Updated June 22, 2020.
One of the most common questions I get is, “how can I afford to travel?” The answer is different for everyone, but the general rules apply to all. But this post is about more than just saving money. It’s just as important to spend your money wisely and keep it safe while you’re traveling, too!
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Saving for Travel
First things first: travel is not free for 99% of travelers. But tons of travelers are finding ways to save and find amazing travel deals every day! It’s all about priorities, so take a look at your credit card statement and start cutting things out that are not as fun as travel:
- Daily coffee from the shop around the corner
- Lunch out every day (you will save a bundle by making and bringing your lunch!)
- Shopping sprees when you know your closet is already stuffed
- Weekly or even monthly mani-pedis
All those things add up quickly and in a big way! Decide what you want most, and cut out the extras that keep you from your travel goals.
Read on: 6 Ways I Afford to Travel and How to Find Cheap Flights
Now that you’ve figured out how to save, let’s talk about how to spend. There are zillions of experiences out there from Business Class flying to epic tours to Michelin star restaurants. You can do them all, but it will, of course, cost you. But a wise spender thinks about what experiences are worth it. Again, the “worth it” factor is different for everyone, but everyone has something in mind to take their trip from memorable to once-in-a-lifetime-epic!
So choose wisely, be a little strategic with your spending, and don’t forget to avoid the blunders that have taken others for a disappointing ride!
Maybe you’ve heard of bloggers like The Points Guy and One Mile at a Time who take advantage of credit card points, frequent flyer programs, hotel rewards programs, and more. If you’re flying, staying at hotels, using the same booking websites again and again, you need to sign up for their rewards programs. Then double your rewards by paying for it all with a high-rewards credit card. Here are some things to look into when you’re deciding what rewards programs to use:
- Air Travel: Always purchase your airline tickets directly from the airline’s website for a lot of reasons, but mostly so you don’t miss out on rewards programs! Before you purchase your ticket (and sometimes after, depending on the program), sign up for the airline’s FREE rewards program, and don’t forget to save your rewards number and password so you can rack up rewards every time you travel. This is especially important for long-haul travel (6 hours’ flight time or more), but short flights add up as well!
- Hotels: If you always stay at the same hotel chain, you need to sign up for their rewards program! Hotel rewards programs offer everything from free nights to free upgrades to amenities like hi-speed wi-fi and executive level access (free food!). Sites like Hotels.com and Orbitz.com (among others) offer their own rewards programs, too, so if you’re not interested in staying at the same hotel over and over again, or if your preferred hotel chain is not available at your destination, make sure to sign up for their programs, too!
- Car Rental Rewards: Like free car rentals? Sign up for your preferred car rental company’s rewards program!
- Credit Cards: Here are some general rules to follow when choosing a rewards credit card:
- Avoid annual fees unless there is a really good reason to pay it—maybe it’s reimbursed, maybe you get extra rewards, maybe it’s free the first year—but stay on top of it so you don’t accidentally get burned by a hefty credit card membership fee
- ALWAYS PAY IT OFF! Yes, that means pay it off every month, and in order to do that you should also never buy anything with a credit card that you can’t pay for in cash at the moment you use your card. Do not carry debt on your credit card, especially not for a rewards program—you’ll be cancelling your rewards!
- Go for a card with no international fees. This will allow you to use your credit card (and earn points) all over the world without wasting money on hefty international fees!
- What’s the best way to redeem your rewards? Is it getting cash back? Using points for gift card redeption (like Hotels.com, Uber, and more travel-related gift cards)? Or using points to redeem travel itself—flights, hotels, car rentals, etc. Think about that when choosing which credit card is right for you!
Read on: Beginner’s Guide to Credit Card Points
Beginner’s Guide to Hotel Rewards
Beginner’s Guide to Using Airline Miles
Accessing Your Money
So now you’ve saved your money, you’ve chosen the right way to spend (and splurge), and you’re earning points, you need to be able to access your money abroad. Here are the options:
- Use your debit card at the ATM when you arrive. It’s best to do this in the airport, inside security. If your debit card has no fees (like your credit card), you won’t have to worry about paying extra for an airport ATM. And even if your debit card does have fees, you are safer getting money out inside security at the airport instead of outside of security anywhere else. Always check the card reader to make sure it’s attached (if it comes off, it’s a scammed ATM), and always get a receipt, just in case.
- Get cash before you go. This will cost you a fee, but that fee can vary between banks, credit unions, and currency exchange kiosks (this last one is the last thing I would actually recommend!). So check with your bank a couple of months in advance of your trip to ask whether or not they carry the currency you need (they may be able to order it, but that can take time), and ask how much their fee is.
- Use your credit card. Almost every destination in the world has credit card technology! It’s always good to have some local cash currency on-hand, but if you can use your fee-free credit card and earn points, why wouldn’t you?
Read more: Can I Use the U.S. Dollar Abroad?
Protecting Your Money
We have more than just pickpockets to look out for these days!
- Make copies and keep them separate. You may already know it’s a good idea to make photocopies of your passport picture page and driver’s license before you travel (and if you didn’t know before, you do now!), but did you think about copying the front and back of your credit and debit cards, too? It’s a good idea in case your wallet gets swiped—with your cash and credit cards inside. Just remember to keep them in a separate place.
- Bonus tip: Need to call your credit card company abroad but don’t have an international plan? You can make a 1-800 call on Skype for free! For more useful travel tips, check out my Top 10 Travel Hacks!
- Never check your bank account on unsecured wi-fi. You’d be shocked at how easy it is to hack an unsecured network. So unless you put in a password or are using a VPN, do not check your bank account, credit card account, or any other account you don’t want someone to take a look at.
- Don’t flash your cash. This one seems obvious, but when you’re jet lagged, you do strange things! When you need to take money out of your wallet, keep your hand and your cash inside the money pocket as best you can, and do it low, even under the table so it’s not in everyone’s eyesight.
- Keep it in your front pocket. You are more likely to be pick pocketed from the back, so keep your wallet in your front pocket, or keep your bag in front of you. It’s not foolproof, but it’ll definitely give you a better chance!
- Get an RFID wallet. One of the scariest things about traveling with credit cards is hand-held card reader technology. But you can block that with an RFID wallet!
Want more? Check out my Saving & Money Page!
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