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While an ATM/debit card must be kept secure, it is far less risky than carrying all of the cash needed to fund a vacation on your person. Admittedly, it may be different if you spend your trip solely on a cruise ship for a moderate period of time, but we tend to take trips of 2-4 months at as clip with at least half of the time spent hoofing it across multiple countries by car/train/bus/plane/whatever.

I have found that the vig charged by banks and money changers is likely to be 10% (higher on cruise ships) and have found it easier/safer to use cars to pull out moderate amounts of cash on an as-needed basis.

That said, there are places in the world (Zimbabwe comes to mind) where I travel with a stack of freshly printed US one dollar and five dollar bills and don't bother with cards or local currency. That said, that's the exception and I find I generally get better prices almost everywhere by using local cash if I'm not paying by credit card.

In places where I use USD (Madagascar and Mozambique come to mind), frequently the locals don't want $1 bills as they get a lower rate than for larger bank notes, so they will quote prices like "3 pieces for $5" and refuse to take one dollar bills. My solution (if I only want one piece) is to say "I'll give you a $5 bill for one piece and you give me three of the "bad" $1 bills as change. Everyone is happy.

Another strategy I've used to get rid of foreign currency when in a tourist environment (Brazil comes to mind) is to, at the end of the day, offer one of the vendors to trade them their currency for US dollars at the bank rate. That way, neither of us gets stuck with paying a commission and both of us can buy a pizza with our own money when we get home:-).

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