This is probably one of the most common questions I get asked by first time travelers. Do people still use travelers cheques? Will my debit or credit card work abroad? Is it best to pull out American dollars and exchange them for foreign cash at the airport kiosks?
The options in this modern age are much easier than they've been in the previous years. Travelers cheques are a thing of the past. Your debit and credit cards SHOULD work abroad, as long as you notify your bank of your travel dates and countries you will be visiting. I don't recommend you bring American dollars with you to exchange at your destination or at any airport kiosks-- the exchange rate will be astronomical and finding a bank that will exchange dollars can be difficult.
I typically like to have some foreign currency on hand before landing at my destination. As a frequent traveler, I often bring back excess foreign currency with me at the end of a trip. That way, I have it on hand for my next trip there. But if I have no foreign currency on hand, about one month prior to departure I will order foreign currency from Wells Fargo (I am in no way endorsed or sponsored by Wells Fargo). You don't have to be a member of Wells Fargo to order currency, you just may have to pay a fee that members don't. I usually like to have a monetary amount equal to $100 when I land at my destination. This amount is to get me by and cover something unexpected until the next business day. But the very next day after arrival, I find the nearest bank ATM and pull out a comfortable amount of cash to have on hand for vendors who don't take cards (such as taxi drivers).
Keep in mind, if you are using your debit card to withdraw cash abroad (a credit card may allow you to do so as well, but inquire of fees), your daily limit at home will still apply when abroad. You must consider the exchange rate too. For example, a $500 daily withdrawal limit does not mean you can pull out the same amount in euros, since the euro is slightly higher than the dollar (at time of publishing). You would want to pull out a daily max of maybe €460 instead. Also be aware that your bank or credit card may charge a non-network ATM fee every time you withdraw cash, so I recommend you withdraw larger amounts to avoid having to visit the bank more often, incurring a fee every time. Those fees add up quick.
Your bank may also charge a foreign transaction fee every time you use your debit or credit card abroad. Inquire with your bank to see if they do and what that charge is, prior to traveling. There are several credit cards that do NOT charge foreign transaction fees which are great options for travelers. Three options I am familiar with are the Capital One Venture card, the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature card, and the Bank of America Travel Rewards card (none of which sponsor or endorse me or my agency). Many travelers, myself included, choose to use a credit card with no foreign transaction fees and no foreign conversion fees for most of my purchases abroad (ie, dining, grocery, sightseeing, shopping). This way I don't have to carry as much currency on hand and it limits trips to ATMs.
To recap: NO to Travelers Cheques, NO to US cash, YES to Debit and Credit Cards, and YES to local ATMs for cash.
I hope you found this info helpful. If there are any questions I can answer, feel free to comment below or contact me!