I carry the following things with me when traveling abroad:
1) 3 Credit Cards – Visa, Mastercard, AMEX is what I carry and is my preferred method of payment. Two cards I carry have no foreign transaction fees which can add significantly to expenditures. Some countries have already adopted the smart chip credit cards. While you can still get by with the magnetic strip only cards, some automated machines will only take the new smart chip credit cards such as mass transit ticket machines in Europe. So if you can get one of these cards before your trip to Europe, it will help.
Call your credit card company to let them know to expect charges in your place of travel. It can be frustrating when you don’t speak the language, don’t have phone that works in the region and are unable to pay for necessities because the company blocked your charge.
2) ATM Card – I carry 2 ATM cards. One of them has no ATM transaction fees no matter what machine I use that can access funds. (Schwab) Bare in mind that some countries ATM machines will not be able to access your bank funds. So just be prepared to hunt around for ATM machines that can.
3) Cash – I prefer not to carry a lot of cash around as it’s a liability. But sometimes it is advantageous to do so. In countries such as Argentina the street exchange rate was 50% more than the official rate when we visited there. Meaning that if you bring USD and exchange it on the street, one can save a lot of money. Cash is King, and USD is usually the King of Kings.
Keep it Safe:
Your life blood to get around is in the items above, so I try and be as careful as I can with them. I know of at least two times that I have been knowingly tried to been pick pocketed and have yet to knowingly give up anything. The biggest thing that I do to minimize risk, is to carry all of the items above in a flat zippered waist belt/fanny pack that I hide under my shirt and just below the pant line. No wallets, bill folds, purses go into my pockets, bags, etc. Don’t worry about looking like a tourist as it hides quite well under clothes unless you happen to be wearing a tight fitting dress.
There’s always a cost in converting currency. It goes without saying to do your research before exchanging bills. One thing that can save a little bit of money is don’t be in a rush to convert unused currency back to your own at the end of the trip. Consider first will you be going back within the next few years? Do you have a friend or co-worker that will be going to same place that you are leaving from? If you have too much currency left over, the mistake was in exchanging too much.
For us Americans, tipping for service is almost second nature, but in many countries it’s not expected and may even be considered rude or at least improper. In those that do want tips, the order is in the 5 to 10% range, far less than 15 to 20% in the food service industry of the US. Do a quick google search on the country being visited to avoid be being parted with cash unnecessarily or looking like a tourist.