Whether you’re thinking about long-term travel or a week-long international trip, managing your finances on the road can be a challenge. ATM fees or foreign exchange fees can add up quickly. And it’s a nightmare if your wallet is stolen while you’re traveling. After living overseas for several years, I have a few tricks for how to manage your money while traveling.
1. Avoid ATM Fees
ATM fees can add up quickly. One of the ways we have saved money over the years is by using credit unions. My nationwide bank was going to charge me $5 each time I used an ATM. And that doesn’t include fees from the bank that owns the ATM. With my credit union, we didn’t pay ATM fees at all. This will vary from bank to bank (or credit union to credit union), but it’s a good idea to shop around and ask about ATM fees. Some banks will even reimburse you for the fee the ATM itself charges you.
Another option is to see if your bank participates in the Global ATM Alliance. If it does, you can avoid ATM and bank fees. For example, if you have Bank of America in the United States and are traveling to the UK, you can avoid bank fees by using Barclays ATMS. Call or email your bank to ask which ATMs you can use in the country you’re visiting.
Regardless of what bank you use, make sure you know the charges before you leave home to avoid surprises on your statement.
2. Have a Back-Up Plan
I’ve traveled to over two-dozen countries in the last few years and managed to get by without having anything stolen—until earlier this year. A few weeks before we moved back to the United States from South Africa my husband’s wallet was stolen. Because we were headed back to America soon, we had allowed some of my cards to expire and hadn’t replaced them yet. So, when his debit cards were stolen—I didn’t have my cards either and we didn’t have access to the majority of our money.
Thankfully, we were able to have someone deposit money into the one account I had a debit card for and managed to get by until we got back to the States. But, it was a big lesson learned. It is important to always have multiple ways to access your money—especially when overseas. Here are some additional tips:
- If you share bank accounts with someone you are traveling with, make sure that you both have your cards.
- Be sure to have an emergency card hidden somewhere outside of your wallet.
- Getting a cash advance on your credit card is never ideal, but make sure you have your pin number in case there is an emergency and you need to get one.
- Have both MasterCard and Visa cards. There are some countries that will only take one or the other.
3. Avoid Travelers Checks
Growing up, I remember going on vacation and using travelers checks as cash in many stores and restaurants. These days, travelers checks are much more difficult to use. To avoid hefty fees, travelers checks need to be exchanged for cash at an American Express store. And in many places it can be difficult to find anyone to accept them. Using an ATM is typically a better option.
4. Exchange Money in Bulk for the Best Rate
I typically carry United States Dollars with us while traveling for emergencies. If I can’t access an ATM, I can exchange this for local currency. I was thankful to have cash on us last year when there was only one ATM I could use in Rwanda. But, exchanging money can get expensive fast. Exchanging in bulk can help save on transaction fees. Typically, it is cheaper to just use an ATM—especially if you are using a bank or credit union that isn’t charging you ATM fees.
5. Have a Budget…
…and stick to it. The best way to manage your money while traveling is to know where it’s going. Whether you have an excel spreadsheet or use a app on your phone or iPad, make sure you are tracking all of your expenses, even the little things add up. This is especially true when traveling long-term—you want to make sure you’re going to have enough money to last you to the end of your trip.
What are helpful tips you have for managing your money while traveling?