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Personal Credit Cards, Personal Savings Article

Financial Tips for a Stress-Free Vacation: Part 2

Two deck chairs resting in the sun on a pier

In part 1 of this series, we shared the importance of budgeting when planning for a vacation. It is important to create a household budget to determine what funds can be allocated towards family vacations. We also shared tips for ways to minimize all the expenses on your trip. Now, we’ll share additional tips for managing your money, both before and after your vacation.

1. Plan for Currency Exchange

If you will be traveling internationally, be sure to plan ahead in order to avoid extra fees when making purchases. Even if you have a credit card that does not charge foreign transaction fees, your credit card can’t be used in every situation. Whether you’re in a restaurant that doesn’t have a credit card payment terminal, or you want to tip wait staff at your hotel, you will need a certain amount of local currency. Keep these tips and options in mind to minimize extra costs when obtaining cash for your trip.

Buy foreign currency from your bank or credit union.
The most affordable way to get your foreign currency is to purchase it from your bank or credit union. Most banks have very fair exchange rates, although you may have to pay a fee. We recommend checking with your bank 3-4 weeks before your trip to find out if they carry foreign currency. If not, they will have to order the currency, which will take several more days. Be sure to leave enough time so that your currency arrives well in advance of your departure date.

Order cash through a currency conversion website.
Another option for obtaining money prior to leaving is going to a currency conversion website to make your purchase. Compare their rates to your bank’s rates in order to get the best exchange rate. Some of the online conversion websites might offer a more competitive rate than some banks. Also, check to see if they have a delivery fee and factor that cost into your decision.

If you don’t get currency before leaving, be sure to check the exchange rate online.
If you plan to exchange your currency at your destination, be sure to check the true exchange  rate beforehand so you know exactly what to look for. Currency exchange places at your destination will not offer you the fair market rate, but they should be competitive. Just be sure to ask about any fees that they charge in addition to the exchange rate.

Don’t exchange your money at airport kiosks.
Exchanging your currency at the airport is undeniably convenient. However, you can lose up to 25% of your money when you use an exchange counter in the airport. Currency exchange kiosks in high-profile locations of an airport pay substantial rents. In order to be profitable, they have to charge you a much lower rate than the market rate or charge a considerable “transaction fee” - or both.

2. Protect Your Sources of Funding

Keep your vacation stress-free by considering potential financial hazards. Many travelers overlook financial security when planning a trip, but it’s arguably more important than the other plans you’ve made. To help avoid fraud, identity theft, and cybercrime when traveling, take these measures:

Before you go:

Figure out the best credit cards to take. Check all of your credit cards’ travel-related benefits. Some cards offer rental car insurance, trip cancellation insurance, lost luggage reimbursement, travel accident insurance and more. Bring more than one card with you in case something happens or a card is declined. Also, consider bringing cards that offer extra rewards for travel spending, such as restaurants, hotels, and transportation. If you’re traveling internationally, check to make sure that your bonus rewards apply outside the U.S. Finally, be sure to check your cards’ foreign transaction fees.

Obtain a tamper-proof, RFID-blocking wallet. Many pickpockets are experts at stealing physical wallets away from unsuspecting travelers, but it doesn’t stop there. Today, many thieves also steal digital credit card information via radio-frequency identification skimmers. Protect against both kinds of theft with an RFID-blocking travel wallet and tuck it into your waistband or under your shirt to prevent theft.

Give your itinerary to the issuers of your credit cards. This is particularly important if you are traveling abroad. If your bank/issuer isn’t aware that you’re traveling outside the country, it could freeze your account and flag a fraud alert when foreign transactions are made. Letting your card issuer know your travel plans will ensure uninterrupted use of your cards. Plus, you will be alerted if your card is used outside of your planned destination(s).

Set up account alerts you can easily access. Make sure you have access to emails or push notifications from your card issuers. If you travel abroad, you might not have cell service, but a Wi-Fi connection will still allow you to receive notifications from your bank/issuer about account activity. They will let you know if your card or account has been compromised.

Copy necessary documents and write down bank contact info If your physical wallet is stolen, you will need backup copies of your passport and bank contact information in order to cancel any compromised cards.

While you're there:

Be on the lookout for pickpockets. Thieves know where tourists gather in crowded places which is perfect for pickpocketing. Be careful of where you keep your wallet and watch for people who bump into you. If at all possible, avoid carrying your wallet.

Use your hotel room's safe. If your hotel room has a safe, store your important documents (like the copy of your passport), as well as extra cash and a spare credit card. If your hotel room doesn’t have this option, ask if there is a safe in the office where guests can store items.

Be aware of potentially malicious technology. If any device like an ATM or a credit card swiper looks suspicious, it’s best to avoid using it. Thieves use credit card skimmers, which can attach to point-of-sale terminals and quickly copy your credit card’s information. They can then sell it to others or use it to make purchases.

Educate yourself on scams at your destination. There are many ways that unscrupulous people can trick you out of your money. Taxi drivers with "broken meters," locals offering to show you how to use ATMs, and more elaborate ploys such as street vendors, performers, and beggars are just a few. Research common problems in the areas where you will be traveling before you go because scams like these can occur the moment you arrive.

Be careful about using Wi-Fi networks. It is never advisable to enter bank usernames and passwords on your laptop or phone using a public Wi-Fi network. Only use private, secure Wi-Fi networks to check banking or credit card information while abroad. Learn more about preventing fraud.

3. Take Control of the Things You Can

When it comes to traveling, you can’t put a price on peace of mind. While you might not ever be guaranteed a trip without any anxiety, if you follow most of the tips in this series, you will greatly minimize the chance that any financial stressors will spoil your well-earned vacation.

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