TRIPPERS TIP: Always Carry Cash in Asia

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By Benjamin Pratt | May 12, 2016

Thai Baht and other asian currency in cash can help get you out of sticky situations when travelling.

As long as it stays safe, carrying cash in Asia could help get you out of some sticky situations.

Rarely do we carry cash at home anymore; in the west currency is almost completely digitalised. Unless you’re sinking shots at a dive bar, buying drugs from teenage hoodlums, tipping your waitress or making bank at the racetrack, chances are you’ve become pretty accustomed to swiping plastic for your expenses. Filling your car with fuel, buying that greasy hamburger or paying a speeding ticket is simply fixed by whipping out the Mastercard and waving away. Sure it’s convenient but it’s pain in the arse if you ever need cash.

My old man always told me it was better to carry cash – he liked the feel of knowing you had money on you if you ever ran into trouble. And the further I travel, the more I understand his logic.

Carrying currency on the road often means just that – literally carrying it in cash. Yeah, you might have a credit card and a travel card on the road, which is great, but ATM fees will have you hemorrhaging change every hundred bucks you spend. And that shit adds up real quick. In addition, you’ve also got to consider in places like India, Africa, Japan and Korea it’s gonna be a four-man scavenger hunt just to find an ATM that accepts international cards.

So whadda you going to do? That’s where my old man’s tune rings true. Load up your currency before you leave, put a wad in your wallet and stash the rest – underneath the soles of your shoes; inside a pair of dirty socks; or tucked away in your underwear. Same thing if you have to use an ATM – stock up and at least make the fees seem semi-worth-it.

A money belt would look far too dorky on me; I use a wallet (it’s more like a Japanese male purse), but I’ve met people who use rubber bands, money clips and super-secret under-the-shirt cash-stashers. But whatever you use, if you’re going to Asia, make sure it holds enough dough for a couple a beers, a serve of noodles and cheeky bribe if you land in any hot water.

Cash is king in most Asian countries. Unstable economies and obvious corruption means you pay for your breakfast, lunch, dinner, drinks and your temporary mattress in cold hard moolah. It’s a good idea to budget daily taking what you need each day outta a pair dirty socks.

ATMs are still pretty accessible though. I found out the hard way: Pulled over by police at a busy intersection on the main drag into town, on an afternoon scooter ride in Bali. We were heading into Kuta for the evening, feeling compelled to see the Glorified Gold Coast of Oriental Corruption. By this time I’d been riding around Asia on scooters for two or three months, most of the time wearing a helmet. But not this time, and we got pinned.

It was all good, I thought. I had enough cash to get out of trouble. Not enough to get milked, but enough to settle a dispute… or so I thought.

I was threatened with a fine of one million U.S dollars (for real), but told it could be avoided for an upfront cash fee. I showed him the insides of my wallet and he pointed across the road at a random, lone-standing ATM.

I pay him, but tell him I’m a journalist from Australia. Then he hands half of my money back and says, “…Because we are both the same kind of men. Don’t tell anyone.” Then sends me on my way. And I learn some valuable lessons…

One: money talks. It can be the difference between a communal or private bathroom; it can make the cops look the other way when you’re smoking a joint on the roadside or pissing on the beach at midnight. Two: maybe I’m worse than a corrupt cop ‘cause I took the money and still told the story. And three: always carry more cash than you think you need. I guess my dad was right.

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