“Money on the Road”


Many many years ago, there was no such thing as an ATM dispenser of cash. There were not credit cards except ones for specific department stores or gasoline stations. A common occurrence was remembering to get enough cash for the weekend. Well established residents could write checks at the grocery store and get a little extra back. But if you were in a strange town, you needed to have cash if you wanted to purchase anything.

Enter the American Express Traveler’s Check. These were purchased at the bank for cash plus a small fee for the service. Sometimes the handling fee was waived for certain customers who kept enough money in the bank. As soon as you bought them, it was important to sign the top line. Otherwise, anyone could cash them.

When you needed to buy something, you would fill out the check to the vendor and then write your signature on the bottom line. As I remember, no further identification was ever asked for. As long as your signature looked pretty much like the first one, you could cash the check. It was essential to keep a list of the serial numbers of the checks so that if you lost them you could immediately notify American Express. I remember being careful to keep the list of serial numbers in a separate place from the checks.

Traveling through Britain in the mid-1970’s I remember becoming aware that we were nearly out of checks. Fortunately, our air fare home was paid for and we practiced extra frugality for the last few days. Hard as it is for the VISA carrying, ATM using present day American to believe, we would have been in serious trouble if we had run out of Traveler’s Checks. They were the only money we had on the road.

14 thoughts on ““Money on the Road”

  1. I used these in the UK too, in the 1980s and later. Travel back then seemed very surreal in that these, and whatever the local currency was, took the place of money and yet my understanding of it was nebulous. I could know that there were eight francs in a dollar or whatever and be intelligent about that, but the novelty of the currency and Travelers Cheques made it feel not like real money to me.


      1. I am so far behind that I don’t know who eliminated pennies and who uses euroes and all…I used to have a ‘tiny money of the world’ collection that had some of the very physically small coins I picked up in Europe. I enjoyed that.


  2. I remember using travellers cheques on my first holidays abroad. The good thing about them was you were never tempted to overspend. I have never gotten a credit card as the temptation would be too much!


  3. I used travellers checks in Jamaica! My mom usually gave me my tuition for the entire year to take home with me (roughly $3000 US) so I would be terrified to travel across the island with it. I would head straight to the bank and get a travellers check and then use it to pay my tuition when I got to college, 6 hours away! I’m pretty sure other people still use them situations like these in Jamaica. I think money orders are also similar.


    1. Yes money orders are very popular around here. A lot of people don’t have checking accounts where I live. Also a lot of money transfers to other countries from people working here.


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