Generally, you should use your credit or debit card to access foreign currency from ATMs when traveling to another country. You’ll get the bank’s exchange rate, but keep in mind both your bank and the overseas bank might charge you as much as $5 for the transaction.
Want to pay NO transaction fees? Open an account with Charles Schwab Bank, says Mark Kepnes, author of How To Travel the World on $50 a Day. Schwab charges no fees for using foreign ATMs, reimburses any foreign bank fees, and charges no currency conversion fees. And Schwab charges nothing to have an account and requires no minimum balance.
Speaking of currency conversion fees, make sure you’re carrying a card that doesn’t charge one. Some still ding you with a three per cent charge for every dollar you put on it overseas. The Barclay Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard charges no fees, nor does the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. Capitol One and Amex don’t either.
Call your credit card provider if you’re not sure if your card does.
You might find it strange that I’m suggesting this is a good time to visit Russia, given the hostility between the US government and the Putin regime. But they say every cloud has a silver lining, and for American travelers paying with dollars, it’s time to visit Moscow or St. Petersburg.
According to recent visitors to Russia and American journalists stationed there, Russian citizens are as happy to see American tourists as ever. And the country is on sale due to the fall of the ruble since Western countries levied sanctions in response to Russia’s Ukrainian incursions.
Tourism from the West to Russia has declined by 50% says the Association of Tour Operators of Russia. And even with Russia’s high inflation, there’s still a significant discount if you can pay with dollars.
According to Charly Wilder writing in the New York Times, a cappuccino that cost $8 or $9 dollars in Moscow is now $5. A night at the Sheraton Palace in Moscow was once $362; now it’s $136 less. A $900 Ritz-Carlton room is now $550.
While fancy restaurants are a little less fancy because they can’t get some products from the West, your tab will be 40% less than it once was.
Two weeks ago I wanted to rent a car for a week upon landing at Los Angeles airport. I often use Hertz because I get a discount since USAA is my insurance company. But I’d just received an offer via email from Travelocity offering me 25% off a car from Budget.
So I typed in my dates, asked for a full-sized car and was quoted an all-in rate of $170 for the week from Budget. Not bad. For comparison purposes I called Hertz, mentioned my discount code and got a price $72 higher. So far, Tavelocity’s offer at Budget was the best.
In the past, I’d saved a lot by renting from a Hertz office in downtown Santa Monica to avoid all those airport surcharges. But that turned out to be only $14 less than renting from Hertz at the airport. Just as I was about to accept the Travelocity/Budget offer, I decided—just for comparison purposes–to call Budget directly.
Much to my surprise, the Budget phone reservationist beat the 25%-off-Travelocity offer by $17.
The moral: Shop around before renting.
Most Americans know that it’s legal to buy marijuana in the states of Washington and Colorado. And others know that for decades, places called “coffee shops” in Amsterdam openly sell marijuana and hashish in many varieties. But lately, The Netherlands has modified some laws in that regard.
Different rules apply in different places. In Washington, you need a prescription from a doctor to purchase marijuana. In Colorado, anyone can buy it from a retail outlet, but you can’t smoke marijuana in public. The Netherlands banned “coffee shops” in many smaller towns, especially along its German and Belgian borders, but the city of Amsterdam has resisted closing down its retail drug operations.
I was recently in Amsterdam and stopped into a “coffee shop” to find the usual array of hash and grass. Clerks can be helpful in describing the expected effects of many different varieties, and there are edible options, such as slices of quite good coffee cake laced with hash or marijuana.
If you go shopping, I’d suggest asking for something mild. Keep in mind, marijuana sold by the Dutch is generally twice as potent as what you find in the US. And it’s a good idea to consume your drugs in the café itself.
It’s spawned millions of books and a couple of movies, but 150 years after she was created, Alice in Wonderland continues to entrance readers young and old. And the little girl who went down the rabbit hole celebrates her 150th birthday this year.
You can join in.
It’s been 150 years since an Oxford mathematician named Lewis Carroll—his name was really Charles Lutwidge Dodgson—wrote stories for a friend’s daughter named Alice. Those stories became Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
To celebrate, a number of exhibits are popping up around the country. You’ll find digital reproductions of Carroll’s original book and later editions at the University of Texas’ Harry Ransom Center. Kids have a dedicated reading nook and a place for a pretend tea party.
Another Lewis Carroll exhibit will be staged later this year at the Morgan Library and the Grolier Club in New York City. Philadelphia’s Rosenbach Museum and Library will also launch an exhibit. A Philadelphia book collector, Rosenbach acquired Carroll’s original manuscript. It’s usually on permanent exhibit at the British Library, but it will be on view at the New York’s Morgan Library between June 26th and Oct. 11th.
Join the celebration.