The fastest way to use up your budget on a trip is to forget about all the hidden fees that come along the way. A smart tourist knows how to get around these. Don’t be a sucker and make sure you put these practices into place before you board your flight out!
1.) Exchange your money ahead of time
Currency is different depending on where you go, and not everywhere takes credit. You’ll need to have some cash on hand, and exchanging it out beforehand will not only save you a ton in exchange fees (check my blog post Traveling on a Budget for more tips), but it’ll also save you time and stress trying to hunt down a place to do it overseas. Most exchange places near the airport offer horrible exchange rates, and some banks won’t help you out unless you have an account with them.
Oftentimes you can find an ATM and just take money out using your credit card, but most credit cards have limits to what you can withdraw. If you need to pay multiple bills in one day (car rental, hotel, etc.) your card might be frozen. Or you might be traveling to a place that only has one ATM, and if it’s out of money (or out of order), you’re screwed. Save yourself the trouble and do it before you ever board the plane.
2.) Don’t bother with traveler’s checks
Traveler’s checks used to be a necessity for anyone leaving the country, but with advances in credit and debit card technology, they’re all but a lost cause. It can be a hassle to get them, a hassle to use them, and they cost money you don’t have to spend. Skip these altogether and stick to cash or credit.
3.) Pay attention
Scammers are everywhere, and a lot of people have no problem charging you more for something if you don’t understand the conversion rate or the local language. Just add up the prices in your head and make sure that’s what you pay at the end. Restaurants, turnstiles, taxis, everywhere is an opportunity for someone to make an extra 10 or 15 euros from on unsuspecting tourist.
4.) Notify your credit and debit card providers
If you try to use your credit and debit card overseas without first notifying your provider, it could get frozen for fraudulent activity, and depending on your bank, it could be a nightmare trying to unfreeze! Calling them ahead of time will prevent this kind of fiasco. It will also give you a chance to inquire about spending limits and potential fees. Certain cards have a daily spending limits that can be lifting in times of travel (so you can pay for your hotel and your rental car in the same 24 hour timeframe).
5.) Update your phone plan
If you don’t let your cell service provider know you’ll be going out of the country you could pay a fortune in roaming charges! Most providers have different international packages, so give them a call and figure out which one is right for you, and then have them explain it to you in great detail. The first time I was overseas I had a misunderstanding of what my international phone plan was and I came home to over $600 in phone charges. Don’t make my same mistake!
6.) Shop around for a great travel card
There are countless credit cards out there that provide benefits to travelers, so you don’t have to be held hostage by a crappy bank card. Look for one that offers a good purchase/miles exchange rate and low international fees. Bonus if you can use it anywhere!
Personally, I use the Capital One Venture card for all of my travel and business needs. I get a ton of miles every time I use it, I can use it anywhere without a fee, and it’s super easy to redeem my miles.
And they aren’t even paying me to say that (though they really should be).
7.) Prepay your bills
Depending on how long you’ll be gone for, you may have a few bills piling up in your absence. The last thing you want is to come home to a pile of late fees. Prepay your bills or schedule them out in advance so everything is taken care of while you’re away.
8.) Choose the local currency
When paying for something internationally by credit card, you’ll often have a choice if you want to pay in local currency or your native currency. Always choose the local currency. Choosing dollars often means you’ll pay a steeper conversion rate, usually one decided by business itself, rather than one decided by your credit card company (which is often much cheaper).
9.) Use up the local currency
After you return home you can re-exchange your remaining local currency, but you’ll have to do an exchange fee again. A quick work-around is to use it up at the hotel. When you check out, hand over your remaining currency and ask the desk clerk to apply it to your hotel balance, and then put the rest on your card. You’ll use up the extra cash without any exchange fees.
Know of any I missed? Let me know in the comments, and be sure to check out my 10 Tips for Traveling on a Budget!