Friday, October 14, 2011

Why You CAN Afford That Overseas Vacation

A True vacation spiritImage by Kenzoka via FlickrThe worldwide economy is in a state of flux right now, and while this might not therefore seem like the ideal time to take a trip overseas, you can easily make such a trip more affordable by eliminating avoidable costs that can add up to 15% of your trip’s budget. No, I’m not about to start lecturing you on the importance of shopping around to find the cheapest airfare or waxing poetic about backpacking and staying in hostels. Rather, I have a few perhaps less obvious tips that can help you minimize the cost of any trip out of the country. After all, whether you’ve done the miraculous and retired early or simply want to see the world with your kids, grandkids or significant other, we all deserve a vacation from time to time and everyone loves saving money.

Choose your credit card wisely

As you likely know, Visa and MasterCard are the largest card networks in the world and the only ones that are accepted anywhere plastic can be used. What you might not know is that Visa and MasterCard also offer some of the lowest exchange rates possible. According to a Card Hub study, a MasterCard or Visa card can, in fact, save you 14.7% on currency exchange relative to cash converted at an airport kiosk and 7.9% as compared to cash conversions made at a local bank. Still, you cannot simply use whatever Visa or MasterCard card happens to be in your wallet and expect to save that much. Card Hub data shows that over 90% of all credit cards have foreign transaction fees, which are typically 2-3% of any purchase that is processed abroad, no matter where you may physically be located when you make it. You therefore need to get a no foreign transaction fee credit card, not just before you depart on your voyage, but even before booking any flights, hotels or activities.

Plan how you will access cash

Though I recommend using a credit card for the majority of the purchases you make while abroad, given how easy it will be to carry around as well as the piece of mind that comes with knowing you won’t be held liable for unauthorized purchases, you’ll still need cash for some things. You have two primary options for getting your hands on some foreign currency: opening a low-foreign-fee debit card or exchanging cash at a bank before leaving. The debit card course of action would allow you to garner the low Visa/MasterCard exchange rate and simply withdraw cash from overseas ATMs as needed. Exchanging cash at a local bank will result in more money being lost in translation and will force you to travel with all the cash you plan to use on your entire trip. Ultimately, your decision will rest on the debit card offers and cash currency exchange deals you can find.

Say goodbye to your issuer

Before leaving, there are some logistics to take care of in order to “activate” your credit card and/or debit card for international use. If you do not notify your issuer(s) about the dates and destinations of your travel plans, your card(s) will likely be suspended due to fraud suspicions. What’s more, it’s a good idea to get your bank’s international toll-free number so that you have a means of requesting a new card if your original gets misplaced or stolen.

Beware dynamic currency conversion

Finally, once you reach your destination, only pay for things in the local currency. While this might seem like rather obvious advice for cash purchases, when it comes to plastic, merchants may offer to convert your purchase totals to U.S. dollars. On the surface, this might seem like a rare act of kindness, but many merchants use unfavorable exchange rates (up to 10% higher than those offered by Visa and MasterCard) when converting your totals in order to pad their pockets. This is just the kind of extraneous cost that can really add up over the course of a trip, so you’d be best served making sure to only sign receipts expressed in the local currency.

Hopefully, these tips will both help bring your long-anticipated overseas adventure to fruition despite this shaky economic climate and eliminate any surprises on your post-trip credit card statement. After all, your concern should be exactly how much fun you’re going to have, not how much it’s going to cost!

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