Money, what do you need to know?

Most of the places you will frequent along the way require you to use cash. Therefore you have to consider how you will obtain and carry sufficient funds. This causes some people a bit of stress. With a little thought, any anxiety you might feel about handling money on the Camino can be essentially eliminated. Conversely, not taking the time to think about it might cause you unnecessary heartache.

Here are some tips that should go a long way to helping you feel financially ready, secure and free you from undue worry.

Hit the ground with some Euros in your pocket

Some will say, only use your debit card at an ATM when you arrive, but the last question I want to be thinking about after a long flight to Europe is, “Where am I going to get some cash?” And chances are, you are going to need a little.

If I exchange money in the airport, I will lose 15% or more on the transaction. If I purchase Euros from my bank before the trip it cost 5%. If I use my debit card at an ATM, I will be charged a 3% international transaction fee. If the ATM is not part one of my bank’s international partners, I will also be charged a $5 usage fee. This could still be a better deal than purchasing a Euros at home, but for me, it is better to pay an extra percent or two on a few hundred Euros, land with some cash in my pocket and not have to worry about immediately finding a bank.

Check with your bank, some banks and credit unions will have an international transaction fee as little as 1%. If that is the case for your financial institution, it may be better for you to simply wait and find an ATM. You will have to decide if the savings on one trip to Europe is worth the work of changing banks back at home to get a better rate.

If you travel frequently, you may want to make a habit of bringing a few hundred Euros home with you and save them for your next trip. I have several hundred stashed away, waiting for my next Camino.

Do not carry unnecessarily large sums of cash

While not every little village will have an ATM machine, they will be far more available than you might think. There is no need to carry all the money you will spend with you from day one. Have enough to get you through the first week or so and then make a withdrawal from an ATM when you begin to run low.

Depending on the fee structure of your bank, you may want to withdraw the maximum allowed to avoid overpaying for the privilege. On average, most people will spend around €1,500 for 34 days on the Camino. At my bank the maximum I could withdraw was €500. This meant I only had to use an ATM two or three times in the month.

In taking this approach to the cash I was carrying, I never felt like I was in danger of running out or if my money was lost or stolen, that I would lose so much that it would be devastating. It seemed like a good strategy for me.

Use a credit card when you can

Credit cards typically have better foreign transaction fee rates than your debit card, and many have none at all. Shop around and you will be able to find a credit card that has no fees when used internationally. I have two such cards and carry them both. One is tucked away in my money belt and the other gets put in another safe place, in case the first is lost or stolen. With this second card, I also keep a photocopy of all my important documents.

Unfortunately, as I mentioned before, most of your spending on the Camino will be via currency. Still, when there is an opportunity to use your credit card, take it. It will save you a bit of money. If your card gives you points, and you pay it off when you get the bill, you could even make a little on the transaction.

Call your bank and let them know you will be traveling abroad

You do not want to get to Spain and have your debit or credit cards locked because of purchase which are outside of your normal patterns of spending. A simple call to customer service will allow them to make notations on your account regarding your travel plans. My bank allows me to do this online.

Have easy access to your customer service numbers. - Add the international customer service number for your bank and credit card companies to your phone, write them in your journal and email them to yourself so you will not have to go searching for them should your cards be lost or stolen. You might also want to store your health insurance information and phone number in these places as well.

Purchase and use a money belt

This is really the best way to protect your money, debit and credit cards, medical insurance cards, and passport.

On the Camino, I have seen people used both the ones that go around your neck and waist. I have never felt comfortable with the neck wallets, because usually there is big knot and extra cord hanging out of the back of your collar, advertising to everyone where you are carrying your valuables. I prefer a money belt, which hides discreetly around your waist. I like it to have at least two zippered pockets. You can even get them with RFID blocking material.

In one pocket, I put my passport, insurance cards, two blank checks, and my debit and credit card. In the other pocket I put my currency the Euros I am carrying and $100 in US Dollars. The contents of each pocket are put into a Ziploc baggie, to keep them dry in the event the money belt gets wet.

I have seen many people use these belts as if they were wallets, pulling them out of their pants every time they make a transaction. I use mine to keep my most important documents and the bulk of any cash I am carrying out of sight. I only get into it once a day to take out the cash I will need. On the Camino that amounts to about 30 Euros. I carry this in my front pocket. Everything else stays out of sight and hopefully out of the mind of others. If for some reason the money in of my front pocket was lost or stolen, I have not lost much.

Always have your money belt with you

There will come a time on your journey when you will start to feel pretty comfortable and safe. This is about the time people start doing things like leaving their passport out in the open while they are sleeping, or hiding their money belt in their pack and then leaving it unattended. I know of two incidents where people had hidden a large amount of money in their packs, only to have someone help themselves to it when no one was looking. Always keeping it with you will prevent this from happening.

Develop a rhythm for handling your money belt, and stick with it

Because I knew I would sweat through my money belt, when I walked, I buried it deep within my pack. If ever I stopped, I kept my pack with me at all times. If for some reason I had to leave it, even for a moment, I removed my money belt and took it with me. You might be more comfortable with simply wearing it all the time, but this worked for me.

When I arrived at the albergue where I would be staying for the night, one of the first things I would do was take a shower. I took my money belt, camera, and cell phone with me, along with a change of clothes and my toiletries with me, in a small bag I bought for this purpose. When I had finished showering, I put the money belt on, under my clothes, and that is where it stayed until the next morning, when just before I began walking, I buried it once again deep within my pack.

If I knew I would need some extra cash for the day or to visit the ATM, I would remove what I need in the privacy of the shower stall. If I was going to the bank that afternoon, I would keep what I took out of the ATM in my front pocket until I could once again be in a private place and put most of the cash in my money belt.

Keep your money belt on you, even when you are sleeping. I know a lady who had money stolen from her pack, which was under her bed, while she was sleeping. The entire trip, my money belt was always in my possession. Because of that fact, I did not have to think about it very much. I always knew where it was and that it was secure.

You may have some other good ideas of how to handle your finances and important documents while walking the Camino. If they feel like a better fit for you, by all means take that route. The important thing is to think about how you will go about it. The money and documents you will carry are simply tools that help make this journey possible. You want to use these tools wisely, without them becoming the focus. Hopefully, what I have shared is helpful in that endeavor.

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