7 Money Moves That Will Make Life a Lot Easier Next Time You Travel
I’ve been traveling frequently around the U.S. for about five years.
In that time, I’ve learned a lot of lessons through trial and error, so now preparing for a trip feels like second nature.
I’m always surprised by the travel mishaps new road-trippers encounter -- until I realize they just don’t know. We assume things we’ve learned are obvious, but they’re not!
So, to help you avoid the same mistakes, here are some super simple travel tips and money moves to make before your next trip across the country -- or the world.
1. Tell Your Bank Before You Travel
Among all the tasks you have to complete before hitting the road, calling your bank might not cross your mind.
But it could be one of the most important.
Your bank and credit card companies likely monitor the activity on your debit and credit cards for suspicious activity. Transactions in a new state or country can be red flags, and the bank might block the card without your knowledge.
I learned this the hard way on my first road trip. Two or three gas stations denied my credit card before I finally called the bank to sort it out.
I eventually had my bank note I was a frequent domestic traveler to avoid the issue in the future. If you don’t move around often, I’d recommend just calling before each trip to authorize upcoming activity. Some banks even let you do it online.
If you do that, and still have problems with your card, just keep this issue in mind. You can call your bank to clear things up as soon as your card is denied, instead of wandering from pump to pump all afternoon wondering what’s going on.
2. Find Free ATMs
Instead of tying up your money in traveler’s checks or taking out a bunch of cash before you leave, look for ATMs when you’re on the road or abroad.
But beware of fees.
Before you get on the road, check your bank’s ATM network to ensure you can find in-network ATMs where you’ll be.
If you frequently travel out of network, consider switching banks. Open a checking account, like Aspiration’s Summit Account, that offers free ATMs anywhere in the world.
3. Plan Your Budget Carefully
Plan ahead so you know how much money you’ll need for your trip and how much you can spend each day.
This is especially important for foreign travel, because you’ll need to ensure you have enough of the correct currency.
But it’s just as important for a quick weekend vacation or a cross-country road trip.
When you look at your overall vacation budget, it can feel like the sky’s the limit… until you get a few days in and realize too late your wallet is almost empty.
At her blog Nomad Wallet, Deia shares the story of learning this rule the hard way on a trip through Taipei, Taiwan.
“I miscalculated my budget and by the afternoon I had no local currency left,” she told The Penny Hoarder.
“To make matters worse, it was Sunday and many currency exchange bureaus were closed. I tried my ATM card, but the machine spit it back out, along with a piece of paper full of Chinese characters that presumably explained why.”
4. (Almost) Empty Your Checking Account
If you tend to keep a high balance in your checking account, consider moving your money before you travel with your debit card.
While your credit cards probably come with protections against theft, your debit cards are much more vulnerable. If someone steals and uses the card or information, you may be responsible for the transaction(s) and associated fees.
Move any money you don’t need for the trip to a backup account, so a thief won’t have access to it -- even if they have your card.
5. Pack Light
Probably the simplest travel advice but not often heeded -- packing light is more than just a convenience.
“A heavy bag is such a drag if you're moving around much,” said Kristin Addis of Be My Travel Muse.
“Plus you have to pay to check the bag, pay to take cabs because it's too heavy to walk with and deal with lugging it around.
“Look at what you plan on bringing and reduce it by half -- seriously!” Addis recommended.
6. Get to Know Your Credit Cards
If you’re traveling out of the country, “Get a credit card with no foreign transaction fees and an ATM card with no foreign withdrawal fees,” Deia recommends. Here are a few of our favorite travel-friendly cards.
If you’re not sure which fees to expect, do your research. It could save you a lot of money!
While you’re at it, get familiar with your cards’ rewards points.
Traveling often racks up extra costs, and those costs can be quite valuable to you on the right credit card.
Which cards earn double points for gas, hotels, flights or restaurants? Are you approaching the threshold for free flights or other rewards on another card?
Double-checking this information before you leave will help you maximize your rewards points while you travel -- and, likely, spend more money than you typically do at home.
7. Have a Backup for Everything
Seasoned travelers recommend you copy, scan or take a picture of your credit cards, relevant contact information, I.D. and passport before leaving the country.
You can email it to yourself and to a trusted stateside contact as backup.
This way, you’ll have access to this information in case your credit cards, purse or wallet are stolen.
For a more secure way of storing the same information, check out Dashlane's digital wallet. It’ll be trickier to access if you need it in a pinch, but will keep your information safer than email.
After having her phone and wallet stolen on a trip recently, Addis recommends backing up your phone before you go, too.
With all this information stored somewhere, if something happens, Addis says, you can “wipe the phone with a cloud server, file a police report, cancel all the cards and get cash with a backup method.”
To ensure you can get cash even if your wallet is stolen or lost, she recommends, “Always have another method for getting cash, like a bank card stashed in another part of your luggage, just in case.”
Deia adds that backup cards are useful because, “sometimes machines reject foreign cards for no apparent reason.”
Your Turn: Which money moves do you always make before you travel?
Dana Sitar (@danasitar) is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She’s written for Huffington Post, Entrepreneur.com, Writer’s Digest and more, attempting humor wherever it’s allowed (and sometimes where it’s not).