Money at 30: Tools for Saving Money (and Time) When Traveling Overseas
When you think of the terms “international travel” and “money” together, what comes to mind? I assume that most people would say “expensive” as seeing the world can come at a high cost. At the same time there are some ways you can save money on your trip and several tools to help you do so.
Over the past few years, my wife and I have had to good fortune of getting to travel out of the United States several times. It seems that, with each additional trip, we learn a little but more about how to cut our expenses and ensure that our jet setting ways don’t impact our financial security. Having literally just returned from another visit to Paris (as in I’m currently writing this from the Hartsfield-Jackson airport), I figured it was time to highlight a few of our favorite money-saving tools we use on and for our overseas travels.
4 Ways to Save on Overseas Travel
Having the right credit card and bank account
On my first ever international trip as an adult, I really didn’t know much about how to make purchases overseas. I assumed I needed to go buy currency from a Travelex shop, which I went and did. As it turns out, this was a pretty expensive waste of time. Plus, while I did learn to take money out of ATMs while away, I was paying $5 each time since that’s what Wells Fargo charged me. Thankfully, I’ve learned a lot since then and now use credit cards and ATM cards to my money-saving advantage.
First off, credit cards are great for international travel as your purchases are often assessed with real-time exchange rates. The catch is that some cards will tack on a foreign transaction fee — usually around 3%. That said, there are a growing number of cards that waive such fees. Among them are two annual fee-free cards, the Uber Visa and the Apple Card. By the way, an added bonus of the Apple Card is that it offers 2% back on Apple Pay transactions. Since many parts of the world widely utilize NFC technology, you can not only use Apple Pay to increase your cash back but also speed up your transactions significantly compared to those damn chips.
As for those countries where credit card acceptance is lower, the ability to access cash may be key. While I am a fan of having some local currency with me upon arrival, oftentimes buying foreign currency from shops or your bank will cost you more than just visiting an ATM once you land. Still, these ATMs are still subject to fees charged both by your bank and by the machine’s operators. To avoid these costs, it pays to have an account that waives and/or reimburses said fees. Personally that’s where I’ve had success with SoFi Money and Aspiration. Having these online banks’ debit card handy has allowed me to carry local currency cash without paying a fortune for it.
Using Rakuten to earn cash back
You probably already know that Rakuten (formerly Ebates) allows you to earn cash back on various online shopping sites. However you might not realize that this includes travel sites like Expedia, Booking.com, and many others. For whatever reason, I’m a bit of an Expedia loyalist, so that’s where I’ve had the bulk of my cash back travel booking experiences. In fact my most recent booking was also my most exciting as Rakuten happened to be offering 8% back on hotel bookings made through Expedia. This meant that my $621.38 booking will net me more than $42 after my trip is complete (note: Rakuten excludes taxes from your cashback earnings so that 8% is based on the subtotal of $531). Sadly the standard amount for hotel rooms is closer to 3% but, when combined with any credit card rewards and Expedia points you may be eligible for, this little kickback can go a long way.
Buy attractions tickets with Klook, Groupon, etc.
When it comes to traveling, I’m of two minds. While one side of me prefers to just book my flight and hotel room and then decide what to do once I arrive, the other part wants to ensure I have tickets in hand for all of the top attractions and experiences I want to see during my trip. Well, as it turns out, that latter approach can come with some cost-saving benefits.
One example of a money win I’ve had arose through advance planning comes courtesy of a site called Klook. When heading to Hong Kong on one occasion, I decided to use the site to purchase tickets for Hong Kong Disneyland. As luck would have it, these tickets were not only discounted from the regular price but also allowed me to go straight to the park’s turnstiles instead of waiting in line at the ticket booth. Given that experience, I’ve since purchased additional Disneyland tickets, as well as cable car passes and more via Klook on return trips to Hong Kong.
Of course Klook isn’t the only online platform where you can pre-purchase tickets. When I visited a friend in Toronto, she blew my mind when she told me how much she was able to book for us using Groupon, scoring a 50%+ discount each time. Plus, on our first trip to Paris, we decided to buy tickets for the Louvre on the site. To be honest, I’m not completely sure that this saved us money but, since the tickets had entry times, it did save us a long wait in the famous museum’s equally notable security queue.
Consider Global Entry
Speaking of saving time, Global Entry is pretty much a must for any frequent international traveler. The program allows you to use special kiosks at select airports, enabling you to clear U.S. customs far faster upon your return. This might not sound like a big deal in some cases but, take it from someone who’s encountered some monster lines when arriving home, it really can be a lifesaver. Plus your Global Entry membership includes TSA Precheck benefits, which are also game-changing for travelers who hate waiting.
Truth be told, I’m cheating a little bit by including Global Entry in this post since it’s not likely to save you any money (unless of course it prevents you from missing a connection). That said, at a price of $100 for five years, I honestly think it’s worth the cost — especially since it’s only $15 more than TSA Precheck on its own. Plus, bringing it full circle, some credit cards offer statement credits that will reimburse you for your Global Entry fee. In other words, you can add this perk to your wish list when looking for your perfect travel card.
While there are certainly travel-related expenses that aren’t so easy to get around, the amount of money-saving techniques you can employ can really add up. From leveraging the right credit card and bank account to using various websites that can save you cash, hopefully these tools will enable you to better enjoy your trip and maybe even get away more often. Bon voyage!