As Europe moves toward a cashless future, these strategies will ensure you have a valid form of payment.

By Rachel Chang
May 16, 2020
Woman using her credit card at a cafe in Italy
Credit: Getty Images

Editor’s Note: Travel might be complicated right now, but use our inspirational trip ideas to plan ahead for your next bucket list adventure.

On a recent group trip through Romania, I panicked when I couldn’t withdraw cash from two dozen different banks. Luckily, my credit card still worked, so I’d buy items for my fellow travelers and they’d give me the cash I needed. It was a huge hassle — but one travelers may soon be able to avoid, as cash is becoming less critical throughout Europe, particularly in countries like Norway and Sweden that are moving almost exclusively to digital payments. Here’s how two experts suggest navigating this new financial reality — no runaround required.

Diversify Your Options

“Travel with at least two cards that are part of different payment networks with worldwide acceptance, such as Mastercard and Visa,” says NerdWallet credit card expert Sara Rathner. “That way, you have a backup.”

Go Contactless

The chip-and-PIN systems in the U.S. aren’t always reliable internationally, according to Rathner. Instead, “look for the contactless card symbol, which usually has four curved lines,” she says. Those cards follow a global standard and should work anywhere.

Set Up Mobile Payments

“Apple Pay and Google Pay work just like contactless cards,” says Wallethub analyst Jill Gonzalez. “They’re easy to set up — all you have to do is enter your card’s information in your phone’s digital wallet.”

Skip Currency Conversion

Some retailers will ask whether you want to pay in the local currency or in U.S. dollars. “Always say no to paying in dollars,” Gonzalez advises. “You end up paying more, as the exchange rate is lousy.”

A version of this story first appeared in the May 2020 issue of Travel + Leisure under the headline Before You Fly, Double-Check Your Credit Cards.