American travel Cheque for emergency cash

We will be travelling by car thru the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary and Slovakia for a month next September. We always travelled with American Travel Checks in Canadian monies ( since as seniors we don't pay any fees) thru all over Europe before and after the advent of Euros as a means of safe and emergency funds. Is it still the best way to do it? Since we have debit and credit cards, should we bother having to go to banks to get the best exchange rates?

Posted by Lee
Lakewood, Colorado
12953 posts

You might not pay fees to get them, but you'll pay a lot to cash them, and then you'll pay more to convert the money to the local currency.

Posted by Nancy
Bloomington, IL, USA
8332 posts

NO! They are virtually useless and IF you found a place to cash them you might not even get face value for them.

Posted by Harold
New York, NY, USA
4732 posts

If you're worried about having backup to your credit and debit cards, bring some cash (in any major currency - CAD should work fine). I haven't been to Slovakia, but the other three countries have currency exchange places in the major cities; your hotel can direct you to the nearest one. Unless you want to waste a lot of time, don't go to banks; they may not even exchange currency, and if they do it takes a long time, whereas exchange booths are fast. The rate won't be as good as from an ATM or with a credit card, but at least this method will work (unlike traveler's checks, or even cheques, which as the above posts indicate, are now VERY hard to exchange for local cash).

When you leave a country, be sure to get rid of excess local currency beforehand, since, as said above, each one uses a different currency. You can use it to pay down your last hotel bill, or you can change it into the next country's currency. For example, going from the Czech Republic to Poland, change your koruna into zloty. This has the added advantage of allowing you to use up coins (coins are not usually exchangeable except in their country of origin), and of giving you some immediate spending money when you arrive (so, you don't need to worry about emergency funds).

Posted by Laura
Rick Steves' Europe
8025 posts

ATMs operated by banks in Europe generally give you the best exchange rates for cash, and credit cards give good rates for larger purchases/businesses that will accept them. Machines that take debit cards with the Visa or MasterCard or Plus logos are all over. Travelers' checks are not easy to change and we have not carried them for years. I bring about $200 cash for back-up, only in case of emergencies like if the machines aren't working, in which case I would not expect to get a good exchange rate. If there's no emergency, those dollars are still in my money belt when I get home. See more tips at http://www.ricksteves.com/travel-tips/money.

Thanks everybody for enlightening me on the new ways to travel with plastic. The key word in my posting was "emergency funds." Now one more question: Is it really necessary to have an "international driving license?" RC seems to say no but travelling in Eastern Europe I wonder if some crooked cops would not throw the books at us - hopefully just the book not prison until we pay a ramson.

I keep doing research and I think we will have a wonderful trip.

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
11639 posts

question: Is it really necessary to have an "international driving license?" RC seems to say no but travelling in Eastern Europe I wonder if some crooked cops would not throw the books at us - hopefully just the book not prison until we pay a ramson.

I don't know who or what RC is nor do I know which country or state issued your home Drivers License because you didn't complete your profile when you registered. I can guess because you ask about "American travel Cheque" that maybe you are from one state or another in the USA.

If that is so, at the moment, for the countries you named:
Czech Republic, Yes - you MUST have an IDP
Poland, not required at the moment
Hungary, Yes - you MUST have an IDP
Slovakia, not required at the moment.

They can be obtained from the AAA for a very small fee for each driver. Take passport type photos as you will need them.

If you do not have a required IDP you are unlikely to be held for ransom, but you likely will have a very expensive fine, may be arrested until paid, and if you are involved in an incident you may very well be arrested - not by corrupt officials but by police doing their job and dealing with you without a valid license. In countries where they are required the absence means that insurance is invalid and you may be buying two or more cars at whatever price because of no valid insurance.

That's not to scare you but the consequences can be quite dire.

For the countries where it is not required it is still a good idea.

By the Way - There is no such thing as an International Drivers License. If you see ads for on on the Internet or elsewhere it is a scam and worthless. You need the IDP.

Here is a list countries requiring the IDP:
IDP 1926 Convention
Brazil
Burundi
Iraq
Somalia

IDP 1949 Convention
Afghanistan
Albania
Algeria

Angola

Argentina
Armenia
Australia

Bahamas
Bahrain
Bangladesh
Belarus
Belize
Benin
Bhutan
Bolivia
Bosnia
Botswana
Brunei
Bulgaria
Burkina Faso

Cambodia (Kampuchea)
Cameroon
Canada (Not from USA)
Cape Verde
Cayman Islands
Central African Republic
Chad
Chile
Colombia
Comoros
Congo (Democratic Republic of)
Congo (Republic of)
Cook Islands
Cote d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast)
Croatia
CuraƧao (Netherlands Antilles)
Czech Republic

Djibouti
Dominica

Ecuador
Egypt
Equatorial Guinea
Eritrea
Ethiopia

French Guiana

Gabon
Georgia
Ghana

Grenada
Guadeloupe

Guam
Guatemala
Guinea Bissau
Guinea Republic

Guyana

Haiti
Hong Kong
Hungary

Iceland
India
Indonesia
Iran
Israel

Italy

Japan
Jordan

Kazakhstan
Kenya
Kiribati
Korea (South)
Kuwait
Kyrgyzstan

Laos
Lebanon
Lesotho
Liberia
Libya

Macao (Macau)
Macedonia
Malaysia
Mali
Mauritania
Mauritius
Mexico (Not from USA)
Montenegro
Mozambique
Myanmar (Burma)

Namibia
Nepal
Nicaragua
Niger
Nigeria

Oman

Pakistan
Panama
Paraguay
Peru
Philippines
Portugal
Puerto Rico (not from USA)

Qatar

Reunion
Romania
Russian Federation
Rwanda

Sabah (Malaysia)
San Marino
Sao Tome and Principe
Saudi Arabia
Senegal
Serbia
Seychelles
Sierra Leone
Singapore
Slovenia
South Africa
Spain (including Balearic and Canary Isles)
Sri Lanka
St. Kitts & Nevis
St. Lucia
St. Vincent
Sudan
Surinam
Swaziland
Syria

Taiwan
Tanzania
Thailand
Togo
Trinidad & Tobago
Tunisia
Turkey

Uganda
Ukraine
United Arab Emirates
USA (Florida - subject to court case)

Vietnam

Yemen

Zambia
Zimbabwe (L)

Posted by Norma
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
4507 posts

So lafrancepaulyne, the OP, seems to think "corrupt cops" are waiting for her in Eastern Europe. That is pretty disrespectful thing to say. Do you have a reason to think such a thing?

Thank you Nigel for the info about IDP. As for "corrupt cops" I must have seen too many movies. That was
I now realize a "bad joke". Forgive me.

Posted by Nancy
Bloomington, IL, USA
8332 posts

What Nigel did not make clear is that the IDP is the International Driving Permit. It is a translation of your valid license into several languages, and allows a policeman who does not read English to see that your home license is, indeed, valid.

Posted by Elaine
Columbia, SC
798 posts

You do not need the forgiveness of anyone on this board!!!

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
21443 posts

As the others have mentioned, Traveller's Cheques are an antiquated relic of the past, and not something that will be useful, including for "emergency use". ATM cards are the easiest and least expensive way to obtain cash. I'd suggest taking at least two ATM cards in case one malfunctions (I've had that happen). Funds must usually be in a chequing account. Also, be sure to notify all your card issuers that you'll be travelling so they don't "freeze" your cards when they detect transactions in Europe.

Nigel provided an excellent description of the I.D.P. situation. Note that these are used in conjunction with your home D.L. so you'll have to pack those along as well. You might consider packing along a GPS unit or at least a good map of the countries you'll be travelling in.

I'm not sure if any of the countries you mentioned require a highway tax vignette, but hopefully one of the others can provide that information.

Posted by Pamela
New York City, NY, USA
4206 posts

I too used to use traveler's cheques for emergency cash. But, I stopped when I couldn't even cash them in the US at Whole Foods!!! So, if they are a pain in the rear here, just imagine how useless they are in Europe. :) I always have some cash. I think that one thing to remember is that the world is so much smaller now than it was when many of us first went to Europe. My first trip was as a student in the 70's and I was gone for 6 months. I called home once in that period and that was because I terrified my parents with a postcard that said I was traveling in Greece and Italy on my own instead of with friends as planned. :) Of course, I was fine, but I was 19 and they were nervous. In hindsight I should't have sent that postcard!!!

Today, it isn't a big deal to call your bank from anywhere in Europe if you have an emergency. You should tell them about your travel plans.

Pam