Having an international holiday? Congrats! But before you leave American soil, be sure your finances are in order, or your only souvenirs will be roaming charges and overdraft fees.
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Show Me the Money
Cash. Decide beforehand how you’ll get cash. If you want a little local currency to get you through the first day or so, convert your money at a major hometown bank. Airport converting counters carry fees and can be confusing if you don’t speak the language. A leftover coin or two is a fun memento, but $40 in leftover dinar? Not so much.
Credit. Do some research to see if most vendors in your destination take U.S. dollars. Either way, you can rely on a debit card and ATMs for the rest. Yes, there are ATM fees, but they’re usually less than the foreign transaction fees of many credit cards. These universal MasterCard and Visa ATM locators should prove helpful. If you insist on swiping for your stroopwafels, double-check your credit card company’s policy on overseas transactions.
Checks. Skip the travelers checks entirely, since they’re going the way of, well… non-travelers checks.
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Set Your Away Message
No, not on your work email—on your financial life. Let your banking institutions and credit card issuers know where you’re going and when. Fraud protection is great, until you learn that your credit card company can’t picture you on safari and suspends your card mid-trip. Also take a few minutes to photocopy your passport, driver’s license, plane tickets, and credit cards, and leave those papers with someone not lucky enough to go with you (we’ve found dads to be generally reliable). You may also want to pay your bills early to avoid accidentally missing the due dates.
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Of course you’ll want to call your friends back in the states to mock them while they sit in their cubicles, but before leaving, call your cell phone service provider to ask whether your model of phone will work in the countries you plan to visit, what the per minute talk charge will be, and whether it makes sense for you to buy the traveler discount plan offered by some carriers. If those numbers still give you sticker shock, opt for a phone card so you can call from the hotel room instead of the top of the Eiffel Tower. Your friends will still be jealous. Getting online from your smartphone is a little more tricky—and a lot more pricey. It’s best to disable your data roaming while you’re on the road and stick to Internet cafes.
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Rake It In
Let your house or apartment make money for you while you’re away. Even though you think your head will explode if you don’t get out of town right this second, someone somewhere is planning a trip to your fair city and looking for a place to crash that’s cheaper and more homey than a Marriott. Beyond Craigslist, sites like HomeAway and VRBO facilitate inexpensive short-term stays. They have small membership fees, but a year’s worth of rental opportunities costs less than one night at a hotel…speaking of, Airbnb lets you set a price to list your home just like a hotel room. If you’ll be gone for an extended period of time, you lucky dog, consider a house swap (free for everyone!) with sites like HomeExchange and INTERVac.
Now you’re all set. Don’t forget your passport, and send us a postcard, ok?