Q. My wife and I recently visited Italy and Greece, and I want to share our experience with you. Before we left for our trip this time around, I converted US dollars into Euro currency and travelers checks (also in Euros). All three of the hotels we stayed at in Italy wouldn't accept the traveler's checks for payment. We ended up having to cash them in (at a substantial cost), so we could have the currency instead. I'm not sure how widespread this has become, but in our case, purchasing travelers checks before we left the US was a costly mistake. With practically every country now linked to the ATM network, I believe these checks are no longer useful.
A. Your experience should be of interest to other travelers overseas. As you noted, ATMs are such a common feature nowadays that it often makes more sense to withdraw money in local currency with an ATM card than to bring along cash or travelers checks. But do remember to notify your banking institution before you leave home, in case they freeze your account because of unusual activity. And although you found travelers checks not to be useful, you should always have a "plan B" if you lose your ATM card or it's eaten by a machine. Carrying a second ATM card from another bank is one option (and you'd want to keep it in a safe place, separate from your other ATM card).
Q. Where should we exchange US dollars for Australian and New Zealand dollars? In the US before we leave; in the country or aboard a cruise ship? You covered this some time ago, but I wasn't planning a tip then and have mislaid the advice.
A. I'd suggest converting some US currency before you leave, and most major financial institutions (such as Chase and Citibank) have foreign currency on hand. One option is to purchase travelers checks in the foreign currency through big companies like American Express or Visa, which are easily obtainable through the larger branches of many local banks or the American Automobile Association (AAA). I'd keep the travelers checks to a minimum, as smaller merchants and hotels may not accept them.
But your best option is to just use your ATM to withdraw money in local currency. But, as I've advised before, it's essential to notify your banking institution before you leave home, in case they freeze your account because of unusual activity. It's advisable to have carry a second ATM card from another bank (keep it in a safe place, separate from your other ATM card) just in case you lose your first ATM card or it gets eaten by the machine.