Currency Exchange: What You Use Matters

To International travelers, the name Travelex should sound familiar. They are the largest airport currency exchange operator in the world. But a recent currency exchange study comparing the cost of using Travelex, some of the largest U.S. banks and credit cards revealed what experts already knew.

CardHub’s 2013 Currency Exchange Study compared the cost of the currency exchange services offered by 15 of the largest banks in the U.S. as well as Visa, MasterCard and Travelex. The study proved that using a no foreign fee credit card is the way to go on spending internationally. Banks charge an average of exchange rate of 7.1% and Travelex charges 15.5%.

Worried about using a credit card outside of the U.S.? Don’t be. Credit cards also provide fraud protection for just that reason.

“Even if a consumer uses a credit card with foreign fees – the average foreign transaction fee is 2.24%, according to CardHub’s latest Credit Card Landscape Report – he’ll still save 4.86% on currency conversion relative to the services offered by banks and 13.26% compared to airport currency exchange providers,” said CardHub CEO Odysseas Papadimitriou in a HeraldOnline report.

The best banks for currency conversion? The CardHub study indicates Northern Trust and Harris Bank lead the pack as they did in the 2012 and 2011 editions of the study while U.S. Bank and SunTrust hold the bottom two spots. On average though, banks are better than Travelex, saving an average 8.4%.Still, many travelers do not feel like they are fully packed for an international trip without some local currency from the country they are visiting. They want to arrive with local cash for a cab, food or supplies they may not have been able to bring on the plane.

“It’s just one of those things that have been traditionally recommended,” says Papadimitriou. “But with the banking system becoming increasingly digital, it makes sense that the easiest way to buy things in a foreign currency is with plastic.”

Credit cards are good. No foreign fee cards are better. Still, some cash will probably be necessary along the way tipping or making purchases in places that do not take cards. With that in mind, Papadimitriou recommends a debit card with low international ATM withdrawal fees but warns travelers to avoid dynamic currency conversion, when a merchant offers to convert your purchase total from the native currency to U.S. dollars.

It might seem as though that merchant in Venice is trying to be help make sense of how much a purchase really costs, in our own currency, but “they could be looking for an excuse to apply a high exchange rate and squeeze a bit more money out of you. It’s best not to find out, especially when you can use your phone or a small pocket calculator to make quick conversions and better understand how much things cost,” says Papadimitriou.

As long as we’re talking about financial security when traveling, what about pickpockets? Well, the days of those villains are ending. In this video we see that all it takes now is a smartphone to steal your credit card information.

Louvre Shut Due To Violent Gang Of Pickpockets

The Louvre temporarily closed on Wednesday due to a strike protesting trouble with violent pickpockets.

The Guardian reports more than a hundred staff walked out on Wednesday in protest over “increasingly aggressive” gangs of pickpockets that harass both visitors and staff. Staff members who have tried to stop the criminals have been kicked and spat at. The strikers are demanding extra security.

The popular art museum in Paris is now open again, according to the Louvre’s website, but the problem isn’t solved. With the influx of art aficionados, there will be an understratum of the criminal element.

Pickpocketing is a serious problem in many parts of Europe. While I’ve lived in Europe for more than a decade, I’ve never been a victim. Perhaps it’s because I used to live in New York City and learned to pay attention. I’m a frequent passenger on both the Madrid Metro and the London Underground, both notorious hotspots for pickpocketing. I always keep my wallet in my front pocket with my thumb hooked into that pocket and my fingers resting on the outside of my pants touching my wallet. Sure, that signals where my wallet is, but good luck trying to get it.

Pickpockets often target families with small children because the parents are distracted. When I’m in the Metro with my wife and little boy, my wife watches the kid while I watch them, with my hand on my wallet the entire time. Nobody has ever managed to rob us.

So if you’re planning a trip to the Louvre, or to Europe, or to New York City, pack your street smarts along with your guidebook.

Do you have any other tricks to foil pickpockets? Share them in the comments section!

[Photo courtesy Benh Lieu Song]

Gadling gear review: Pick-Pocket Proof Pants from Clothing Arts

Few things can ruin a trip more quickly than losing your wallet to local thieves who make it a habit of preying on unsuspecting travelers. In the blink of an eye, your cash, ID, passport, credit cars and other valuable items, can be gone, leaving you scrambling to recover. To prevent these types of situations from ever occurring, the designers at a company called Clothing Arts, who happen to be travelers themselves, have created a line of pick pocket proof pants that make it nearly impossible for you to lose your important items.

Dubbed the P^cubed travel pants, Clothing Arts makes these garments for both adventure travelers and businessmen and women who frequently visit areas that pose a high risk for pick pockets. These pants (and shorts!) resemble typical cargo pants, with pockets in the usual places, namely the front and back, as well as additional pockets on the legs. But these aren’t your typical pockets, as you soon find out when put the pants on. Security is central to the design of the P^cubed line, and as a result each of those pockets can be sealed with both zippers and cloth covers. When sealed up tight, it would take a very talented pick-pocket indeed to gain access to your valuables.

These security measures mean that you can put your wallet in a pocket and without the fear of it being lifted. The pockets are spacious enough to accommodate most small items that you would want to carry with you, and the cargo pockets even expand for extra storage. Even cell phones and small cameras can comfortably be carried without worrying about them finding their way into unwelcome hands.

While we can all appreciate having an added sense of security while we’re traveling, the bottom line with any piece of clothing that we take with us is that it has to be comfortable. The P^cubed pants excel in that area as well, using a blend of nylon and cotton to offer up a relaxed fit that doesn’t hamper movement, even when taking part in active pursuits such as hiking or climbing. I found the pants were just as comfortable to wear around town as they were on the trail, which makes them a versatile piece of gear that can be used just about anywhere. That versatility is a big plus for travelers who like going as light as possible and don’t always want to carry a lot of items with them.
I put the Adventure Traveler Pants through their paces and was impressed with how well they resisted wear and tear, while also managing to stay clean. The materials used in making these pants are designed to resist the stains and dirt marks that come from typical travel situations, while not scuffing or tearing either. As a result, you end up with a pair of pants that you can take with you on a round-the-world trip that will look as good upon your return home as they did when you first set out. The fact that they are also quick drying is appreciated both while wearing them after a surprise rainstorm, and while cleaning the pants back in your hotel room.

If you’re like me, you probably have a few pieces of clothing that seem to always find their way into your bag no matter where you’re headed. They tend to be comfortable, versatile, and still manage to look good too. The P^cubed pants now fit into that category for me and are likely to be a regular companion on future excursions. I appreciate their comfort and fit first and foremost, and the fact that they have plenty of big pockets for storage is a major plus as well. Throw in the fact that they provide a level of security for your valuables that you won’t find elsewhere, and you just might have the perfect travel pants.

The Adventure Traveler Pants cost $109.95 on the Clothing Arts website, which is a bit on the expensive side when compared to other options. But when you consider what they bring to the table, you’ll realize that it is actually a very reasonable price. Not only will they keep the pick-pockets at bay, but they’ll also last for years, making them a wise investment for any traveler.

Beware in Barcelona and look out in London: TripAdvisor names world’s worst pickpocket destinations

It’s common wisdom that one ought to keep an eye on their valuables while traveling, particularly in large cities or those where one is unfamiliar with their surroundings. But a new survey of TripAdvisor site data, dubbed the TripAdvisor Pickpocket Index, reveals the cities where one is most likely to part ways with their wallet or valuables.

All ten spots on the list were “snatched” by European cities – with Barcelona topping the list for the second year running and London entering the list for the first time.

“London was crowned the most exciting city in Europe in the recent TripAdvisor Travellers Choice Destination Awards,” said TripAdvisor’s Emma O’Boyle. “…[W]hile the vast majority of visitors have a safe and enjoyable experience the Index shows that London must be on its guard.” With over 26 million tourists visiting the capital each year it is perhaps not surprising that pickpockets view its busy tourist hubs as prime hunting grounds.

O’Boyle reiterated that all cities on the list can offer a great travel experience. “This Index simply reinforces that extra care should be taken, especially in the busier tourist areas.”

The global top ten (with 2009 place in brackets) are:

1. Barcelona, Spain (1)
2. Rome, Italy (2)
3. Paris, France (5)
4. Madrid, Spain (-)
5. Athens, Greece (9)
6. Prague, Czech Republic (3)
7. Costa Brava (Alicante Province), Spain (-)
8. Lisbon, Portugal (-)
9. Tenerife, Spain (-)
10. London, England (-)

The 2010 Pickpocket Index is based solely on TripAdvisor site data calculating the number of times travelers use the term pickpocket (and translations of) in their reviews in the last twelve months.

[Image via Flickr user]

Air France in-flight thefts solved – flight attendant arrested

Earlier this year, we wrote about an Air France plane that had been hit by a pickpocket. The thief had emptied the wallets of business class passengers, and upon arrival in Paris, local police boarded the plane, but were unable to find the criminal.

Six months after that incident, French police have arrested an Air France flight attendant suspected of being behind the thefts. In total, 142 Air France flights had been involved in theft incidents, and when police compared their reports with staff rosters, they pinpointed their suspect. Upon searching her home and a bank deposit box, they recovered jewelry, checks, credit card numbers.

When asked by Bloomberg about the incident, Air France had “no comment” on the arrest. Naturally, aviation law only covers luggage placed in the hold, so the airline does not accept liability for cabin baggage. Personally, I am amazed it took 142 reports of theft to finally get a hold of their suspect.

Just like we mentioned in January, always keep your personal items close to you, never let your wallet out of sight, and keep expensive electronics locked in your hand luggage. Sadly there is not much most you can do against in-flight theft, especially if it involves an inside job like this.

[Photo credit: DAVID BOILY/AFP/Getty Images]