7 Best Travel Money Tips If You're Heading to Europe in 2024
Of course, the UK is part of Europe, geographically speaking - but a short hop on a ferry or plane, and you can get to parts of mainland Europe which feel worlds apart from home. The good news is that we have a whole continent to explore, right on our doorstep - but before you head off, you’ll need to think carefully about how you arrange your travel money to make sure your funds are safe and easy to access while you’re away.
This guide walks through some top travel money tips when spending in euros - or any of the other almost 30 currencies currently in use across europe. Let’s dive right in.
Tip 1: Take a prepaid travel card
When you’re spending overseas, the most important thing will be having a way of accessing your travel money that’s convenient, secure and avoids excessive fees. Having a prepaid travel card can offer all these benefits, allowing you to make withdrawals at ATMs around Europe when you need cash, and then tap to pay in stores and restaurants where cards are accepted.
Travel prepaid cards are secure because they’re not linked to your bank account. That means even if you lost your card you can easily cancel it and order a new one (or generate a new virtual card for mobile payments) without having the hassle of needing to cancel your primary UK debit card. Specialist providers offer travel cards which can be used globally, and which have features optimised for global spending, such as low or no fee currency conversion and even fee free ATM withdrawals. Here are a couple of popular UK prepaid travel cards you may want to consider.
Wise accounts are opened and managed online or through the Wise app, making them easy to use while you’re away. You can top up in pounds and hold, send, spend and exchange 40+ currencies including EUR and other popular European currencies like Polish zloty and Bulgarian lev. There’s a small fee to get your Wise card, but then no ongoing costs, and you can use your card in 150+ countries globally.
There’s no foreign transaction fee to pay, and when you convert currencies in the Wise app, or spend with your Wise card you’ll get the mid-market exchange rate and low fees from 0.43%.
Accounts are free to open, and can be managed with just your phone
Currency conversion uses the mid-market rate, fees can be as low as 0.43%
Order your card for home delivery, and start using your virtual card instantly
Convert in advance or let the card automatically switch to the currency you need when you pay
Get some fee free ATM withdrawals every month
You’ll need to pay a one time fee to get your card in the first place
Some transaction fees apply, including ATM fees once you’ve exhausted your fee free allowance
Revolut has 5 different types of account to suit different customer needs and preferences. You could start off with the Standard plan which has no monthly fee, or upgrade to an account with more features and a monthly charge from 2.99 GBP to 45 GBP.
You can hold and exchange EUR alongside 25+ other currencies including a selection of popular European currencies, and get both a physical and virtual card for easy spending and withdrawals. The features you get with your Revolut account depend on the account type you pick - but all plans have some currency conversion which uses the mid-market rate, and some no-fee ATM withdrawals, too.
Varied account plans that suit different customer needs and spending habits
Hold and exchange 29 currencies including pounds and euros
All accounts have some currency conversion which uses the mid-market exchange rate with no extra fee
Physical and virtual card options available
Higher account tiers have lots of extras and perks including cash back and airport lounge access
Fees apply for some account tiers
Out of hours and fair usage fees may apply depending on how you use your account
No branch network for face to face service
Tip 2: Be careful when exchanging money at the airport
Converting your currency en route to your destination can seem like a convenient option - but you’ll usually pay a pretty high price for this convenience. Major UK airports usually do have currency exchange services you can call into and exchange your travel money before you hop on a plane.
However, in many cases every currency exchange desk at the airport will be run by the same company - which means there’s no local competition to keep the prices down. Exchange services know by this point travellers aren’t looking too carefully at the exchange rates available, so the chances are that the rate you’re quoted at the airport will include a hefty markup, making it a more expensive option compared to ordering your travel cash online or using a low cost travel prepaid card instead.
If you’ve arrived at the airport with no travel money don’t panic. Usually your best bet is to make an ATM withdrawal on arrival in your destination - just watch out for a few tricky fees that may creep in if you choose to pay in pounds instead of the currency at your destination (more on that later).
Tip 3: Have different payment methods with you
Ending up without access to money is a surefire way to ruin your well deserved break. While nobody wants to think about ending up losing a card, or having cash stolen, it’s worth having some options just in case.
Keep a few different payment options in your pocket when you travel - for example, a travel prepaid card from a provider like Wise or Revolut, alongside your credit card and some local currency cash. That means you’ll never be stuck if a merchant can’t accept your preferred payment method - and if the worst happens and you’re the victim of crime, you’ll still have options.
Bear in mind that carrying too much cash can be risky - use hotel safe boxes, and make ATM withdrawals as and when you need to if you can.
Read also: Best prepaid travel cards
Tip 4: Pay in local currency when using your card
If you’re making payments with a prepaid, debit or credit card overseas, you may find that the merchant offers you the option to pay in pounds rather than in the local currency wherever you are. This is a sign of dynamic currency conversion (DCC), which is a common travel money trap and pushes up your costs without you even realising.
If you agree to pay in pounds, DCC gives the merchant the opportunity to set the exchange rate that’s used to convert your costs back to pounds for billing to your UK card. Generally, this rate won’t be as good as the rate your card network would offer, so you’ll pay more in the end. Just say no if you’re asked if you want to pay in pounds - or get a travel prepaid card from Wise which lets you hold your balance in GBP and convert instantly at the point of payment simply by tapping your card. You’ll always get the mid-market exchange rate and the same low fee Wise charges to convert in advance - so you don’t lose out because of DCC.
Tip 5: Beware when making ATM withdrawals
DCC - which we touched on above - can also be a headache at the ATM. If the ATM flashes up a notice offering you the option to pay in pounds, again, you’re better off saying no. If the ATM picks the exchange rate instead of your card network or bank, you’ll usually find some extra fees are tucked away there which push up the costs significantly.
You’ll also need to keep an eye on the ATM screen to make sure there are no extra fees added by the operator, on top of anything your bank or card issuer will charge. If the ATM applies its own fees you might be worth holding on and looking for another one close by if you can.
Finally, bear in mind that while ATMs are super handy for getting travel cash, carrying lots of money in your pocket makes you a target for pickpockets. ATMs are pretty common in most areas of Europe, so unless you’re going somewhere really remote, taking out money as and when you need to is the safer option.
Tip 6: Avoid taking too much cash with you
If you’re planning on taking cash from the UK to exchange on arrival you’ll need to find ways to keep your money safe, such as using hotel safe deposit boxes or hotel reception locker services. Carrying some cash is pretty much inevitable - and there are still some countries in Europe where cash is a very popular way to pay.
However, if you have cash on you you’ll need to be doubly careful as you travel and sightsee, to avoid becoming the victim of a pickpocket or opportunistic thief. Carry as little as you can based on your specific destination and plans - and keep aware of your surroundings to stay safe.
Tip 7: Book luggage when you buy your flight tickets
Our final travel money tip for Europe starts before you’ve even sorted out the details of your flight. Assuming you’re flying to Europe, you’ll need to make sure your baggage allowance covers all you’ll need to carry.
Arriving at the airport and paying for your luggage there is always more expensive - so booking online at the same time as you book your flights is the best idea. Bear in mind that many of the routes to European cities are covered by budget airlines. While these offer some amazing bargains in terms of ticket costs, luggage allowances are pretty tiny, and don’t always follow the same rules as other airlines. Read through the luggage rules, including weight, bag size and the number of items you’re allowed to bring, to avoid hassle and cost at the airport.
Best place to get European currencies from?
There’s no one single place to get euros or whichever other currencies you might need for your trip to Europe from. The right option or options for you will depend on where you’re going, how long you’ll stay, and your personal preferences.
Generally, having a flexible travel money card from a service like Wise or Revolut is a good way to cover all your bases. You can hold and pay in multiple different currencies, and make cash withdrawals when you need to. Plus as cards support dozens of currencies, you can keep yours for your next trip too - no matter where you’re headed.
Other travel money tips when heading to Europe
Before we wrap up the top travel money tips, let's round up a few other important things to think about to avoid money worries taking the shine off your European holiday.
Get health travel insurance
Even if you have an EHIC, or the later GHIC, getting travel health insurance is an essential. Travel insurance policies may cover far more than the EHIC might, and offer peace of mind during your trip. If there was a crisis you know you’d not need to be worrying about money when trying to access the specific care you need. Policies come in all forms from short term to annual, with some lower premiums for basic emergency cover, through to policies which have very broad coverage which usually come with a higher price tag.
Agree on a price before a service starts
You want to relax while you’re on a trip overseas, but letting your guard down too much can end up being an unnecessary issue. One particular example is when accessing services like a tour, manicure or massage, or hopping into a taxi. You can’t expect all the costs you’ll encounter overseas to be similar to at home - but if you’re unlucky and don’t check the costs in advance you could end up stuck with an unexpected bill which eats into your spending money. Unscrupulous salespeople could look out for distracted tourists, to sell services at inflated prices - don’t be a victim.
Beware of pickpocketing
Again, not something you want to consider when you’re having a fun family holiday - but even while you relax you’ll need to keep your wits about you to avoid opportunist thieves, pickpockets and scams. While there’s not necessarily any more risk of these problems in Europe compared to at home, when you’re in unfamiliar territory, and trying to focus on having a good time, the chances are that you’re not aware of your surroundings and not keeping an eye out for potential problems. AT the very least, take basic security steps, such as avoiding carrying too much cash or wearing expensive looking jewellery, putting your wallet in a front pocket and keeping an eye on your belongings at all times.
The costs of your European trip can vary a lot depending on where you’re going and what you plan on doing. While some big European tourist draws and major cities can have costs which are as high or higher than the UK, there are also plenty of budget friendly destinations where you can catch some rays, soak up some culture, or just learn more about a new place.
How much does a trip to Europe cost from the UK?
Get to Europe by ferry or flight, with a very broad range of cost options depending on your plans. Many European destinations are served from multiple UK airports by budget airlines which can mean getting a pretty extraordinary deal - at least on the ticket price. Don’t forget you may pay more for baggage or food - but to give context, at the time of writing (December 2023), you can get from the UK to destinations like Istanbul or Paris in January 2024 for as little as about 30 GBP. In peak season, and particularly for summer sun destinations, prices will rise significantly, so shopping around and booking well in advance is essential.
Take your pick on accommodation through Europe, from cheap hostels and Airbnbs, to mid range hotels, business hotels, and high end luxury resorts. Prices start pretty low in many popular destinations, although you may compromise a bit on location in the cities. Overall this means you can usually find accommodations to suit most budgets, but you’ll have a better choice outside of high season in popular destinations, so again, booking ahead is a smart idea if you plan to travel during the summer or school holiday periods.
Restaurant prices in Europe
To give a feel for food costs in a few European cities, let’s look at what you’d pay for a 3 course lunch for 2 at a mid-range restaurant in some popular destinations from the UK. In more rural areas you’ll often find prices are much lower - but in super touristy restaurants they’ll be higher again.
|Cost for a 3 course lunch for 2 at a mid-range restaurant
Compare the costs of the specific locations in Europe you’re planning on visiting, with Numbeo.com.
FAQ - travel money tips for Europe
What is the safest way to take money to Europe?
There’s no single best or safest way to take money to Europe. However, it’s important to remember that overall Europe uses close to 30 different currencies. If you have a multi-destination trip you may need more than just euros in your pocket. Using a low cost travel card to make ATM withdrawals as and when you need to is a good way to make sure you always have the currency or currencies you need to hand when you travel in Europe.
Should I exchange money before I travel to Europe?
There’s no need to exchange money before you go to Europe if you don’t want to. Instead, you can make an ATM withdrawal at the airport on arrival, and then use a travel card from a provider like Wise or Revolut to make withdrawals as you go, with good exchange rates and low overall costs.
Is it better to use cash or card in Europe?
This depends a lot on where you’re headed. While in lots of European countries - like in the UK - card payments are commonly accepted, there are some destinations where cash is still preferred. Even where card payments are common, you’ll likely need cash for things like shopping in markets and tipping. Overall that means that having one or two cards including a prepaid travel card, and a little cash is a sensible move as you’ll always have a back up if one payment method isn’t possible.