7 travel tips to save money when traveling internationally

by Money

Travel doesn’t have to be overly expensive if you plan properly. There are simple ways to avoid all the added fees and charges that less experienced travelers may incur. Here are 7 travel tips to save money the next time you are traveling internationally:

  1. Use only credit cards that offer no foreign transaction fees — This is important not only when traveling abroad, but also when booking travel with foreign companies when still at home. If you use a credit card that charges foreign transaction fees to purchase train tickets in France, a hotel in Barcelona, or a domestic flight in Japan, and the card is processed in a different country, your bank will smile and you will soon be frowning at the (often) extra 2 percent to 3 percent fee.
  1. Use an ATM card that does not tack on extra fees — You will need money when on the road, and it is often cheaper and easier to go to a major bank branch ATM. Visa and MasterCard debit cards allow you to get cash at most ATMs worldwide. But be sure your bank does not also tack on additional withdrawal fees, plus a currency conversion fee – that can start to get a bit pricey. Realize the bank where you are withdrawing money will almost always charge an added fee for the service (perhaps even higher in places like airports). That is often disclosed before you withdraw with a notice on the screen (but not always!), thus giving you a chance to say, “no, thank you.” One U.S. bank, Charles Schwab, has a no-fee ATM card and goes so far as to refund ATM withdrawal fees for its customers anywhere in the world.
  1. Always notify your bank and credit card companies of travel plans — For security, most banks and credit card companies will freeze your account if international charges begin to appear, especially from certain countries in the world known for fraud. By calling your credit card company, you can put a travel alert on your card, notifying it of your travel timing, and what countries you are going to. That way, you’re free to shop and spend without worry of being left without cash. (Caveat: We have had some super security-conscious banks still put holds on a card despite this notice. Refer to the next point in this case!)
  1. Keep international phone numbers of your bank and credit card companies handy — If your card is lost or stolen, you will need to be able to contact your bank quickly to alert the company of the theft (or in the case of blocked usage). It will help protect you against potential fraud. If you are away from home for more than a few days, the bank may be willing to get you a replacement card – better card companies will do this for free, but others may charge.
  1. Beware the helpful hotel or store that may offer to charge your purchase in U.S. dollars — Decline their alleged favor. If you are using a card that charges no foreign transaction fees, it is always better to complete the purchase in the local currency. Hotels and stores that offer to charge your purchase in U.S. currency typically are making money off the exchange, which just costs you more.
  1. Know the details of your international data roaming charges — Be sure you know what your mobile phone plan covers and what it does not. Inadvertently leaving your roaming on in a foreign country can quickly rack up exorbitant fees simply for texting, checking email, or even making a short call. If you get a warning on the phone, check your settings. If you want to stay in touch with family, use Wi-Fi-based calling apps such as WhatsApp or FaceTime. Also, make sure prior to your departure that they also all have the apps installed on their smartphones. This way, you can use a hotel or restaurant Wi-Fi signal to make your calls and texts (or send those vacation photos) for free. But beware of security issues and hacking and how to avoid ot her security issues when connecting; read our story, Digital Security When Traveling: 10 Must-Do Tips.

HITT Tip: If you are planning a longer stay in a different country and will need to make local calls, consider buying a cheap mobile phone and then signing up for one of many cheap “pay as you go” SIM cards to insert into the phone as needed. Know also that the European Union as of June 15, 2017, has abolished roaming charges in all EU countries, so if you have for example, a French SIM card, you can be traveling in Italy or Switzerland and call without roaming fees. The program is called “Roam Like at Home” and offers super money-saving benefits within the EU.


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Michael Hodgson

Co-Conspirator at HI Travel Tales
Winner of a 2018 Silver Medal from the North American Travel Journalists Association for travel writing excellence, Michael has authored more than 16 books and penned many hundreds of feature articles over the years. His bylines have appeared in Backpacker, Men's Journal, Men's Health, Outside, The San Jose Mercury News, Portland Oregonian and more. His travels have taken him to all seven continents. He is a member in good standing of the North American Travel Journalists Association and the Professional Travel Bloggers Association.
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