For convenience and good exchange rates, savvy travelers should try to settle bills using no-foreign fee credit cards when out of the country. But cash is always handy for buying rides on public transit, paying street vendors for food, and craft items and for leaving tips.
Going home with leftover foreign currency may feel wasteful, but there are plenty of ways to put that money to good use.
No matter how much money is left over, “I pay my hotel bill with it,” said Chris McGinnis, of the TravelSkills blog. “Part in cash, the rest on a credit card.” Others suggest stopping at a Starbucks before leaving a country to have leftover cash added, fee-free, to a Starbucks card balance.
Airports offer plenty of places to spend money and the part-cash/part-credit card method works well when buying pre-flight snacks or items in the duty-free stores.
Save it for another time
“I have a box from [French Bakery] Ladurée on my dresser with all my leftover foreign currency in it,” said Christina Saull, of Alexandria, Virginia. “When I have a trip, I dig through it to see what I have to spend.”
Beth Whitman, founder of Wanderlust and Lipstick and WanderTours has a basket of envelopes and small purses filled with coins and bills from past trips around the world, organized by country.
“It helps to have some local currency upon arrival for taxis or tips without having to go to an ATM or change money,” Whitman said.
Services like Travelex exchang leftover currency at its stores in cities and in airports, and by mail. Airport stores swap bills and most coins on the spot, but keep in mind that each store sets its own rates and fees. Mail-in exchanges are limited to banknotes and getting you check may take three weeks to arrive, but the $5 fixed fee and day-of exchange rate is apt to net you more.
Another mail-in option is offered by Leftover Currency, which takes both notes and coins for circulating and discontinued currencies and promises to pay within five working days via PayPal, check or bank transfer, or to donate the funds to charity.
Some airports have “change globes” or bins to collect leftover money from travelers leaving a country. And 10 airlines, including American, Cathay Pacific and Qantas, currently participate in UNICEF’s Change for Good program, which collects spare currency from passengers on international flights. In 2016 about $8 million was raised for UNICEF this way.
Teachers may be able to use your leftover currency in a geography lesson. “Or ask around to see if friends or neighbors have nieces or nephews who collect coins,” said traveler writer Carol Pucci. “A little bag of foreign coins that had been sitting my desk for years recently found a good home in a kid’s collection.”
Leftover coins offer an opportunity to explore your inner Etsy. Drill holes to make earrings or a necklace, or get out the glue gun and decorate a frame to hold a favorite travel photo.
“Whenever I go to pay for something and stumble across the foreign currency I keep in my wallet, I’m transported, for a moment, back to that destination” said Francine Cohen, Director, Spirits Colangelo & Partners. “It is also good for a laugh when I accidentally try to pay for something in one country with another country’s currency. Canadians are indeed really nice, but not so nice that they’ll take pesos for a croissant.”