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Is Travel Cash on Permanent Vacation?

Digital forms of payment are advancing all over the world, so is it any wonder that travel has become a largely cashless proposition?

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Cash is arguably the least secure form of payment; it contains no inherent protection, and there’s no way to prove that it’s yours. Most regular travelers and big-city residents have been taught at a young age some basics about how to protect themselves. People who have not were more liable to be caught foolishly pulling out a wad of cash to pay a street vendor, only to be targeted by a mugger. Those planning for new travel experiences (which are long overdue) should consider exploring some of the new digital payment options that can make the need for cash simply disappear.

"Cash not accepted"

Technology, of course, has been sidelining cash as a payment method for decades, and the pandemic sped that effort up significantly. Many of us didn’t believe we’d see the day when cash was actually not accepted at certain merchants, yet here we were, walking up to signs indicating as much. (This sparked various debates as to whether such policies are legal. Spoiler: save for a handful of states, they’re perfectly lawful.)

Related: How You Can Travel Without a Credit Card

The rise of the e-tip

In the course of recent travels, I discovered that I only needed cash for gratuities. Apps like Venmo and Zelle offer ways of tipping electronically, but can’t typically be used anonymously; if you don’t want to connect with your tour guide on Venmo (probably a wise choice), cash seems a better option. Restaurants, stores and other businesses have taken a number of approaches to address this issue, including asking patrons to download an app, but that doesn’t seem a fitting embrace of the convenience factor we’re all looking for.

Related: This Is What Travel Will Look Like in a Post-Pandemic World

Innovation on the move

An additional major avenue for cash used to be transportation, but even public transit is digitizing faster than was projected just a few years ago. California, for example, is trying to move forward with its California Integrated Travel Project, wherein all public transit in the state will utilize the same tap-to-pay method. Ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft keep everyone online as well, and these companies have built up such a reputation that payment safety concerns are typically no longer an issue.

New payment pathways

Airbnb, Vrbo and other homestay and vacation rental platforms have been nipping at the heels of hotels for more than a decade now, not least because they sport nearly seamless reservation and payment processes. There’s no need to tip hotel staff either, and travelers are able to book a wide variety of places. Not everyone enjoys staying in someone else’s home, but having an equipment-stocked kitchen and a private hot tub is enough to coax many.

What’s more, through pay-ahead plans, it’s possible to pay for an entire trip before going. Credit cards have long made it possible for us to travel whether we have the funds or not, but these payment plans allowing travelers to pay ahead of time — easing the cringing pain felt in paying off a vacation that’s over. The industry has been witness to dozens of “buy now, pay later” programs popping up among several carriers and OTAs (online travel agencies).

Related: Planning Your Next Vacation Might Be the Productivity Hack No One Talks About

A cashless future is coming. Will hard currency ever go away completely? Time will tell, but for now, technology is racing to make that seem far more likely. As hesitant as some are about the thought of not having holdable bills, the world seems to be adjusting pretty quickly, and so vacationers should know their options.

Michael Orlando

Written By

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor

Michael Orlando is an experienced executive, founder and independent board director with both private and public organizations from startups through Fortune 100.