The best way to deal with money to some extent depends on the particular country you're visiting. But here are some general tips you may find helpful.
- As a general rule, credit cards are best for purchases and ATM cards are best for getting cash.
- Capitol One is the only credit card I know that doesn't charge "foreign transaction fees". Other cards charge 1 - 3% and even though credit cards tend to have the best exchange rate, this can be totally eaten up by the fees.
- You can almost always find ATMs at airports and in large cities, but not necessarily more rural areas. ATMs tend to give you the best exchange rates. But make sure to let your bank know where and when you're traveling so your card isn't frozen. Also see what the bank fees are. One time I took out large amounts at a time to try to avoid per withdrawal fees. When I got my bank statement, they had charged a flat percent. The next time I took out as little as possible but kept having to withdraw more, and later found out they had switched to a hefty per withdrawal fee.
- Travellers' checks are not widely used anymore, making them both difficult and costly to exchange. Generally they are not worth bothering with.
- Bring some $1 bills for tips. These are always welcome.
- If possible, avoid exchanging money at the airport currency shops, hotels, and banks. But if you have to choose, banks are usually the best.
- If you plan to travel in that country again, just hold onto the currency. You usually lose about 10% when you change it back. And it's really nice to have some money when you land.
- Sometimes you don't even need to exchange money. For example, in Tanzania most people will take US dollars at an exchange of 10 Tanzanian shillings for 1 US dollar, which is pretty close to the official