How can I spend thee? Let me count the ways...
There's cash, credit, debit card, and paper and e-checks. Now travelers have an alternative to the cost-prohibitive cash advances they get from using their credit card at the automatic teller machine.
Introducing the prepaid plastic money card that lets you get cash -- quick and cheap -- when you're on the road. MasterCard has a version of a prepaid card. And Visa offers TravelMoney (say it really fast, since there's no space between the two words) through Travelex/Interpayment. (Is everyone's space bar broken?)
Now Visa has targeted travelers by teaming with AAA to give its members a different way to pay. Starting Jan. 1, AAA members can use the prepaid Visa card at any ATM that accepts Visa around the world. Just load it up with cash (there's a $3 fee if you put less than $300 on the card), pick a PIN, and then use it to get francs, bahts, euros, or whatever currency the locals use.
Like traveler's checks, you can get a replacement card when you lose it in the Congo. Unlike traveler's checks, the card is useless to even the best forgery artist -- the PIN is the only way to access the money.
What makes the Visa prepaid card different from ATM cards? The only fee you pay is to the bank whose cash machine you use. It lets you avoid the fee your bank charges for cheating on it with a foreign ATM. We particularly like the debit-card nature of the product. With a prepaid card, you can only spend as much as you load onto the card.