Number #1 Tip To Save Money When Traveling
Traveling costs money. Naturally, what we want is to save money traveling, not waste it.
When I try to analyze how exactly I spend my money while I travel then all of my expenses are taking place in three fields.
These fields are universal as they will drain your wallet
Traveling means paying for flights, train tickets, bus rides, shared car rides and even ferry tickets (a great option when traveling to Oslo).
Whether you are staying at a hotel/hostel/apartment you will be spending money to have a roof above your head.
3. Daily needs
Food, beverages, nightlife, drinks, taxis, souvenirs, clothing, books and the occasional USB Drive/digitalcamera/phone/clothing you had to re-buy because you lost your old one on the road.
Here comes the tricky part
Unless you prefer traveling down the super-unbeaten path to locations where paying in cash is king there is a 99% chance that you will book your flight/ticket and hotel/apartment online. And that means without ever interfering with any local currency.
You can compare flight prices with skyscanner.com, you can book your hotel via Booking.com or you can rent your apartment with Airbnb and while you do all that you will most likely never have any Kroner, Lev, Gryvna, Dollar, Ruble or Zloty passing through your hands – unless you are trying to save money with a long-term stay at an apartment on Airbnb, that is.
While looking up flights online and booking with a website like Booking.com (that takes their commission out of the hotel’s pocket and not yours) you are almost guaranteed to find the lowest price available. As a huge plus you can also take your time while going through the offers as all booking sites come in your native language and you are under no pressure to make any fast decisions.
It’s the daily needs, stupid!
This ultimately leads us to the third section. It is your daily needs where you are exposed to the local conditions and where you have so little power to compare and thus buy at reasonable prices.
Speaking of ‘local conditions’. What I used to hate most when traveling was getting foreign currency. What I used to do in order to minize hassle were these two things:
1. Pre-ordering foreign currency from my bank before I left.
This always meant that I would have to get active long before I started travelling and that I would have to spend time waiting in line at the bank in order to pick up the money I ordered. But even then I had no guarantee that my bank could actually get me the money: hardly any Western European bank can pre-order the Albanian currency, let alone the Cuban Peso or the Ukrainian Gryvna.
2. Taking money with me and exchange it at the destination of my travel.
This was always the least prefered method as it meant I would again lose time waiting in banks. Or I would have to try my luck with exchanging currency abroad, an act that gets more dubious the more non-Western your travel destination is: I don’t know about you, but exchanging money abroad for me never was a fun thing to do. In fact, I actually hated it. And that for several reasons:
First, many foreign banks will not even let you exchange your currency as you don’t have an account with them. They will simply refuse to serve you (Ukraine, Hungary). As a consequence you will have to resort to your hotel and their funny exchange rate or, if you rent an apartment, you are in for a nice walk to one of the money exchange booths in the city that be anything from halfway normal establishments to something that may look as trustworthy and as much fun to deal with as the inviting currency exchange in Kirgizystan that you can see on the right.
Doing business with these exchange booths means you will have to deal with their idiot-bait exchange rates, their “commissions” and their other ludacrious fees that they never mention outright.
Now, at the risk of sounding like I was giving you a sleazy sales pitch here, just imagine this: What if there was a way to avoid all the hassle of exchanging money in a language you don’t understand and instead get a one-size-fits-all solution?
The #1 tip to save money when traveling
Such a solution does exist and it is easier than you would ever think. Here is the one advice that will let you save money every time and anywhere you travel: Get a free credit card that has:
- no annual fee
- no transaction fee
- no foreign withdrawal fee.
Tatá! It’s that simple. As soon as this one item became part of my personal travel-toolbox my travel expierience changed so much for the better. Namely, I was freed from some of the most repelling tasks one can be burdened with when traveling.
Here are just three of the annoyances that are now gone forever:
1. No more currency exchange whatsoever
With your credit card being part of either the VISA or MasterCard network all you need to do is walk up to the nearest ATM to get cash in the local currency. The exchange rate will be set by Mastercard/Visa who are using the official exchange rate as set by the National Bank of the country you are in.
2. No more “self-tipping” by stores or restaurants
In certain parts of the world In Eastern and Southern Europe you will often come across situations where stores and sometimes even large supermarkets will not give you back your exact change or sometimes no change at all. Especially in Southern Europe you might as well face a pack of gum or some candy being presented as your “change”.
While tipping is a nice gesture that I indulge in any kind of “self-tipping”, and be it for a penny, gets me furious. A fee-less credit card eliminates any kind of “self-tipping” as you can now pay entirely hassle-free by card every time.
3. Less weight to carry
Once you have a credit card that you can make use of without fearing for hefty transaction fees you are less dependent on carrying foreign curreny with you. You can make all your payings by card and just keep a small amount of cash for the few occasions where cards are not accepted. As if that wasn’t enough, many cards also come with extra features on the side that can be extremely helpful themselves:
Free extra bonuses
Some Credit cards come with extra goodies such as a free health insurance, frequent flyer miles for every purchase you make abroad or sometimes even a free checking account. Have a look at the list below to see what bank offers which freebies with your card.
Get a no-fee credit card
There are numerous banks worldwide that offer a free credit card (no sign-up and no annual fee) that lets you withdraw cash abroad without spending a single cent on fees. If you are a regular traveler then I highly recommend you get one of these cards as I cannot imagine how I managed to get along without one.
No more worrying about exchange rates, commissions or whether that particular bank is in the same global
network as your home bank. All you need is an ATM with the MasterCard or Visa logo on it and that is it.
Does it work?
Personally, I have withdrawn money from cash machines at airports, railway stations and even in nightclubs. ATMs at those places are all notorious for charging horrendous fees – I have never paid a single cent for using them.
The few banks abroad that will charge a fee regardless of your credit card will tell you so during the process. You will need to confirm that you want to proceed after you were told about the fee. In that case just cancel the transaction and walk over to the next ATM.
You should also avoid any ATM that tells you explicitly what the exchange rate of your withdrawal will be. Telling you about the exchange rate means these banks have altered the official rate to their advantage. Again, just cancel the transaction and walk over to the next ATM.
Here are some of the banks that offer either Visa or Master Card without an annual fee and without any foreign transaction fees whatsoever (these are no affiliate links):
DKB Bank: DKB Cash (Visa; including a free bank account)
ComDirect Bank: Kostenloses Girokonto (Visa)
Norisbank: NorisCard (Visa OR MasterCard; incl. free bank account)
DAB Bank: DAB Mastercard Classic (Mastercard)
ConsorsBank: Kostenloses Girokonto (Visa; including free bank account)
- Great Britain
Halifax Bank: Clarity Credit Card (Mastercard)
Bank of America: BankAmericard Travel Rewards Card (Visa)
Capital One: VentureOne Rewards Card (Visa)
28 Degrees Bank: 28 Degrees Platinum MasterCard (Mastercard
CitiBank: CitiBankPlus transaction account (Visa)
If these offers don’t appeal to you then you should just ask your bank if they offer a reward card that has no fees on transactions/purchases abroad. You would be surprised how many banks offer such a card. Another surprising thing is the fact how undiscovered this travel tip really is. Even travel sites that have been around long enough to know better seem clueless and give you the silly advice to remember by heart a list of all banks that are part of the same global network as your bank back home.
We shall end this once and for all. It’s important to keep in mind that banks do not matter anymore once you operate with a “no-fees”-credit card. The only thing of your concern will be whether a certain venue accepts credit cards at all and whether an ATM has the VISA/MasterCard sticker on it.
And that is it.
P.S. I want to keep the list with no-fee credit cards updated.
Feel free to leave a comment if you know of any other offer for a no-fee credit card in any country in the world. I will update the article with your information immediately.
That’s all folks!
If you enjoyed this article then have a look at our other travel tips. And in in case you are looking for even more ways on how to save money when traveling then check out these 10 travel tips to save money from our friends at goworldtravel.com