In planning your trip to Italy, you probably know that the Euro is a very strong currency at the moment! Even if it settles back down to a more reasonable level, as most Europeans and just about all world travelers hope, it still never hurts to know a few golden rules for stretching your budget while in Italy.
1. Use plastic whenever you can
You will need cash for some things, of course (such as taxis, newspapers, a quick espresso), but just about everything else can – and should – be charged. The exchange rate for credit cards is pegged to an inter-bank rate that changes daily and is always better than the rate you'll get for exchanging cash or travelers checks. Even with the service fee your credit card charges, you'll usually wind up ahead of the game and plus, you usually have theft and fraud protection for credit card purchases. Three important rules: first, call your credit card company before leaving home and let them know which countries you'll be traveling in; second, be sure to take along two cards and keep them in different places (in different people's pockets, or leave one in the hotel safe, etc.); and third, make a copy of each card and its international emergency phone number so that you can block it immediately if it gets lost.
2. Use ATMs
Contrary to popular thought, Italy is a First World country and there are as many ATM machines there as in the USA! They offer an excellent exchange rate (perhaps the best), and you will be charged only a small fee per transaction by your bank. The rules here are: first, make sure your PIN has no more than four digits (some banks abroad will not accept longer PINs); second, find out what your daily limit is; third, only take out as much cash as you feel comfortable carrying and fourth, do be aware of your surroundings when using the machine – make sure no one is hovering nearby, using a cell phone that could photograph your PIN, or watching you suspiciously.
3. Take along a little cash, and spend it all
Since ATMs are everywhere, we don't see the need to start out with much more than $100.-150. in Euros cash. Get it from your local bank and keep it in a safe place while you're traveling. When your trip is done, don't bring back any more than the odd souvenir coin or two – use your remaining cash to pay part of your hotel bill or even at the duty free shop in the airport.
In conclusion, a few words about the Euro itself! There are seven banknotes: 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and 500 Euros. These notes are the same throughout Europe and are distinguished by color and size. Since they all bear a big number showing their worth, they are very easy to use.
Not so the coins!! We know many Europeans who still have trouble distinguishing them, so don't feel embarrassed to check your change every time. There are eight coins (.01, .02, .05, .10, .20, .50, 1 and 2 Euros). Not only do they differ in size and color, but they each have one side that varies from country to country (but they are all accepted in any country that uses the Euro). To help you prepare, you might want to familiarize yourself with the pictures below of the side that is the same in all countries. Good luck and buon viaggio!