When I first wrote about millennials and the joy we have of travelling cashless, a number of other millennials wrote to me and said they feared going cashless would lead them to overspend or not be able to manage their finances appropriately. I recently experienced just the opposite - that managing my spending through electronic payments is far easier compared to cash.
Last month I made a last minute decision to fly to Dar Ess Salam in Tanzania. Despite it being a last minute trip, we wanted to be quite organized from booking the right flights, a reliable hotel and organizing the right activities. The easiest part of our trip was the actual booking of the flights and hotels, which we did from the comfort of our seats in Dubai.
Flights were taken care of through the Emirates mobile app where we could choose and pay for our tickets through any method we wanted. We chose Visa Checkout as it was the easiest option for us, requiring just our email and password to complete the transaction without having to insert our card numbers and address details.
As for hotels, a quick check on TripAdvisor told us which the best hotels in Dar were. Next, we checked which the best rates were by checking booking sites like Booking.com and Hotels.com – and yes – we booked and paid for our hotel using our cards in a few clicks.
By this time, we felt like professional travel agents, and just needed the hotel to book private car hires for our stay. We thought we had agreed to a rate that we would pay upon checkout. Easy peasy! How wrong we were…
Unfortunately, for us, the comfort of easy payments ended there and then. As soon as we landed, the need to have cash reared its ugly head. Cash was the only accepted payment method for the Tanzania entry visa. Since I dislike carrying large amounts of cash, I had not brought enough for the visa fee. I was stuck! The only solution was for me to leave my passport at immigration, exit the airport and withdraw cash from an ATM. An additional glitch was the ATM only dispensed Shillings and the immigration only accepted US Dollars. Which meant I had to then walk over to the exchange house and convert the Shillings. I might add here, you only get the worst conversion rate at such exchange houses – I was really wishing that airport immigrations start accepting cards soon!
From this point, paying for anything started becoming a real pain. Every organized excursion could only to be paid in cash, and most cash machines in Dar had a limit on withdrawals, which meant having to use a cash machine multiple times – or attempt to exchange your existing cash (from alternative currencies) into dollars and of course with the worst exchange rates. All of this meant that, unless you wrote everything down, you were bound to lose track of how much you spent, and where you spent it. To make accounting easier, just one of us settled 90% of the payments. However, this can be a burden especially for young travelers who may not have ready options like those that we did. Also with all this reliance on cash, we felt quite unsafe carrying large sums in an unfamiliar place.
Overall, while there was so much to see and do in Tanzania, I constantly kept spotting so many opportunities where if I had the option to pay with my card, I would have been inspired to do more or visit more regularly. Everyone I saw had a mobile phone and I kept wishing I could transfer money to the shopkeepers and drivers’ mobile phones directly – since this is happening elsewhere in the world, I hope it happens in the countries I want to visit soon!
The ability to rely on cards while we travel is a luxury I did not truly appreciate until my recent trip. Electronic payments allows me to trace what I spent and where and that is really important for young travellers who are often on a tight budget.
While this experience has not scared me from visiting more remote locations, I am definitely going to do more homework for my next trip. I encourage my fellow millennial travellers to keep this in mind and make the most of the options we have when we travel.
- Malak Alsaffar, Paralegal, Visa Middle East
Note: Malak Alsaffar is an employee of Visa but all views expressed here are her own and not influenced or endorsed by any brands, and/or their affiliates in any way. All brand names are the property of their respective owners and are used for identification purposes only.