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How much cash is necessary?

Interesting article in the New York Times today, echoing what many people have said in the forums. Hurried along by the pandemic, the cashless economies of Europe are becoming the norm. It recounts the story of an American traveler from Michigan who, no matter how hard he tried, could not spend the 700 British pounds he brought along. Even outside of London in the Lake District and Cotswolds, many restaurants would not accept cash. They finally used the cash to pay off their hotel bill after the hotel "let" them so they wouldn't have to covert it back to USD. Experts in the article advise travelers to be prepared to tap, not swipe or insert the chip, as many vendors only accept contactless cards. Check your card for a series of four curved lines on the card to verify it will work for contactless transactions, and if it's not there, call your company for a replacement. Along with this admonition, travelers are also advised to check the foreign transaction fees, as it could cost you up to 3% of every purchase.

The article suggested that the traveler has a digital back-up plan, for example Google Pay or Apple Pay should your card not work.

On the other hand, in Portugal and Malta recently, we found that some cash was handy for tips, small shops and restaurants. Keep some change for pay toilets. Learned that one the hard way....

Posted by
6786 posts

Discovered this reality when I spent November 2021 in London. Thought my debit card was a tap card. Most vendors understood but I was miffed I had made the assumption and had not checked before I left the US.

At very least take 2 credit or debit cards so you’ll have a back up.

Upon return to the US I called my bank and requested a new card. Will use it in London next month although I will still have a few pound coins to buy gum, water, chocolate bar, etc. I’ll be interested in seeing if ONLY credit or debit is accepted. Can’t imagine that will be the only option from a street market food truck or stall vendor but we shall see.

Posted by
5953 posts

More places are accepting cash than they were 12-18 months ago when it had to be a contactless card. I am currently in France and the local boulangerie is cash only. It’s about the only thing we have paid cash for all holiday.

Posted by
5730 posts

Until proven otherwise, I’m sticking with having at least $100-$200 worth of Pounds, Euros, Swiss Francs, whatever, in cash. Certainly, having £700 for that Michigan gentleman was excessive.

I might not be withdrawing cash from an ATM as often as 10 or 20 years ago, but that $100-$200 worth is still going to be useful.

Posted by
41 posts

I'm thinking if the credit card is not contactless; one can always add it to Apple Pay as the latter is contactless.

Posted by
393 posts

We just got back from three weeks in Italy. We took a lot of euros and used almost all of it. There were many people who preferred cash. Well, cash or add 10% to the bill for the taxman and fees. We knew in advance and planned for it. These were for our driver, taxis, tour tips, our cooking class teacher, the cleaning fee and occupancy tax for our Airbnb. We also like outdoor markets and they all preferred cash. Some shops will give you a better price if they know they'll get cash. It's much easier to buy a caffe with a euro in hand.

My sister didn't not realize her credit card was not tapable until a couple of days before we left. She had to insert for every transaction but it was not a problem. If there were additional fees, she'll find that out soon enough. I did tap my card and there were still times when I was asked to sign the receipt.

Bottomline, if you have correct change, nobody is going to say no to cash. I wouldn't go without some and I also wouldn't count on picking it up at the airport. That's my comfort level.

Posted by
1272 posts

There are definitely places, at least in the U.K., that will say no to cash. Like on all these threads, your mileage may vary, but I think it’s clear that Europe is definitely moving towards cashless very quickly.

Even the USA is moving towards cashless, it’s almost impossible to use at a Major League Baseball stadium, for example.

Posted by
5957 posts

Early May I went to London with 40 pounds in my purse. I stayed a week and returned to the US with 40 pounds in my purse.... Most places said, "Card Only."

Posted by
9 posts

On a related topic, where is the best (convenience, safety, lower fees) location for getting travel cash? On my recent Italian trip, I got my cash at the airport in Rome. I thought I would need cash for a taxi to my hotel, but the cabbie accepted my credit card. I could have withdrew cash in town later that day. I did pay high fees and got a poor exchange rate on the airport withdrawal. At least I didn't need any more cash on my trip.

Posted by
1373 posts

lakertone40, the best place is at a bank owned ATM, not a cash exchange place.

Posted by
9 posts

I withdrew from a Unicredit ATM at the airport. not a foreign exchange booth. Not the best choice. But, hoping next time to wait until I can go to a bank ATM instead. I did see Unicredit ATMs around town too.