When you’re planning a bike tour, figuring out how to manage your money on the road doesn’t compare favorably with the excitement of researching routes or buying a new bike.
Still, ensuring you have the best banking arrangement possible in place and being prepared for the financial challenges you might face down the road, is one part of travelling you can’t afford to ignore. Here are our top money management tips for bike tourists.
1. Research banks before you go
Choosing the right bank can make life a lot cheaper and easier once you’re on the road. Your ideal travel bank will provide you with free or very low commission withdrawals overseas (yes, these banks do exist), have an online banking facility and issue e-statements instead of paper every month. Check also what you’ll be charged for using your credit card. Normally you pay a commission on any transactions in a foreign currency but some banks charge less than others. In the UK, we can recommend the Nationwide Building Society and in Canada, Scotiabank has partnerships for free cash access through a variety of international banks.
2. Arrange back-up at home
Sorting out banking issues from far away is a nightmare and not everything can be done online. When your debit or credit card expires, for example, you’ll need someone to forward the new one to your current location. Usually your bank will only send these critical things to your registered address, so ask a relative or close friend to act as back-up and forward the most essential cards and papers to you on the road.
3. Stash your cash in creative places
Cycling often takes you to isolated places where you might not see a bank machine for days and some countries are totally disconnected from the international banking system. This means being prepared to occasionally carry more cash than you might be comfortable with. We were riding with $3,000 U.S. dollars in our bags when we entered Iran. Thankfully theft is rare but protect against the worst case scenario by dividing the money into smaller portions and keeping it in a variety of places. That way, if one bag is lost, you’re not totally out of luck. Good ideas include splitting the money between your panniers and stuffing an emergency $100 into your seatpost or handlebars. If your handlebar bag has a detachable liner, you can put money between the liner and the shell of the bag.
4. Have a second bank card
If at all possible, get a second bank card (either for the same account or a different account with an emergency cash supply) and keep this card in a different place from your main cards. Had we followed this rule, we wouldn’t have had to threaten to sleep in the bank when the cash machine ate our only bank card in Turkey.
5. Be savvy when changing money
Border crossings are often lined with money changers. They’re always eager for your business but rarely offer the best rates. Sometimes you have to use their services because the nearest town is some distance away but always know the going rate beforehand and don’t be afraid to negotiate if it seems excessively unfavorable. If at all possible, wait until you’re further inside the country to change your money. The rates are almost always better. And don’t be fooled into thinking the man on the street is your only option. Jewelery sellers often act as money changers and we’ve even managed to swap old cash for new in a hardware shop! Finally, if someone starts spinning you a line about how you can only change money with him (the banks are closed, no one will take your money on the other side of the border) then walk away. You’re almost certainly being ripped off. The only time we lost serious money on a money exchange deal was when we ignored our own advice. Our dislike for changing money meant that where possible we spent all of one currency before we crossed a border and then withdrew the new currency from a bank on the other side.