Okay – your flight’s booked, you’ve requested time off from work, and your family knows you’re going. The bare essentials for going on your trip are done.
Even so, you have this nagging feeling like there’s some more… adulting to do before you leave.
Indeed, there are definitely a few additional steps you’ll want to take before your big trip to ensure your personal finances stay taught and tidy while you’re adventuring abroad.
(P.S. I traveled to 41 countries in my 20s, so please enjoy learning from my mistakes!)
1. Let your bank and credit card company know that you’re traveling
Setting a “travel notice” with your bank is a quick win and can be done in a single phone call. Some banks will even let you do it from your online dashboard.
When you set a travel notice, you’re essentially telling your bank: “hey, I’ll be in Bolivia in August – so if you see a charge from a hostel in La Paz, that’s not fraud – that’s just me.”
Without a travel notice, your bank will typically block your account until they hear confirmation that it’s just you. This could leave you in a sticky situation – you may be unable to withdraw cash, buy food, or check into your accommodations until you call your bank.
So, be sure to set a travel notice so your bank doesn’t flip out when you try to buy your first cuñape.
2. Download banking and payment apps
After visiting 41 countries, I’ve learned one universal truth about group travel: money changes hands between you like the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange.
Restaurant tabs and outdoor market negotiations quickly devolve into a humbling frenzy of open wallets, wads of cash, and grown adults counting on their fingers.
“Oh, shoot – can anyone spot me twenty Euros?”
“I’ve got plenty of pesos if anyone needs any.”
“Does anyone have an extra 5,000 Yen for the tip?”
At the end of the day, sipping Sopporo at the hostel, you’ll need to settle your tab with your cohorts – and that’s when having your banking and payment apps pre-installed is a godsend. Not only do Zelle and PayPal automatically convert to the recipient’s currency, but they also save you a nighttime trip to the ATM – which can be expensive and dangerous.
3. Get a budgeting app to help you stay on track
In addition to a payment app, it’s helpful to have a budgeting app while you travel so you can stay on track with your financial goals.
On a more personal note, establishing a budget before your trip and sticking to it takes a ton of the stress and guilt out of travel. Take it from me, when you’re traveling on a budget, without a budget, every nonessential expense can come with a heaping side of guilt.
- Another five euro beer in Bavaria? I probably shouldn’t.
- This beautiful painting of Ha Long Bay that’s only $30? Ehhh…. not when I’m between jobs.
Not knowing how much you’re allowed to spend when you’re traveling can be a huge buzzkill. But conversely, once you set a budget, your mindset shifts and you feel much more confident and relaxed in your spending:
- I can safely afford three craft beers tonight.
- Even if I buy this beautiful painting, I’ll still have $220 left in my art budget!
So I passionately suggest establishing a budget before you head overseas – it’s low-key the #1 stress reliever before a big journey!
4. See what travel perks and insurance you already get with your rewards card
Sure, 2% cash back rewards are great – but did you know that your credit card might also include up to $25,000 worth of trip insurance?
It’s a lesser-known perk of many rewards cards, but yes – many credit cards these days include travel-related insurance and coverage including:
- Trip Delay Reimbursement. Delay coverage would reimburse you for extra expenses due to a delay, like hotels/meals after a canceled flight.
- Trip Cancellation/Interruption. This is the big one; if you or even just someone in your family misses a trip due to sickness, a death in the family, severe weather, or even jury duty, your card could cover your trip for up to $25,000.
- Baggage Delay. If your bag is delayed by at least 12 hours, your credit card company will actually reimburse you for typically around $150 of clothes and toiletries to get through the day.
- Lost Luggage Reimbursement. If your bag never arrives, your card company could cover the replacement cost of your luggage plus contents, usually up to $500 or $1,000. You should know, however, that by law airlines are required to reimburse you for up to $3,500 for lost, damaged, or delayed luggage.
- Travel and Emergency Assistance Services. Stuck in a foreign country with a canceled flight? It may not be your first impulse, but calling your card issuer can actually save the day. Many credit card companies have 24/7 travel concierges that can help you make emergency travel plans.
- Emergency Evacuation and Transportation Coverage. Finally, and this one became more common during the pandemic, if you incur hotel/transportation costs during an emergency evacuation, your credit card may cover it.
Head online and read your credit card’s cardholder agreement, top to bottom. That’ll give you an idea of the perks included, which could save you tens of thousands of dollars under the right (unfortunate) circumstances.
5. Get traveler’s insurance
Whether or not your card includes some trip insurance, you’ll still want to consider plugging any sensitive gaps. Travel insurance is cheap, relieves a ton of stress, and some consider it to be essential.
There are three types of travel insurance:
- Financial travel insurance covers your trip itself, and may already be covered by your credit card. It includes trip cancellation/interruption coverage, baggage delay reimbursement, and more.
- Medical travel insurance covers you during your trip and includes your medical bills for emergency evacuation, basic healthcare, etc. Even if you’re traveling to a country with affordable out-of-pocket healthcare, the U.S. State Department reminds us that medical transportation costs can reach $100,000 alone.
- Comprehensive travel insurance quite simply includes both Financial and Medical travel insurance.
I know, when you’re budgeting for a trip, purchasing $50 to $300 or so worth of insurance that you might not even use feels like a frustrating tax.
But think of it this way – even if you never end up using it, travel insurance still has a tangible benefit – every day, it removes stress from your trip. For a couple of hundred bucks, it prevents any interruption in your goal to achieve financial freedom.
6. Bring a travel rewards card
Depending on where you’re going and for how long, you might consider applying for a travel rewards card to bring with you.
Now, the credit card companies would have you believe that getting a new credit card is as simple and straightforward as ordering a burrito.
It’s not, and there are some hidden caveats/drawbacks for you to seriously consider before applying:
- Credit card applications hurt your credit score. When you apply for a new credit card, the company will make a hard pull of your credit, causing an immediate drop of five to seven points.
- Travel rewards cards typically require excellent credit. Because travel cards are “lifestyle cards” that encourage high spending, the card companies want to know that they can trust you to pay your bill when you’re back home. Therefore, they typically require a credit score of 750 or higher
- The best travel cards charge an annual fee. The best travel cards almost always charge a $95 annual fee (or higher). Granted, they also tend to have generous signup bonuses ($500+) if you spend enough within your first three months.
The best time to get a travel rewards card is before you book your trip. That way, you can put your trip on your new card for extra cash back and to make progress on earning your signup bonus.
Aside from getting trip insurance, better cash back on travel expenses, and a signup bonus, the final perk to bring a travel rewards card is zero foreign transaction fees. Most non-travel cards will charge a 3% fee on every purchase you make overseas, making your cash back rewards null and void.
If you plan to go shopping abroad, a travel card (or at least one with no foreign transaction fees) is an excellent companion.
Read more: Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards
7. Turn on notifications for every single transaction
Circling back to my very first point, you definitely should still give your bank a travel notice so they don’t immediately freeze your account as soon as you try to make a purchase overseas.
That being said, I recommend you still set up alerts for every single transaction made on your card while you’re traveling.
What if you’re in Bolivia, but that charge at the hostel in La Paz wasn’t you? Now, the roles have reversed – your bank probably thinks it’s OK, but you obviously don’t.
That’s why it’s a good idea to have your bank ping a notification to your phone every time there’s a transaction on your account. Yes, you may get eleven pings a day, but I promise – it’s all worth it for that one ping that makes you go: hol’ up.
8. Prepare to use card lock
Let’s say you do get an alert for a fraudulent charge. Or maybe, you’ve simply lost your credit card and want to prevent any bad guys from using it.
What now? Do you call up Chase and cancel your card?
Hold the phone, because canceling a credit card could have seriously negative consequences on your personal finances. To start, every merchant you have on autopay will experience a missed payment, which could lead to a disruption in subscription services and even a dip in your credit score.
Plus, and I’m pulling from personal experience here, canceling a credit card abroad means that card is donezo. Six feet under. In most circumstances, your card issuer won’t be able to get you another physical card until you’re back home.
Besides, what if you find your card behind the hostel bar right after you cancel it?
That’s why card lock is such an essential feature for travelers. Card lock is a simple toggle in your banking app that lets you block any new transactions on your card. Pre-authorized transactions are allowed, but the bad guys won’t be able to charge anything new. They’ll probably assume you already canceled it and toss it in the trash.
Card lock is also a no-brainer if you’re searching for a lost card, or you do know where it is and just need a few hours to retrieve it.
9. Automate your bills
Speaking of pre-authorized transactions, another key step in ensuring a smooth trip (financially speaking) is to ensure that you won’t come home to any delinquent bills.
You’ll be glad you set up autopay for your rent, utilities, etc. if you haven’t already. It’s not just decidedly unfun to return from Bali to a pile of bills – it can also be expensive and hurt your credit score.
Some less patient merchants (notably utility providers) keep their fingers on the trigger, and as soon as you miss a payment they’ll ambush you with late fees and report your delinquent payment to the credit bureaus.
So, be sure that all of your bills, rent, etc. are set on autopay so you don’t get in trouble while you’re gone. And TBH, just keep everything on autopay so you don’t miss any payments in the future!
10. Suspend your paid subscriptions
Conversely, if you’ll be gone for more than a month, you might even consider canceling some of your subscriptions until you’re back. This is a frugal life hack that I’ve used to save hundreds during my overseas adventures.
For example, you may want to consider canceling the following services (and more) if you won’t be using them while overseas:
- HBO Max.
After all, these services let you reactivate on a whim, so you might as well suspend your subscription and save $20, $40, even $100 during each month you’re gone.
Not only is it effortless to re-subscribe – they’ll often give you promos for it (e.g. reactivate now to save 20% off your next three months).
Now, if it’s a subscription to a small business, like a local gym or a life coach, I’d encourage you to continue supporting them even while you’re overseas.
But Disney? They’ll be fine.
11. Remember to skip your meal deliveries
I’m giving this one its own header because it caused me a surprising amount of stress on my recent jaunt to the Bahamas.
While I was checking my email in Nassau, I got a notification that my Freshly box was out for delivery.
Now, if it were just a regular package I could’ve rolled the dice and let it sit on my porch. If I were feeling paranoid, I probably could’ve gotten a pal to swing by within a few days and hide it.
But fresh meals? They had hours before they expired and I lost $100 worth of meal prep (and created tons of food waste).
For an undisclosed amount of bribery, I finally got my up-the-street neighbor to rescue my meals and keep them in her fridge for five days, but lesson learned – skip any fresh meal deliveries while you’re overseas.
12. Have a plan for your mail and packages
On a similar note, it pays (literally) to have your mail and packages taken care of while you’re gone.
If you go online, you can typically redirect UPS and FedEx packages for delivery to the nearest brick-and-mortar store for complimentary safe-keeping – even if the package is already in transit.
USPS offers a service called USPS Hold Mail® that, as the name subtly implies, will hold your mail at the nearest post office for up to 30 days. You can set it up online by creating a USPS account.
(Fun fact – you can also opt-out of junk mail for $2).
13. Freeze your credit report
This is a newer travel tip that some would consider extreme, while others consider it 100% necessary. I’ll let you be the judge.
Remember card lock, which prevents your credit card from being used? Well, there’s a more intense version of that where you can actually prevent your entire credit report from being used.
When you travel abroad and use your credit card in more places, the threat of identity theft naturally rises. Then, the usual first step in identity theft is that the bad guy will start applying for loans in your name.
At this stage, the lender sends a request to the credit bureaus to release your credit report, and when they see you have good credit, they give the bad guy whatever he wants.
But if you freeze your credit report, it stops the bad guy right in his tracks.
To freeze your credit report, you have to call up each of the three credit bureaus:
- Equifax (1-800-349-9960).
- TransUnion (1-888-909-8872).
- Experian (1-888-397-3742).
They’ll ask you for a password to release it again – be sure to get it tattooed on your arm (or your friend’s arm) because you won’t want to lose it. Then, all you have to do is unfreeze it again when you apply for your next loan or line of credit.
14. Sublet your apartment
If your lease allows it, subletting your apartment while you’re gone could cover the cost of your trip!
When you sublet, you’re essentially letting a renter stay in your space while you’re gone. You’re effectively a landlord for a few weeks/months during your trip, and you’ll have to issue a lease of your own and collect rent.
You’ll likely want to collect a security deposit, too, to cover any potential theft or damages to your property.
Subletting makes the most sense if your renter is someone you trust – a friend, colleague, family member, etc. A total stranger might squat in your space, refuse to pay rent, and simply disappear before you return (with your stuff).
For that reason, subletting isn’t for everyone; but if you have a renter in mind and could get a lot for your space, it’s definitely worth investigating!
Read more: How to Sublet Your Apartment Safely
15. Make sure you don’t pay for data roaming
There’s a scene from An Idiot Abroad where Ricky Gervais knows Karl gets charged 70 pence every time he receives a text message in Egypt so he keeps texting him this:
Even if your data carrier says they include data roaming in your monthly bill, don’t believe them. T-Mobile claims they include unlimited data roaming and a “low rate ceiling” for global travelers, and yet felt justified charged a family $13,470.19 while they traveled – $1 per megabyte.
Here’s the crazy thing – the family’s phones were on airplane mode the entire time – but apparently, certain apps these days can shrug off airplane mode and vampire data regardless.
So, the key to avoiding roaming charges is to either:
- Go into Airplane Mode Settings and ensure that Cellular Data is disabled.
- Prepay for roaming data, if it’s essential.
Only then will you ensure that you never pay 70p for a text from Ricky Gervais again (actually, that might be worth it).
16. Download a VPN
My final travel tip for safeguarding your finances is to download and start using a virtual private network, or VPN.
VPNs are essential travel tools because, among other things, they scramble your data while you browse the web. You’re going to be using a lot of public WiFi while you’re traveling, especially in airports, and that’s precisely when you’re the most vulnerable to having your data stolen (ID, bank passcodes, etc.)
Thankfully, even the cheapest VPN (~$3 a month) can protect you and ensure your sensitive financial data stays invisible.
Plus, VPNs can also help you circumvent national firewalls and download region-locked content. Want to download a movie only available on Netflix Canada? Want to visit Western social media while you’re in China? VPN.
Even if you’re unfamiliar with VPNs, they’re super easy to download and use – so be sure to pick one and tinker with it before you depart!
Money is a serious consideration for every big trip, but if you plan it well and implement a few key travel hacks, I guarantee you’ll have a less stressful (and more lucrative) adventure overseas.