Beginner Travel Tips: Saving Money Overseas
When the host of the adorable Bed & Breakfast on the Aran Islands asked me if I wanted her to charge my credit card in Euros or U.S. Dollars, I responded, “Oh, Euros please.” This sounds counter-intuitive if you’re not an experienced international traveler, but I promise it makes sense. There are plenty of costs to traveling, but currency exchange rates can be one of the most confusing.
U.S. credit cards (and debit cards) have different policies for transactions that aren’t in USD. If you plan on using yours outside the United States, log into your card terms online and do a search for “foreign transaction.” You’ll probably find that your card charges an extra 3% on top of whatever your charge is! That means if you charge 100 Euros to your card, then in addition to the exchange rate making that charge (about) $111, your credit card statement will add an extra $3 to the charge, just for the privilege of paying for something! Sometimes merchants outside the U.S. can offer you the option of putting your charge in U.S. Dollars for you, but the important thing to remember is this: Those credit card terminals are baking the extra 3% right into their exchange rate. Your credit card might not end up with the extra 3% transaction fee, but your charge would just be $114.
In the 21st century, there are plenty of options for credit cards that no longer charge transaction fees. My personal favorite is the Chase Sapphire Preferred (and I really love the Chase Ultimate Rewards program), but Citibank has a few nice options as well (primarily the Citi Thankyou Premier card), but note that you’ll usually have to pay an annual fee on your credit card to get this benefit.
The other biggest way to save money overseas is actually a rule that we’ve been violating a lot so far: try cooking for yourself. When you stay home and you’re not traveling, you don’t usually get restaurant meals for twenty meals a week, so why pay for them when you’re traveling? People have mixed opinions of Airbnb, which for those who don’t know, lets you rent out space with a local resident where you’re traveling, instead of staying at a local hotel. Sometimes this involves just renting a bedroom in someone’s home, but sometimes, you have the opportunity to rent an entire home.
The benefit, though, is that you can find a home where you have access to a kitchen. Getting some pasta and chicken, and maybe some eggs or cereal for breakfast, can easily turn your daily food budget from $50 per person to $10. Only going out for one or two meals every couple days removes all the guilt from splurging a little and lets your budget accommodate a drink or two as well!