Traveler’s Checks: Outdated or Still Useful?


In the 1980s, traveler’s checks were a staple for those venturing abroad, providing a sense of security and ease. Today, their popularity has waned dramatically, with many travelers opting for more modern payment methods.

man traveling abroad

The purpose of this article is to examine the relevance of traveler’s checks in the current travel environment and to explore various modern alternatives that offer both convenience and security.

While traveler’s checks have become less common, there are numerous modern alternatives that provide a higher level of convenience and security for travelers.

Key Takeaways

  • Traveler’s checks have declined due to the rise of digital payments and changing consumer preferences.
  • Modern alternatives like credit and debit cards, prepaid travel cards, and digital wallets offer more convenience and security.
  • It’s important to choose the right payment methods for your travel needs and have backup options in place.

The History and Purpose of Traveler’s Checks

Traveler’s checks were introduced in the late 19th century, designed to provide a secure way for travelers to carry money. These checks offered a convenient alternative to carrying large amounts of cash, which was often risky due to theft and loss.

The concept of traveler’s checks originated with companies like American Express, which became one of the key players in this market. By issuing these checks, they provided a reliable financial tool that could be used worldwide.

Traveler’s checks functioned as prepaid checks, allowing users to sign them upon purchase and again when cashing them, ensuring security. They were widely accepted at hotels, banks, and businesses, making them a favored option for international travelers. Traditional benefits included security against theft, as lost or stolen checks could be replaced, and ease of use abroad without the need for currency exchange.

The Decline of Traveler’s Checks

The rise of digital payments has played a significant role in the decline of traveler’s checks. With the introduction of credit and debit cards that offer global acceptance and enhanced security features, travelers found these modern options more convenient.

Travelers’ preferences have shifted towards digital solutions. There is an increased reliance on digital wallets and mobile banking apps, which offer seamless transactions and the convenience of managing finances on the go.

The number of places accepting traveler’s checks has also significantly decreased. This reduction in acceptance, coupled with the difficulty in purchasing and cashing traveler’s checks, has made them a less practical option for travelers today.

Modern Alternatives to Traveler’s Checks

There are several modern alternatives to traveler’s checks that offer greater convenience and security for today’s travelers. These options include credit and debit cards, prepaid travel cards, digital wallets, peer-to-peer payment apps, and cryptocurrency.

Credit and Debit Cards

Credit and debit cards have become the go-to payment method for many travelers. Their wide acceptance by merchants worldwide makes them incredibly convenient. Additionally, many credit cards offer rewards programs that provide benefits such as cash back, points, or miles for purchases. However, potential drawbacks include foreign transaction fees and the risk of fraud, so it is important to choose cards that offer fraud protection and to notify your bank of your travel plans.

See also: Best Debit Cards for International Travel of 2024

Prepaid Travel Cards

Prepaid travel cards work similarly to debit cards but are preloaded with a specific amount of money. Users can spend up to the amount loaded on the card, making it a controlled way to manage travel expenses. Benefits include the ability to lock in exchange rates and avoid overspending. However, limitations can include reload fees and less favorable exchange rates compared to credit cards.

Digital Wallets and Mobile Payments

Digital wallets such as Apple Pay and Google Wallet have gained popularity due to their security features and convenience. These wallets allow users to store their credit and debit card information securely on their smartphones, enabling quick and easy payments. They offer enhanced security through tokenization and encryption, reducing the risk of fraud.

Peer-to-Peer Payment Apps

Platforms like PayPal and Venmo have made sending and receiving money internationally easier. These apps are particularly useful for splitting expenses and managing shared costs among friends and family while traveling. However, international transfer capabilities and fees can vary, so it is essential to review the terms and conditions before using these services abroad.


Cryptocurrency is emerging as an alternative payment method for travelers. It offers the advantage of lower transaction fees and enhanced privacy. However, the use of cryptocurrency comes with risks such as price volatility and limited acceptance by merchants. Travelers considering this option should weigh these pros and cons carefully and have other payment methods available as backups.

By exploring these modern alternatives, travelers can choose the payment methods that best suit their needs and preferences, ensuring a smoother and more secure travel experience.

Practical Tips for Travelers

Choosing the right payment method for your travels can significantly enhance your experience and provide peace of mind. Here are some practical tips to help you make informed decisions:

Choosing the Best Payment Method

When selecting a payment method, consider the following factors:

  • Destination: Research the acceptance of different payment methods in your travel destination. Some countries might favor cash, while others are more card-friendly.
  • Duration of stay: For longer stays, having multiple payment options can be beneficial.
  • Personal preferences: Consider what payment methods you are most comfortable using and what features you value the most (e.g., rewards, security, ease of use).

Backup Plans

It’s essential to have backup payment options in case your primary method fails. Here are some tips:

  • Multiple payment options: Carry a mix of credit cards, debit cards, and some cash. Prepaid travel cards and digital wallets can also serve as backups.
  • Safeguarding against loss or theft: Keep your payment methods in different locations (e.g., one card in your wallet, another in a separate bag). Consider using a money belt or a secure travel pouch.

Currency Exchange Considerations

Managing currency exchange efficiently can save you money and hassle:

  • Best practices for exchanging currency: Avoid exchanging large amounts of currency at airports or hotels, as they often have higher fees. Use local banks or reputable exchange services for better rates.
  • Avoiding high fees and unfavorable exchange rates: Compare exchange rates and fees before converting money. Consider using ATMs to withdraw local currency at more favorable rates, but be aware of any associated fees from your bank.

See also: Where to Exchange Currency: Low Fee Options


Traveler’s checks have declined in popularity due to technological advancements and changing consumer preferences. Modern alternatives like credit and debit cards, prepaid travel cards, digital wallets, peer-to-peer payment apps, and cryptocurrency offer greater convenience and security for travelers.

Choosing the right payment method for your travels is essential for a smooth and secure experience. By considering factors such as destination, duration of stay, and personal preferences, you can select the best options to suit your needs.

Take the time to assess your travel payment options before your next trip. Share your experiences and tips in the comments to help fellow travelers make informed decisions and enjoy their journeys with confidence.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I avoid foreign transaction fees on my credit card?

To avoid foreign transaction fees on your credit card, look for cards that specifically offer no foreign transaction fees. Many travel-focused credit cards provide this feature. Additionally, consider notifying your bank about your travel plans to prevent any security holds on your card.

Is it safe to use public Wi-Fi for digital wallet transactions?

Using public Wi-Fi for digital wallet transactions can be risky due to potential security vulnerabilities. To ensure safety, use a virtual private network (VPN) to encrypt your internet connection or rely on your mobile data instead of public Wi-Fi when making transactions.

What should I do if my prepaid travel card is lost or stolen?

If your prepaid travel card is lost or stolen, contact the card issuer immediately to report the loss and request a replacement card. Many issuers offer 24/7 customer service and can quickly freeze the card to prevent unauthorized use.

Are there any hidden fees with peer-to-peer payment apps?

Peer-to-peer payment apps can have hidden fees, especially for international transfers. It’s important to review the app’s terms and conditions to understand any fees associated with currency conversion, transfer limits, or expedited transfers.

Can I use my digital wallet internationally?

Yes, you can use your digital wallet internationally, but its acceptance varies by country and merchant. Ensure your digital wallet is linked to a card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees, and verify that merchants at your destination accept digital wallet payments.

How can I find the best exchange rates before traveling?

To find the best exchange rates before traveling, monitor currency rates through financial news websites, apps, or banks. Consider exchanging a small amount of money before your trip, and use ATMs at your destination for better rates. Avoid exchanging money at airports or tourist areas, where rates are often less favorable.

What are the benefits of using a multi-currency travel card?

A multi-currency travel card allows you to load multiple currencies onto a single card, offering convenience and potentially better exchange rates. This can save you money on currency conversion fees and provide a more straightforward way to manage your travel budget across different countries.

Meet the author

Crediful is your go-to destination for all things related to personal finance. We're dedicated to helping you achieve financial freedom and make informed financial decisions. Our team of financial experts and enthusiasts brings you articles and resources on topics like budgeting, credit, saving, investing, and more.