Money is the number one concern while traveling. If you are a long term traveler or traveling frequently, staying within the budget becomes very important. We as visa travelers also have to deal with additional expenses such as visa fee. Here are the 7 ways to save money while traveling that I learned from my personal experience.
1) No transaction fee credit cards
No foreign transaction fee – Most banks charge a 3% foreign transaction fee every time you use your credit card abroad. Check with your bank if they charge a foreign transaction fee on your card. Otherwise, apply for one. As a traveler, you must have at least two such credit cards. One to use every day and another as a backup. Reasons for using a credit card while traveling is to get a better exchange rate and to gain points/miles/cash back depending on the card you have.
No annual fee – Make sure there is no annual fee on your credit card. Annual fees are a big drain unless you are into travel hacking. If you live in the US, I suggest Capital One VentureOne or BankAmericard Travel Rewards card.
Travel notification – Make sure you inform your bank about your travel plans. Otherwise they may block your card thinking that your card has been stolen or cloned. For most banks, you can set a travel notification online to let them know that you will be traveling. That way they can track any unauthorized transactions made using your card. As an example, my card was cloned in Panama without my knowledge. Someone started making unauthorized transactions after a month or so. Because of the travel notification, my bank knew that I was no longer in Panama. They immediately blocked my card and informed me.
2) No ATM fee debit cards
No ATM fee – Most banks charge a 3% ATM fee every time you withdraw cash from a foreign bank ATM. Some banks also charge an additional flat rate fee for using a non-network bank ATM. For example, Bank of America debit card when used abroad, they will change a 3% ATM fee plus a $5USD non-network fee. You can avoid the $5USD fee by using an ATM from a bank that Bank of America is partnered with, such as Santander bank in Mexico. But you still have to pay the 3% ATM fee. If you live in the US, I suggest Charles Schwab bank. They reimburse all ATM fee, even when used internationally. Another option is to have an account in a global bank such as Citibank.
Travel notification – Again, make sure you inform your bank about your travel plans.
3) No roaming fee cell phone service
No data roaming fee – Have a cell phone service that do not charge for data roaming when traveling internationally. Google maps and WhatsApp are the two main apps travelers use frequently, and both of them require internet. Paying for data can become expensive very quickly. If you live in the USA, I suggest T-Mobile or Project Fi. They both do not charge for data roaming and texting while traveling internationally.
Use local SIM – Another option is use an unlocked phone and buy a local SIM.
4) Use local currency instead of USD
Poor exchange rate – You may get a poor exchange rate if you use USD (or another currency) instead of local currency. For example, in Costa Rica, if you pay in USD instead of CRC, a 1USD=500CRC exchange rate is applied. At the time of writing this post, the actual exchange rate was 1USD=535CRC. Also, there is a chance that you will be over charged for certain services. Always use local currency wherever you travel. There is an exception to it. USD is valued more in some countries like Argentina.
5) Know the tipping rules
Tip already included in the bill in some countries – In countries like Costa Rica and Brazil a 10% tip is already included in the bill. No need to tip additionally. Make sure to look at the bill to verify if a tip is already included. If in doubt, ask your server or a local.
No need to tip if the owner is serving you – If the owner of the restaurant is serving, you do not really need to tip. Tips are mostly for servers and other employees for their service out of satisfaction.
Optional 10% tip in some countries – Full wages are paid to the employees and the tips are optional in some countries. For example, a 10% tip is optional in restaurants and bars in Mexico.
Mandatory 15% tip in some countries – Full wages are not paid to the employees and the remaining of their wages come from the tips. So it is mandatory to tip a certain percent in some countries. For example, at least 15% tip is mandatory in restaurants and bars in the USA.
6) To go or take away instead of sit down and eat
Take food to go/take away – Sometime eating out can be expensive. Cooking at the hostel or airbnb may not be an option. Take food to go or take way. This way you do not need to tip or buy a drink. You only have to tip if you are sitting down and eating.
Eat at local places – Instead of eating at a tourist area, go to a local place. Usually food prices are cheaper and tastes better.
Carry a reusable water bottle – Carry a reusable water bottle so you can fill it up instead of buying water all the time. You can fill your bottle with tap water (if drinkable) or from the water dispenser at your hostel/hotel. Use a foldable bottle such as Vapur Shades or Platypus. If tap water is not drinkable, use a water purifier such as Steripen to purify the water before filling up your bottle.
7) Buy weekly passes, fare savers, etc
Buy transit passes – If you use public transit a lot, purchase a daily or weekly pass instead of paying for each ride. For example, in San Francisco a single bus/train ride costs $2.25USD and a single cable car ride costs $7USD. But a 7 day unlimited ride pass costs $35USD which you can use on bus, train and cable car.
Buy tourist cards – If you are visiting many attractions in the city during your trip, buy a tourist card instead of paying at each attraction separately. For example, Chicago explorer pass gives access to any 5 attractions in Chicago at $110USD. If you pay for each of those 5 attractions separately, you will end up paying more.
So there you have it. 7 tips that I have learned from my personal experience on how to save money while traveling.