We had a bit of a discussion about this in the office - Deputy Travel Editor Stephanie Holmes and I usually rely on ATMs to get cash while abroad. I try to have a good idea of how much cash I'll need, in order to avoid paying too many withdrawal fees.
At the same time, you don't want to be carrying too much cash around - for obvious reasons.
Herald aviation writer Grant Bradley uses Travel Money to get foreign currency - you can even buy online. He says there's no commission ("so they make it on the lower rate I guess, but it doesn't hurt so much") and a good range of currency on offer. "I picked up some Norwegian kroner there no problem and they have good hours at the airport."
I also contacted Consumer NZ for some advice and Luke Harrison got back to me with these tips for when you're short on cash abroad:
1. Withdraw money at a bank/bank ATM rather than an airport foreign exchange desk (fees and exchange rate margins are typically lower at a bank).
2. Use your debit card rather than your credit card. Besides cash advance and other fees, you'll face higher interest charges for credit card withdrawals.
3. Take out a realistic amount of cash (e.g. enough to cover you for a few days). Otherwise, the fees for making lots of small withdrawals can quickly add up.
4. But keep in mind your travel insurance policy will only cover the theft of cash up to a certain amount (for instance, $500).
I'll also add one tip of my own - beware of dodgy ATMs. Skimming can be a real problem and you definitely don't want to have your account emptied.
It happened to an Aussie couple who were in my Contiki group in Vietnam last year - they used an ATM on the street in Hanoi and the next day discovered they'd been fleeced to the tune of $2000. It was right at the end of our trip, so quite a bad buzz to go home on.
Be sure to check there isn't an added sleeve in the card reader - you can yank at various parts of the ATM, as they're usually glued on. If something doesn't feel or look right, don't take the risk. Pay attention to how your card feels as it's inserted - if it doesn't move smoothly, there could be something wrong. Cover the keypad completely with your hand when you enter your pin and keep an eye out for anyone watching.