Traveling Abroad? Try These 7 Tips to Stretch Your Dollar


One of the great things about a career in event planning is the opportunity to visit foreign countries. The personal growth and insights that come from immersion into other cultures cannot be equaled online or in the classroom. That’s why postcards the world ’round still include the enduring sentiment: “Wish you were here.”

But a thrill of a much different sort often awaits the first-timer upon their return as bills and credit card statements begin to arrive that bear little resemblance to what they thought they spent. Between exchange rates and foreign transaction fees, paying the bills from your first trip abroad can truly seem disorienting – and not in a good way.

New York Times travel reporter Seth Kugel recently reviewed these 7 money steps to take, before, during and after your trip abroad to avoid that disappointing welcome home.

Credit cards: If you’ve never traveled abroad, you may not realize that many credit cards today add on a fee, often 2-3 percent, to convert the drachmas, centimes and francs you charged into U.S. dollars. There are cards out there that charge neither a foreign conversion nor annual fee, but some of them, such as Discover, may not be as widely accepted in foreign lands. If you can find one with no fees that offers 1 percent cash back rewards, Kugel recommends you to grab it.

ATM cards: Next, check the fine print on your ATM card. While using an ATM overseas can save you money over a cash exchange, banks often charge a conversion fee of up to 3 percent and even add a per-transaction flat fee that can run as high as $5. You may also be charged a fee by the foreign bank that owns the ATM.

Debit cards: While debit cards prove handy at home, they also often charge a per-transaction fee for foreign purchases that makes them an expensive option abroad.

Notify your bank: Before you embark, notify your bank of your travel plans, lest they receive foreign charges and block your card use for suspicious activity.

Cash up: It’s a good practice to pack $100 or more in cash for travel contingencies. If possible, also carry some of your destination’s currency, but be sure to shop around for the best exchange rate.

Once abroad, use your credit card: A no-fee credit card will be your thriftiest form of payment, with your cash reserve as a backup.

Pare down for your return: As your trip winds down, estimate the cash you’ll need prior to boarding and either spend down your local currency accordingly or acquire enough additional local cash in your final ATM draw to get you to the gate.

Photo credits:

Jay MacDonald

Jay MacDonald

Jay MacDonald is an award-winning journalist, author and blogger who incorporates humor and human interest into a broad range of topics. Follow him on Twitter @omnisaurus

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