The Best Cities to Travel Cashless Around the World
Nothing quite puts a damper on a vacation like calculating exchange rates. Luckily, there are tons of places around the world where it’s easy to travel cashless. From Stockholm to Sydney, here are the best destinations to flex that plastic.
In collaboration with Visa
Chelsea is Brooklyn-based travel writer, editor, and photographer. When not home eating her way through NYC, she's gallivanting across the globe, sailing the coast of Croatia or hiking the peaks of Peru. Her superpowers include booking flight deals and sleeping in small plane seats.
It’s not news, but it deserves saying: credit and debit cards are more secure than cash. Not only can you set up travel notices to monitor for fraud, you also don’t have to worry about pickpockets or time or fees associated with exchanging currency. Visa has a Zero Liability Policy* to help protect you against unauthorized charges on your account. Plus, many cards provide travel insurance, including auto rental coverage, trip cancellation refunds, travel accident insurance, and even reimbursement for lost, damaged, or delayed luggage.
Another huge benefit to using your plastic is how much money you can save. Debit and credit offer you a competitive exchange rate compared to cash, and, with your card, you can save even more by paying local currency to avoid charging a conversion fee. Also, according to Visa’s 2018 Global Travel Intention Study, around 87 percent of travelers end up with leftover cash after a trip abroad, but only 29 percent exchange it back to their home currency—meaning they’re coming home with a suitcase full of useless bills. With credit and debit cards, you can set alerts to track how much you’re spending, so you won’t blow your budget, while the best travel rewards cards earn you points (a.k.a. free money) for each purchase you make, which can be redeemed for flights, hotels, car rentals, and more.
To see where you can get the best bang for your buck, check out these 10 card-friendly destinations.
New York City
With those striking skyscrapers, zooming cabs, and effortlessly chic city-slickers, Manhattan is cinematic in its own right. It’s comes as no surprise, then, that there are tons of trendy indie theaters and star-filled film festivals in the Big Apple. Many NYC movie theaters now offer e-tickets that you can buy directly through your card-activated account while others serve special menus and cocktails at your seat, which will automatically charge you for your purchases so you don’t have to wait for the bill at the end of the show. Talk about the best kind of dine and dash.
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London is one of the easiest places to visit without pounds in your pocket. Transportation is one tap away as the Tube, trams, and buses operated by Transport for London are all cashless. Also, black cabs accept credit and debit and won’t take a surcharge for using a card. Walk along any of the high streets—such as Oxford—and you’ll notice shops and pubs with cashless signs. Some watering holes even have apps that allows you to order and pay with the click of a button. Heck, even buskers and street performers have QR codes and PayPal options.
Looking for a party? Paris has tons of year-round festivals to explore—and many of them now have cashless options. For example, at the culinary events that invite the city’s top chefs to lead tastings, cooking demonstrations, and dozens of pop-up food stalls, you can try a variety of dishes and drinks using a pre-loaded ticket. Similarly, almost every music festival in Paris now offers contactless wristbands to buy food, drinks, and band merch so you never have to worry about your wallet getting lost or stolen while dancing in the crowd.
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Stockholm is making headlines lately as it could be the first city to become completely cash-free. According to Sweden’s central bank, Riksbanken, only 13 percent of payments in the country are made with cash as notes and coins start to be phased out. If the weather is nice while you’re in town, rent a bike or take a ferry around the 14 islands that make up the coastal capital. You’ll pedal along cobblestoned medieval streets, lush parks, and charming waterfront promenades lined with floating bars begging for a happy hour pitstop.
Sure, the Opera House and the Great Barrier Reef get all the attention when it comes to Australia, but Sydney has a lot more to offer besides its typical tourist attractions. The city is a major foodie hotspot—especially in terms of fresh seafood as well as Asian-inspired cuisine thanks to a flux of expats from Singapore, Hong Kong, and Tokyo. Save room to eat your way through the card-only Asian food stands that line Kensington Street in the hip Chippendale neighborhood.
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Canada is also at the forefront of the cashless movement, with more than 60 percent of the country’s purchases being made via credit card. It’s easier than ever for New Yorkers to drive to Toronto, just two hours from Buffalo, since the toll booths at Grand Island became cashless (so you can speed right through without hitting traffic). Once in the city, grab tickets for a concert or sports game at Scotiabank Arena, home to the Toronto Maple Leafs ice hockey team and the Toronto Raptors basketball team.
Seoul has always been futuristic and tech-friendly, and it’s even more so now thanks to the introduction of T-Money. These prepaid cards can be used in taxis, trains, public transit, and more than 30,000 convenience stores around South Korea. Any leftover or loose change can be deposited back onto the card as well. Spend that dough in the Samcheong-dong district, which is choc-a-bloc with eclectic art galleries, indie boutiques, and al fresco restaurants. Then, head a few streets over to the Bukchon Hanok Village, a hilltop maze of centuries-old Korean homes that have been preserved and reopened as artist studios, tea rooms, and tiny museums.
Oktoberfest may be Munich’s main draw, but beer isn’t the only thing this German city’s got going for it. There are a handful of historic sites to see, especially come spring when the weather warms up. The city is home to grand 18th-century palaces, priceless art museums (a few of which are housed in former royal residences), and sprawling public gardens with outdoor beer gardens and lakefront lawns ideal for a sunny afternoon picnic.
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Following the Crazy Rich Asians fanfare, all eyes are on Singapore’s glam lifestyle. Big-spenders will want to splurge on one of the high-end hotels dominating the city skyline—especially when these swanky stays come with rooftop terraces and decadent spas. Just don’t forget to see the main attractions: during the day, stroll through the Singapore Botanic Garden, which is celebrating its 160th anniversary, and the Gardens by the Bay at night, when the tall, plant-like structures twinkle in a rainbow of lights.
Massive glaciers, black-sand beaches, thundering waterfalls, adorable Icelandic ponies—it’s no wonder why Iceland has captured so much attention in recent years. Make the colorful capital of Reykjavík your home base, and bed down in one of the city’s minimalist-chic hotels. Then, spend a morning browsing the boutiques along the Laugavegur shopping strip (keeping in mind that some stores and bars don’t accept any cash, even tips.)
*Visa’s Zero Liability policy does not apply to certain commercial card and anonymous prepaid card transactions or transactions not processed by Visa. Cardholders must use care in protecting their card and notify their issuing financial institution immediately of any unauthorized use. Contact your issuer for more detail.
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