The Best Ways to Handle Your Money When Traveling

Here are some of the more common options, along with their pros and cons.

So you’ve picked your destination, booked your flights and packed your bags. Planning a trip is always equal parts exciting and stressful as you figure out the logistics. One thing many people fail to look into is how they’ll handle their money when they’re away. Whether you’re traveling abroad or one state over, you need to figure out the best way to make purchases during your trip. Here are some of the more common options, along with their pros and cons.


Arguably the easiest way to pay for things while traveling, cash also has drawbacks.

Pros — If you’re good at estimating how much you spend on travel, cash might not be such a bad idea. If you can make one trip to the ATM and be done, that’s probably the fastest and least obtrusive way to deal with money when traveling.

Cons — Taking out a wad of cash isn’t the best idea, for safety reasons. It’s probably better to make multiple trips and carry only as much as you need in case it gets lost or stolen. Remember, if you’ll need foreign currency, your bank may charge you a foreign transaction fee to take out cash. There may be additional fees associated with taking cash out at foreign ATMs as well. Check with your bank before taking money out and learn some credit and debit card tips for overseas travelers.

Credit Cards

Credit cards offer a fairly stress-free way to deal with your finances when traveling — but beware user fees.

Pros — Paying with a credit card means never having to worry if you have enough money for goods or services. Paying with your credit card also usually offers you a level of protection that cash doesn’t. Check with your provider to determine their policy on trip insurance or if they have any travel discounts. If your card is lost or stolen, you won’t be responsible for charges you didn’t make. If your card has a good rewards program, you’ll earn those rewards with every purchase you make. (Be sure to keep an eye on your credit score for any unexpected changes. They could be a sign of identity theft. You can check two of your scores free on

Cons — Even if you plan to make credit cards your go-to payment method during your trip, it’s a good idea to have a little cash, for things like cab rides and tips. The other downside of credit cards: foreign transaction fees. Many credit card companies charge fees for every swipe in a foreign country, which can add up. Check with your bank for specifics. (Here’s how to avoid currency conversion fees.) You might also want to look into the best overall travel credit cards of 2017, as well as the best international travel credit cards, if you travel abroad frequently.

Prepaid Travel Cards

Prepaid travel cards may not be as popular as other payment methods, but they’re becoming widespread and may be worth looking into for your next trip.

Pros — Details vary based on the issuing bank, but in general, these cards all work the same way. You can purchase your prepaid travel card online or at your bank. Activate and register your card, then load it with whatever amount of money you want. You can add more later online in most cases, assuming your card is reloadable. Be sure to ask, as prepaid travel cards carry limits. Most prepaid travel cards come with additional perks. Check with the bank to see yours. They also typically carry the same protections as your regular credit card like zero-liability protection.

Cons — You need to track of how much you spend on your prepaid travel card since it comes preloaded with a set amount of money — a good thing for big spenders. Also, unlike a regular credit card, you need to reload your card with money when you run out. You’ll likely incur foreign transaction fees, and some companies charge higher fees for prepaid travel cards.

Traveler’s Checks

Traveler’s checks work in a similar way to cash, but offer more protections.

Pros — Unlike cash, identification and signature verification are required to cash traveler’s checks, and if they’re lost or stolen, the issuer will usually replace them without a problem.

Cons — You may pay a small transaction fee to pick up your traveler’s checks, but in most instances if you’re getting them from your normal bank, they will be free. As with cash, you must make an educated guess on how many you’ll need for your trip. Additionally, while travelers checks are accepted at the same rate of exchange as cash, not all places accept them. Do your research before you decide to use this method of payment. It likely won’t be the only one you’ll need on your trip.

Image: RossHelen

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Take the Money Stress Out of Vacation With This Travel Checklist

Vacations can actually be pretty stressful. But if you lay the right financial groundwork beforehand, you'll be better able to enjoy yourself.

The vacations we take are often some of the most memorable times in our lives. But they can also be stressful. Leaving your life behind for a few days can be relaxing, but it takes planning and money. Luckily, there are a few basic steps you can take to ensure your vacation is the break you need and not another source of stress. Here are nine tips to follow.

1. Make a Budget

Know what you’ll need to spend. Do your research ahead of time, not only on the cost of travel and accommodations but also your activities and the meals you’ll eat. You may also be able to purchase tickets for certain activities ahead of time this way.

Add up your costs, and you’ll know whether you have enough saved up to afford your itinerary or need to scale back your trip. Check out our tips for saving money fast.

2. Make a Packing List

Don’t deplete your precious vacation budget to buy a rain jacket or swimsuit you forgot to pack. Check your itinerary and the weather forecast ahead of time and lay out exactly what you’ll need to bring. Here’s a list of 13 essentials you should pack.

3. Bring the Right Credit Card

You’re paying enough for your trip without adding foreign transaction fees to every swipe. If you’re not sure whether your card charges these fees, just check the terms and conditions.

If you’re thinking of applying for new plastic, check out a few cards with no foreign transaction fees here. In addition to saving on fees, some cards, especially those affiliated with airlines, will allow you to check your first bag free, among other perks. (Remember, you’ll need a solid credit score for many travel rewards cards. You can check two of your scores free on

You’ll also want to make sure you know your PIN (or call your issuer to reset it), especially if you’re going to Europe. Many card readers there use a chip-and-PIN system rather than the chip-and-signature system that has become common in the United States.

If you’re going to bring your ATM card, check your bank’s website or call them up to find out whether they have ATM locations in your destination of choice. This way you can avoid paying hefty ATM fees if you need to withdraw cash.

4. Call Your Card Company

You should also call your bank and credit card company to let them know you’re traveling. They’ll be monitoring your card activity and the sudden appearance of purchases in a foreign land may lead them to think your card has been stolen and freeze your card. You don’t want the hassle of having to prove that you’re you while you’re on vacation. Call ahead to avoid it. Many banks and card issuers allow you to set a travel alert online or using their mobile app, as well.

5. Make Sure You’re Covered

Many health insurance plans don’t cover medical expenses while you’re abroad, so if you’re worried about paying for a potential health emergency, you may want to consider buying a travel insurance policy that covers such expenses. Some policies may also cover lost or stolen luggage. Before buying, be sure to check with your own insurer to see what they’ll cover. You should also check your credit card’s terms and conditions. Many offer travel insurance if you paid for the trip using your card.

6. Cover Your Bills

You may be able to ignore work emails for a few days, but you still have to pay your bills. If any payments for utilities, your credit card or rent come due while you’re away, make sure you find a way to pay them ahead of time. While missing one payment probably won’t get your power shut off, a late credit card payment could result in late fees and hefty interest charges. Your landlord won’t be thrilled about a late payment either.

7. Hold Your Mail

Don’t let your mail pile up in your mailbox, especially if it’s not secured. That stack of paper could be a treasure trove for identity thieves. Holding your mail temporarily is as simple as a visit to the Postal Service website. They’ll keep it safe at your local post office until you return.

8. Wait to Change Money

Most likely you’ll get a better exchange rate when you get to your destination. If you’re worried about having local currency once you get off the plane, most airports will have ATMs that offer better exchange rates than the ubiquitous cash-exchange kiosks in tourist areas. Just make sure you followed the earlier advice about calling your bank.

9. Get Your Passport Well Ahead of Time

If you’re going abroad, be sure to apply for your passport (or renew it) at least eight weeks before you leave. If you need it any faster than that, you’ll have to pay for expedited service.

It might seem like a lot of work, but taking these steps should help minimize your money stress before your big trip.

Image: Geber86

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