Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Thursday Thirteen #356

13 facts about traveler's checks.
One of the things I always did in the run-up for any vacation was go to the bank and buy traveler's checks. I kinda miss that pre-trip ritual.

I'm also sure most Americans under 35 have no idea what traveler's checks are. How about you? Did you ever use them?

1. Traveler's checks are paper documents. Your funds aren't loaded onto a card or accessed via smart phone. They are in the form of checks that can be used to pay for goods and services.

2. They were introduced in 18th century England for use across the nations of the British Empire. They made it to this side of the pond when American Express got into the act, just before the turn of the 20th century.

3. They were once sold by most banks and credit unions. No more. Major banks like Wells Fargo, Chase and Bank of America quit selling them years ago.

4. Each check had a set denomination. Unlike a personal check, where you fill out how much it's worth, a traveler's check has an amount printed on it. $20 and $50 were most popular. 

5. You signed each check twice. Every check had two signature lines. You signed one in front of the teller when you bought it. When you cashed it, you sign the second line and presented ID. That gave the merchant three signatures to compare before accepting the check.

6. Each check had a unique serial number. The bank kept a copy and you received a separate "register" with the number listed so you could make note of when/where you spent it. If your traveler's checks were lost or stolen while you were on the road, all you had to do was let a local, participating bank know and your funds could be refunded.

7. All this security came at a price. Banks charged a service fee for issuing the checks.

8. Traveler's checks didn't expire. When you get home you could cash your unused checks at the bank, use them at local merchants, or save them for your next trip. Banks loved these last two options. You paid the bank a service fee, but they aren't paying you interest on your money, so the longer they went unused, the better for the financial institution.

9. Traveler's checks declined in popularity in the 1990s. ATM cards that carry the Visa or Mastercard logo are welcome worldwide, give you immediate access to your funds wherever you go, and are more convenient for both you and the merchant.

10. Bad guys got wise. Fraudsters counterfeited traveler's checks, which ended up costing banks, restaurants and stores a ton.

11. For domestic travel, traveler's checks don't make much sense anymore. If you can still find a bank or credit union that issues them, you likely won't find stores or restaurants who will accept them.

12. They remain more popular in Europe. Note that I said "more popular." That doesn't mean they are widely accepted. If you plan to use them to pay for your hotel in Lucerne, call ahead to make sure they will take your traveler's checks.

13. Here's an advantage to using them abroad: There are fees every time you use your card in a foreign ATM machine and with every purchase you make with your credit card. Generally (not always) you can cash traveler's check at the counter in a foreign bank with no fee. Again, before you go overseas with traveler's checks, do your homework.

I, however, am not going abroad any time soon so traveler's checks just seem like a relic of my past.

Please join us for THURSDAY THIRTEEN. Click here to play along, and to see other interesting compilations of 13 things.


  1. Ah yes, I do remember traveler's checks. I am surprised to hear that they are still used in Europe. I don't think they have been a "thing" here in the states for many years. A relic of the past indeed.

  2. We used them a lot . . . until we didn't. It probably was the 90s the last time we used them on a trip. When we realized that many places weren't accepting them, we stopped using them. We have always paid cash in restaurants, and now many aren't accepting cash - just cards - but I don't like handing the card over to a server and letting it out of my sight. I haven't thought about traveler's checks in a long time, but I thought they were great at the time. (They also kept you within your budget on vacation.)

  3. I recall using traveler's checks. My most recent trip was card based although I wanted to use traveler's checks for nostalgic reasons.

  4. I remember accepting travelers checks when I worked retail. We were a mile from Disneyland, so we got plenty of tourists. Not many travelers checks, though. Just occasionally.


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