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Winter sun or a snow holiday? My packing list stays the same

Travel writer Joanna Booth is a Currensea card convert. Joanna writes for The Telegraph, The Times, Travel Weekly and Hearst magazines.

Winter is coming. And with it comes the tricky decision – to chase the sun, or embrace the snow. I’m still undecided. As the world reopens post-Covid the holiday options are endless. I could take my son for October half term in the balmy Canary Islands, treat him to his first visit to Orlando’s theme parks, or whisk him off for a tropical Christmas in the Caribbean. Or should we head north, for a snow-drenched trip to see Santa, go sledging and spot the Northern Lights? Or do we try something new for all of us, a ski holiday?

Whatever we decide, I know one thing will remain at the top of my packing list whatever the destination – and that’s my Currensea card. Nothing comes close to this unique travel direct debit card for both convenience and value. Now I have one, I’m no longer left with the unappetising combination of faffing around with foreign currency or racking up a fortune in sky-high exchange fees on my traditional bank card.

My Currensea card makes planning ahead unnecessary – a major advantage considering my job can send me off on trips at a moment’s notice. Unlike many other prepaid travel cards, there’s no need to ‘top up’ funds or risk running out while I’m away – my card simply works as a layer in front of my normal bank account, collecting the money I spend abroad by direct debit. 

It means I can spend in 180 currencies without lifting a finger – it automatically recognises which currency I want to use. If only I’d got my card earlier, before the Nordic cruise I took in spring – it would have made switching between euros in Amsterdam one day, Danish krone in Skagen the next and Norwegian krone in the fjords after that far simpler! Currensea is also accepted on board cruise ships and when hiring a car – situations where many prepaid travel cards are not.

The set up couldn’t have been easier – the work of a few minutes online, linking the new Currensea account to my existing bank account, and then a few days later my card arrived. Not having to open a new bank account was a major bonus. While many challenger banks offer better exchange rates than traditional high street providers (you can see comparison tables here), some challenger banks ask you to exchange funds into different currencies before spending, something I was keen to avoid. And not having to shift my existing main account meant avoiding the hassle of moving to a new bank – which seemed like an enormous amount of extra life admin simply to access better exchange rates!

And I wasn’t keen to keep being hit by unreasonable exchange rates and extra fees. With sterling already at a near all-time low against most other currencies, travel has become expensive enough without extra sneaky costs being thrown in. I’d sometimes thoughtlessly used my normal debit card abroad, and then regretted it later when I saw the charges on the transaction. 

Currensea uses interbank rates for the 16 major currency pairings – the rate banks charge each other on transactions, which is far lower than they charge the average customer. The difference is significant – you’re being charged a maximum of 0.5% of the amount rather than between 3% and 7% – the rate you’ll get from a conventional bank or credit card. This list of 16 covers all the major currencies – euros; dollars (US, plus also Australian, New Zealand, Canadian, Singapore and Hong Kong varieties); krone from Denmark, Norway and Sweden; South African rand; Japanese yen; Thai baht; Polish zloty; Swiss francs and Hungarian forint. On the other 164 currencies, you’ll get Mastercard rates – generally considered the lowest of these providers. 

On our family holiday in Denmark this summer I saw what a big difference these rates make. Every time I bought something using my Currensea card, my phone would ping with a notification telling me what I’d spent and how much I’d saved vs a high street bank rate - £5.28 on a £150 dinner bill; 47p on a tenner’s worth of ice creams; almost a fiver on taking out just over £100 of foreign currency to cover tips and anywhere which didn’t take the card (it turned out everywhere did). Over the course of the holiday, I saved more than £100 purely by using my Currensea card rather than my standard bank card.

Having a debit card to use freely abroad has also made travelling in a post-Covid world far easier. Before the pandemic, despite being the kind of person who puts even the smallest purchase on a card at home, I would predominantly use cash overseas. These days I’ve noticed that contactless transactions are preferred almost everywhere, and with my Currensea card, I’m more than happy to oblige.