Travel money: What to do with unused foreign currency if your holiday was cancelled

Would-be holidaymakers have been left devastated by cancellations in recent months as the coronavirus pandemic spurred a global lockdown. Along with grounded flights, travel money shops too have closed their doors, leaving travellers with sometimes large amounts of unused foreign currency.


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With the exchange rate enduring a period of ongoing turbulence, rapidly plummeting rates mean many people might find themselves losing out on cash despite never leaving the UK.

In most cases, travellers are advised to shop around for the best rates before exchanging their currency.

“Savvy consumers should shop around before they change currency back to make sure they’re getting the best offer available and not losing too much money in the process,” Ian Strafford-Taylor, CEO of Equals (formerly known as FairFX) told

However, this advice fares somewhat useless when the doors of many big-name providers remain closed due to lockdown measures.

“If they can, holidaymakers might want to keep hold of their currency until their next trip and use it then,” Strafford-Taylor continued.

Despite this advice, there are some money specialists who say they are able to help customers make the most of their travel money, though in a slightly less traditional way.

“Given COVID ‘ain’t going nowhere’ for a while so I wouldn’t hang onto leftover cash currency,” Shon Alam, founder of Bidwedge told

“You will get more pounds at the moment and you can always go back and repurchase when you need to.”

Mr Alam’s fintech platform works in a different way to traditional travel money specialists, by buying almost any amount of currency and allowing customers to buy it back when they next need it.

He says this means it will ensure customers don’t lose out on the best rates – even amid the current pandemic.

According to Mr Alam, around £4 billion worth of travel money remains unused in the UK.

“Unused cash currency is often considered worthless or devalued,” he explains.

“The traditional vendors all use the spread system and although they are competitive with each other,

when you want to sell it back, they charge you/us an absolute fortune, because they really do not want it back.

“So our model is that we buy the leftover currency at the best rate, (mid-rate) and charge a small fee.

“We made it ‘easy to do’ by offering a free delivery and free fully insured service. By doing this we ensure that even €10 is worth something.”

Instead of hanging onto money until most travel shops open up, Mr Alam suggests working with the online retailers that are available now.

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“I would find the best deal I could and sell it,” he advises.

“A lot of the exchanges have closed or are offering rates that are so ridiculously bad it is enough to depress you.”

He adds: “One thing that often gets overlooked is inflation. Prices never stay the same anywhere in the world, so what you paid on your last trip is not the same for the next trip. So, by doing nothing, you are just shooting yourself in the foot twice!”

However, while his advice may work for larger amounts, many travel money operators will not accept smaller amounts such as coins.


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Despite this, Mr Alam says the money does not have to go to waste.

If you plan on heading back to a destination in the future, you can always hang onto it and spend it on your next big adventure.

Alternatively, Mr Alam recommends getting your creative juices flowing.

“Something I did a few years ago was to make some jewellery with my kids with some left-over coins I had, and they gave them to their mother as charms for the bracelet,” he says.

“I thought it was cute.

“Make a souvenir to remind yourself of a fun holiday.

“You could use your foreign coins by making a frame for your favourite photo to remind you of the trip.

“If you have enough coins you could make a collage and spell out the name of the holiday destination or a message. I’m sure you can come up with other creative ideas!

“All you’ll need is a glue gun and some card. Pinterest is a great source of inspiration for craft projects if you need something to get yourself or the kids started.”

In light of the global pandemic, he adds: “You could also make a donation to your favourite charity. If you can afford it and don’t want it lying around why not? Charities need it.”

Regardless of how travellers decide to use leftover money, Mr Alam emphasises that it does not need to go to waste.

“Do not overlook small amounts of currency,” he urges.

“10 or 20 Euros or US Dollars is always worth something.

“It only becomes worthless because we have got ourselves into the habit of believing it’s worthless. It is unused treasure.”

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