Less Bang For Your Buck

Thanks to the weakened dollar, over the past couple of years you’ll get less bang for your buck when traveling abroad this year. If you traveled in mid-August, for example, the exchange rate was $1.79 to every pound and $1.21 to every euro. Before you succumb to sticker shock, read on for ways to stretch your American dollar overseas. With careful planning and ingenuity, you’ll be able to finance your vacation without ruining your budget.

Educate yourself about foreign exchange rates. Before you begin daydreaming about enjoying croissants and café au lait by the Seine, find out about rates, says Monica Beaupre, a spokesperson for American Express Travel. Your local travel agent, the U.S. embassy, and Websites like Yahoo! Finance can offer a crash course.

Get the all-inclusive package and prepay. “Cruise companies have been able to hold prices for prepaid packages, which include transportation, meals, and entertainment,” says Lynda Maxwell, the president of Destinations Inc., a travel agency in Ellicott City, Maryland. “And, if you’re traveling to Europe and prepay for an escorted package, most meals are included.”

Go to the ATM. Before you run out and put all your money in traveler’s checks, “use your ATM to get euros,” says Maxwell. “You’ll pay a small fee, but nothing like the costs associated with exchanging money.” She also suggests that travelers make major purchases with a credit card, as the exchange rate will be better.

Bring a fist full of dollars. Maxwell suggests bringing “a fist full of U.S. dollar bills for tips so you’ll know exactly how much you’re spending.” If you must convert U.S. dollars into local currency, Sheila Umolu, program director of SoulOfAmerica.com, suggests exchanging your money away from airports and tourist centers. “I exchanged $40 at a European airport and after the exchange rate and the minimum service rate, I came away with $21 euros,” she says.

For more information on planning your next trip with exchange rates in mind or other travel resources log on to www.americanexpress.com/travel. And don’t forget to contact your travel agent and favorite airlines, which often offer great deals on prepaid flights and travel packages. Bon voyage!