Traveller debate: The price of the perfect break

A question of cash: what's the best way to organise your holiday finances? And where's the best value on Earth? Simon Calder answered your online queries


Q I have always used my credit card when making major purchases abroad – and have been reasonably happy about the exchange rate. Am I missing something or is it really not a bad idea? Martin

A. It's a good idea; I do the same. Credit cards are governed by Visa/MasterCard policies that basically mean you get a not-too-bad exchange rate, and no charges (unless you make the mistake of using an ATM or you don't pay off in full before the deadline). But with a debit card, your individual card provider takes a rake-off; for a typical €20 lunch, you'll pay an extra €2 or more for using your debit card. I take my debit card abroad, but only for use in ATMs when needing an emergency cash injection. And one more thing when using any plastic abroad; never take up the option of settling in sterling. Example: this week, at a Spanish airport, I spent €27. I was offered the chance of paying just under £25 in sterling which represented a rate of about €1.08, even worse than the prevailing tourist rates.

Q We're on holiday in Turkey later this year and looking forward to shopping in the bazaars. But I'm worried about carrying loads of cash in the crowds. Have you any canny suggestions? Margaret

A. Don't fret: in my experience Turkey (along with Egypt, Morocco, Ethiopia...) is one of many places in the world where you need not worry about pickpockets. The riskiest locations are European cities: Barcelona, Rome, Prague are the prime pickpocket territory, with rogues also in Krakow, Paris, Seville and elsewhere on the tourist trail.

Q What's the best value holiday destination in the UK? François Nel

A. Good question. In my experience for the totality of holiday spending – transport, accommodation, meals, attractions – you need to look to the less touristy fringes, such as Northumberland, Lincolnshire or Argyll. And to answer the opposite question, the most expensive destination in the UK is London (followed, in hotel-rate terms, by Bath).

Q I'm heading around Asia and Australasia in a month's time. Can you tell me any best practice on managing money while away? Backpacker

A. For your trip, a pre-paid MasterCard looks the best bet: you or your family can top it up as you go. A good wad of US dollars for the Asian stretch will also help.

The prepaid cards I carry are FairFx for euros, Phones4u for sterling, and Travelex for US$. You can make reasonable-price withdrawals from ATMs with these. But once in Australia, if you're there for a long stretch then opening a local bank account will help make up for the present punitive AUD rate.

Q How much should I take to live well in Buenos Aires? I like to think I could have good time on around £200 for a week. Gracias. Miguel

A. Even though Buenos Aires is Argentina's most expensive location, it still offers excellent value. Choose one of the cheap hostels (my favourite is Hostel One at Bolívar 1291) and you'll pay as little as £80 for your accommodation. That leaves £17 a day for large steaks, red wine, etc. You could do it, but by skimping you won't be making the most of a great city.

Q What's the best-value spot in the world to spend a month? Happy slumming it within limits. Borassic

A. India by a mile; I've enjoyed accommodation at less than £1 a night, eaten all day for the same, and travelled thousands of miles on the finest transport enterprise in the world, Indian Railways, for a pittance. And you've also got fascinating cultures, amazing landscapes and one billion friendly people to brighten your trip. Happy travels.

For a full transcript of the Traveller Debate, go to independent.co.uk/holidaymoney

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