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 account for your travel budget and manage your money while traveling.
Tops Tips 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 ATM’s. Call or email your bank to ask which ATM’s 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. 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
Even as recent as the late 1990’s, I went vacations and used travelers checks almost exclusively in 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.
The economy’s in a downturn. Your cash isn’t worth as much. And your must-see-before-I-die site has just been added to the endangered destinations list. You can’t change or control a lot of things but you can do some things. Here’s how to save cash with green travel.
So, how exactly do you get there without drowning in debt — or in glacier melt-offs?
46 tips to save cash and manage money while traveling
Transportation: Getting There and Away
- Bus instead of flying
- Train instead of flying
- Take a ferry or ship
- Use Search Green Travel to save money on flights while saving the environment
- Buy your tickets online (since over-the-phone charges fees)
- Prepare your car for the trip by inflating your tires
- Take public transportation to the airport
Transportation: Getting Around
- Rent a bike
- Buy a bike (if you’ll be in one place for an extended period of time)
- Hitchhike safely
- Take a bus
- Share a ride (also known as “slugging”)
- Drive to hypermile
- Take a tram
- Take the subway/metro
- Take a trolley car
- Stay in an eco-lodge
- Take overnight flights, buses, or trains to avoid paying for one night’s accommodations
- Put housekeeping on hold (uses fewer resources and saves on the tip)
- Request to stop newspaper delivery to your hotel door
- Bring your own water bottle
- Bring a food carrier such as a wrap-n-mat to store leftovers and carry snacks
- Make your own food
- Skip the food on board plane/train
- Skip the drink on board plane/train
- Share a meal
- Eat from local food stands
- Buy food from local markets
In Public Places
- Use the air dryers and not paper towels
- Don’t litter (you’ll avoid fines, too)
- Plan a trip close to home
- Visit a park or forest
- Stay in one place instead of country hopping
- Unplug all electronics and appliances before you leave home
- Share converters and other electronics so you don’t buy new ones
- Use a digital camera
- Use rechargeable batteries
- Don’t buy souvenirs (if you do, buy sustainable souvenirs)
Start implementing some of these eco-friendly ideas, and it will be easy to save money as well as manage money while traveling. What are helpful tips have you used?