too much or too little (beyond normal budget concerns).

Do use your credit cards where possible if you find it easier or get card rewards. I do, so I use my card as much as possible. But not everywhere accepts cards.

Sure, get 100-200 euros at home to bring with you to start your trip. AAA will do that, for a fee. But it’s worth it, no worrying about ATMs in your first day or two.

Posted by
2506 posts

Get as much money as I think I will need, then 25% more.

No way. Bring a few hundred dollars and then use Credit cards. If you need more money, go to an ATM. Visiting ATMs are incredibly safer than carrying all.your.money in cash for the entire trip. You are more likely to lose something than having it stolen from you. Don't expose your funds like that.

Posted by
2359 posts

Wow, so much information I’m confused and I travel a lot, use ATM’s all the time. We travel with an friend who does not use ATM’s so here is what we learned from her:
-Make sure your card works in the states. Her’s was suspended as she had not used it in a year.
-Notify the bank of your travels and be sure your daily limit is where you want it (maybe $400?)
-Get Euro’s before you leave at a bank or AAA. Having 200 or so when you land will ease and short term cash needs.
-Use ATM’s at banks and only when the bank is open. ATM’s can eat your card and if the bank is not open to help you you are out of luck.
-Keep your cash and cards in a money belt under your clothes.
-When you withdraw cash the machine may ask you if you want to be charged in Euro’s or dollars. Always choose Euros. This may occur when you use a credit card as well. Always choose Euros.

Posted by
3340 posts

I don't know if you thoroughly read the Travel Tips on Money. but no one so far has mentioned the devilish and dreaded DCC (Dynamic Currency Conversion). Just say NO to that when you pay for anything with your credit card or use your debit card at an ATM.

Here's a link specifically about that from the Travel Tips Money DCC -- https://www.ricksteves.com/travel-tips/money/chip-pin-cards#dcc.

I'm now 73 and was 71 in 2017 when I was last in Italy. I was on an RS tour, but spent 16 nights on my own before and after it in Rome, Ravenna, Venice and Milan. I had no problems using my credit cards, but made sure to be charged in €.

I used one ATM outside a bank in Venice while the staff was there. It was a bit confusing, but the people who used it before me showed me what I was doing wrong and it worked fine. I didn't see a blue and yellow book in their hands.

Posted by
3505 posts

First, I hope you have a wonderful trip! I traveled solo last year to several towns in Italy, including Arezzo - a great town to visit!

I purchased 300 Euros from our bank before traveling because I don’t like making decisions or transactions when I’m jetlagged. If you did that, you could probably just do an additional ATM transaction in Arezzo to have enough for your whole trip. (Paying for lodging with credit cards). Google “Arezzo ATM” for the location of ATM’s in Arezzo. Most of them are in the lower section of town before the go up the hill.

I always keep my passport, credit & ATM cards, and remaining Euros in my money belt - worn when I’m out of my hotel room. I do keep a half day’s worth of money in my crossbody purse.

Posted by
1406 posts

I'm surprised no one has mention the infamous chip and PIN requirements in Europe, and how they can be your downfall

Posted by
1773 posts

Asking a stranger to watch you withdraw money from an ATM in Italy sounds like a bad idea.

Posted by
2359 posts

I'm surprised no one has mention the infamous chip and PIN requirements in Europe, and how they can be your downfall

What downfall? I’ve never had a PIN or needed one except for my debit card. Credit cards are widely accepted and the only PIN requirements are for fuel pumps and some toll booths. There is no indication she will be driving. Why worsen her apprehension with more stuff like this?

Posted by
791 posts

I agree I do not like to make decisions when jetlagged and landing someplace I am not acquainted with. I usually do not have difficulty with my Debit Card. Ha, someone hacked a local machine either in my town or on my commute to work - just last year! But the one time I got flustered was in Venice when I was unable to figure out the machine. Not sure why since they try to make it obvious. The machine was in a glass entry to the bank. Since there were employees in the bank, I thought I would go ask for help. I totally did not notice I had not retrieved my card from the machine. Maybe it did not do the beeps I am used to . Anyway, I went in the bank and a very kind woman came running after me with my card. Whew!

I usually do use my card; I usually do have Euro from the last trip. One time, a few years ago, I was waiting to transfer in Heathrow, an airport I know well, to fly to Orly and Paris, which I did not know. I had time on my hands and finally thought: What the hey? I went and changed some money at Travel Ex. Sure I paid more. I did get the impression that the gentleman working there tried different ways of getting the best rates. But, voila, it was done. I had a stash of about 400 Euro and can't remember that I really needed more for the trip.

If you are anxious, does it matter that you spend a bit extra for relief and peace of mind? You will be learning so many new things, why stress yourself over this? That said, DO tell your bank/card company that you are travelling, countries and dates.

Posted by
137 posts

So much good advice here. You will find what works for you. Regarding ATM withdrawals, it's great if you can get to an ATM located inside a bank. Sometimes, you don't have that option. I have traveled solo and have encountered men who physically come right up against my back at the ATM - truly uncomfortable. And then there's the thought about not hurting someone's feelings -- but after I was in a small town in Hungary and observed this happen to a local woman at the machine; she turned around and yelled at the mouth breather to "back the heck off" (or I assume that's what she said) and he backed the heck up. I do the same thing now - "Basta!" and a stern look should work well where you are going if you encounter this situation. If they don't back off, I get out of line and find another ATM or come back later.

I always bring local currency with me for piece of mind and emergencies - so it's worthwhile to make the trip to AAA or get advance Euros at your bank. Once, right after I arrived, with minimal euros (30) I tried to get 300 euros from multiple ATMs and had no luck; repeatedly got my transaction cancelled. Make sure that your debit card has the international phone number on the back of the card, if it doesn't write it down since 1-800 numbers don't work, so you can call if you run into any problems. I called my bank and discovered I was exceeding my daily limit by about $10 because of the exchange rate. I was frozen out of the ATM for 24 hours, but the good news was that it was 24 hours US time not 24 hours Europe time. I had the 30 euros so I bought dinner and tried again in the morning but it was uncomfortable for me not knowing if this would work and only having a small amount of cash. It's worth it to me to incur the fees to have an emergency stash of cash. I also prefer to make as few runs to the ATM as possible so I get my daily withdrawal limit increased and take out the limit -- which is helpful when you are paying cash for your hotel after a several day stay. My advance cash stash has come in helpful when the ATM has run out of money; is broken, in a really seedy/dicey situation, I needed money right away to deal with a situation or I just can't find an ATM. I always bring back the same amount of cash to begin my next trip. On several occasions, I have brought all of my cash with me. I felt so free! (Africa, Galapagos, Europe). When I was traveling solo in small European towns, it was a joy not to have to worry about finding an ATM, particularly when I was arriving at the train stop late at night. I use a money belt and have my daily spending amount in my cross body purse that never leaves my side. As others have said, notify your bank when and where you are going.

Last - I don't normally use my credit cards because I often get better deals paying in cash. That said, when I do need to use a credit card, I use one that does not charge me a foreign transaction fee. (Most cards add a 3% foreign transaction fee to your purchases, which adds up). Have a great trip!

Posted by
104 posts

Ok you all convinced me, a little cash and ATM's! Thank you all so much for your help!

Posted by
104 posts

Ok, new plan: This is what I've researched and planned: Get about 300 euros from 5/3rd bank for a charge of $10. Much better than AAA which wanted to charge $50 as I am a nonmember. Open a Charles Swab account for no-fee ATM debit and charge cards. Use charge cards whenever possible. Memorize pin. Consider a payment ap for my phone. Only use local currency when asked given a choice between local currency and $. Scope out my neighborhoods and find safe looking ATM's. Learn how to say Basta! Use money belt, carry a day's spending money in a cross-body under my jacket.
Fantastic advise!
You all Rock!
I did read RS section on money. Thank you for the link!
I am going to have a wonderful time, hope to see some yellow and blues!

Posted by
1570 posts

AAA which wanted to charge $50 as I am a nonmember

Wow! Highway robbery, as the saying goes.

I'm a AAA member. Yes, they advertise Euros do not have extra fees when I inquired last year for the heck of it. The free-ness is locked in with the fee and still a higher rate. I told AAA that, lol. They did not say anything.

I went to one of my banks that has a lot of Euros on hand - all denominations at the ready. They are very competitive with the going rate - not gouging or high like many. As a bank customer, they exchange for a tiny (admin fee) - non customers get charged a higher fee.

I get the denoms I want, able to separate them accordingly (pre-trip), mark/organize the envelopes, secure them in my Hedgren (bigger than a money belt; still small enough to conceal inside clothes in my cube, very secure; goes into my "personal item" during travel. (At hotel, I take other precautions) Out and about, I take day money/card and put into my day tote/purse. I carry some extra Euro/card in my little cross body.

I can use my card at banks in Italy or abroad anywhere. Can be used as a credit with no fees, just exchange rate of course. Used as a debit, it will get charged a withdrawal fee and exchange rate of the day like most banks. If your withdrawal fees from your bank would be high, then you have to weigh the cost - get more Euros from your home bank or wait until you get to Italy and pay the withdrawal fees.

When you go to airplane restroom, take your most prized valuables with you. That is why it is good to put "all those" in the smaller personal item.

Posted by
7791 posts

Erob, sounds like a good plan. You've got lots of options and can flex as needed.

It seems to me that AAA just doesn't want to be in the money business. I can understand that but for heaven's sake, just stop doing it instead of gouging. $50 charge is just stupid (and probably the same as a membership). Each AAA kind of does it differently too. Some have posted on the forum they've had good luck. Mine, not.

Girasole brings up a good point. As a solo traveler on the airplane I have a small cross body bag I wear under my cardie for the whole plane trip. I have my passport, some money, some cards then the rest of my money and cards in my money belt.

I have used the Eddie Bauer cross body Connect travel wallet for several years but the strap is getting frayed. I found one yesterday at TJMaxx that I am going to load up for a "test drive" to see if it makes the travel team. It was under $10, about 5X7 inches with several compartments and is called a Scansafe Sprint. I don't care at all about the RFID but it's got it. I'll put both in my zipped tote bag to go thru security then put both on after I get thru.

I know you are going to have a wonderful time!

Posted by
1151 posts

Sounds like your final plan is a great one!
I didn't read all the replies to your original question, but here's what I do.
I'm 65 and often travel solo.
I take about E500 with me from home, plus two cards to use when I'm away.

DO NOT let anyone at all "Help" you at an ATM machine.

They're only helping themselves. Speaking from experience with this.
Walk away if this happens.
To somewhat avoid this: only use ATM's inside a bank, or inside the little glass foyer just inside an open bank.
Less chance of other people in there with you.
Always use an ATM at an open bank; ie: not on a Sunday, or one out in the street.
Put all your money away before stepping away from the machine, don't do it as you're walking along.
If you're worried, find a restroom or a changing room in a store nearby, and immediately transfer your new cash into your money belt in private.
Perhaps scope out such a place near the ATM you plan to use.
Make sure you take with you your own banks' contact numbers for reporting lost or stolen cards, just as a precaution.
Perhaps program them in to your phone if you are taking it with you.

In your money belt: use a Ziploc bag as a liner, to avoid everything getting damp from sweat.

Have a great trip!