Toting travelers checks

These days, traveler's checks are less necessary because most cities have 24-hour ATMs that allow you to withdraw cash as needed. However, keep in mind that you'll likely be charged an ATM fee if the bank isn't your own. If you're withdrawing money every day, you may be better off with traveler's checks — as long as you don't mind showing identification every time you want to cash one.

You can get traveler's checks at almost any bank. American Express offers denominations of $20, $50, $100, $500, and (for cardholders only) $1,000. You'll pay a service charge ranging from 1 to 4 percent. You can also get American Express traveler's checks over the phone by calling % 800-221-7282; American Express Gold and Platinum cardholders who use this number are exempt from the 1 percent fee.

Visa offers traveler's checks at Citibank locations nationwide, as well as at several other banks. The service charge ranges between 1.5 and 2 percent; checks come in denominations of $20, $50, $100, $500, and $1,000. Call % 800-732-1322 for information. AAA members can obtain Visa checks without a fee at most AAA offices or by calling % 866-339-3378. MasterCard also offers traveler's checks. Call % 800-223-9920 for a location near you.

^If you choose to carry traveler's checks, be sure to keep a record of their serial numbers separate from your checks, in case they're stolen or lost. You'll get a refund faster if you know the numbers.

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