Simon Calder's Holiday Helpdesk: What is the alternative to cash for a holiday in Thailand?
Simon Calder’s career in travel started at Gatwick Airport, where he cleaned aircraft for Laker Airways and later worked as a security officer. He became The Independent’s Travel Correspondent in 1994, and is known as “the Man Who Pays His Way” because he does not accept free travel facilities. He writes across the Independent titles, as well as for the Evening Standard.
Wednesday 31 July 2013
Q My parents suggested I contacted you. I am going to Thailand for a month for my first long-haul adventure, and taking a fair amount of spending money. As I imagine there is a reasonable chance of me losing/having my money stolen, is there an alternative to cash?
Edward Bezant, Manchester
A A pre-paid card is ideal. You can load it with as much as you think you will spend, but should you start running short then your lucky parents can top it up online. The card requires a four-digit PIN to work, so if the card is lost or stolen, a villain should not be able to use it. (That assumes you're much too sensible to do what an alarming number of travellers do, which is to keep a note of the number on the card.) So you can alert the issuer to cancel it, and - if there is a reasonable means of getting a card to you - get a replacement for a modest fee.
It's best to get a card in US dollars. That's because the rate applied for conversion to the Thai baht is likely to be more favourable from dollars than from sterling. In addition, many pre-paid cards have a top-up fee close to 2 per cent for sterling: put £1,000 on it, and you lose close to £50 instantly.
I use several pre-paid cards, but overall I prefer the FairFX version. You pay no charge for topping up in a foreign currency, you get a decent rate, and there a flat fee of about £2 for using ATMs. That will be what you mostly use it for, since Thailand is a cash economy.
Don't, though, rely upon one form of payment on a month-long trip in a developing country such as Thailand. As cash is king, take some sterling (in clean £10 and £20 notes). You will be able to change them when you are in Bangkok or other tourist enclaves. In more remote areas you will need some US dollars (in $1s, $5s and $10s); it's a safe bet that the locals will know the value of the Thai baht to the dollar.
Finally, if you have a credit card, then take it as a back-up; and if you don't, then perhaps your parents will allow you to have one on their account.
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