Want to Get Away? | How to Travel Carefree During Retirement
by Rebecca Meares
cfp®, awma®, the caudle meares
group at mcadam financial
So, you booked a trip to sip wines in Bordeaux, catch some rays in the Caribbean, or cruise down the Danube in style. You undoubtedly spent hours perfecting your itinerary and packing list, and now you’re counting down the days until your big adventure. But before you zip up your suitcase and head out the door, there are several smart moves to make to avoid unwelcome financial surprises. Whether you’re traveling for a week or you’re a snowbird seeking a longer respite, taking these key steps can help you eliminate unnecessary headache, and allow you to enjoy your travel the way you intended—carefree!
1. Notify your major financial institutions
Imagine being informed that your credit card has been denied due to fraudulent activity as you
attempt to pay for your ocean-side massage. Not feeling so relaxed anymore, are you? Avoid being flagged for suspicious activity by informing your bank and credit card companies of the dates and locations of your trip. Many financial institutions will allow you to do this via their website or app and will even text you to confirm purchases that seem unusual.
2. Take inventory and make copies
Bringing multiple forms of payment on a trip abroad is wise. That way, if one card is lost or stolen, you have other options. But make sure to take inventory of exactly what you are carrying in your wallet or purse in case something goes missing.
And don’t forget to make copies of important information, like passports or travel documents. While paper copies in your suitcase may suffice, you may also want to consider storing them in a secure document cloud that they can be accessed anywhere from your phone or tablet.
3. Use travel-friendly cards
When it comes to international travel, not all credit and debit cards are created equal. Shop around for a credit card that fits your travel habits. Maybe you’re loyal to a specific airline or hotel chain, or perhaps you want an all-purpose travel card with flexible
rewards. Either way, you should choose an option with no foreign transaction fees. Otherwise, you could be doling out an additional 2 to 4 percent on international purchases, money that could otherwise be spent on your next scoop of Italian gelato.
You may want to see if at least one of your credit cards has PIN (Personal Identification Number) technology, which is sometimes required in places with unattended terminals, like train stations in smaller European towns. While most travelers should be fine with a chip-and-signature card, if you come across PIN technology, you may need to withdraw cash.
So what costs will you incur when using your debit card to withdraw cash in foreign ATMs? Depending on your bank, you may be hit with a variety of fees, including foreign transaction fees, conversion fees, and non-bank usage fees. While you should avoid frequent debit card activity, being able to withdraw foreign currency as needed, without worrying about pesky fees being tacked on, can be quite a relief. Explore banks that waive these fees.
4. Get the best exchange rate
To ensure you’re getting the most for your money, understand the exchange rate before you arrive and make sure you shop around. You can track rates with the Wall Street Journal or use an app like XE Currency for simple conversion calculations. While exchanging money when you land at the local airport is convenient, it will almost always be more expensive than exchanging at banks or even street kiosks.
To be prepared, you should exchange some currency
before you leave home so that you can at least cover your basic needs upon arrival—a taxi to the hotel, convenience store purchases, and perhaps a latte or a glass of wine after a long flight. Then withdraw cash from an ATM or bank (being mindful of costs) or use your travel-friendly credit card, the latter likely being your best bet. Companies that are most widely accepted worldwide, like Visa and MasterCard, are able to secure competitive rates. And when you’re asked if you’d like to pay in the local currency or US dollars, choose local!
But don’t forget, in some countries, cash is king. While you may be able to get away with using a credit card in most places, have a couple hundred
dollars in local currency on hand “just in case,” with plenty of small bills for tipping.
5. Explore cell service options
Whether you want to completely unplug or make sure you don’t miss a single email, it is critical to understand how your devices will work at your destination. If not, you may come home to a cell phone bill rampant with international roaming charges, or even worse, you may not be able to contact someone in an emergency.
If you’re traveling to a major city, it is likely that you will be able to connect to WiFi (wireless internet) at restaurants, museums, and hotels — often for free. This will allow you to do almost everything except make regular phone calls and send regular texts. Pre-travel, download an app like WhatsApp or Skype to communicate with friends and family over WiFi. If you do plan to rely solely on WiFi, be sure to turn off your cellular service in your phone’s settings.
However, if you are heading to a small town off the beaten path, or if you want to make sure you have service in between WiFi hubs, contact your service provider to learn about your options. If your device works abroad, most providers will
allow you to purchase international day passes or you may be able to buy a local SIM card to stay connected at all times.
6. Protect yourself
Even a perfectly planned trip can still have a hiccup or two. Manage your risk by reviewing your insurance coverage before leaving home. If you’ll be renting a car, see what type of international protection you’ll be afforded and if you need an international driver’s license. Don’t forget to check in with your health insurer to better understand your health and emergency coverage overseas.
And finally, there’s travel insurance, which can cover a wide range of events from theft to lost baggage to a cancelled trip. So, do you need it? The answer is maybe. Perhaps you can self-insure or maybe your travel credit card provides adequate coverage as a perk. But if a snag in plans could spoil a big trip, like a retirement cruise or a major anniversary, having that coverage in place might give you the peace of mind you need.
Now that you’ve spent some time completing your financial checklist, you should feel relieved and ready to experience smooth sailing ahead. Bon voyage!
Rebecca Meares is an avid traveler and has visited over 20 countries and counting. From having her debit card swallowed up by a Laotian ATM to attempting to navigate a remote Greek island with no street names or addresses, she has seen it all and loves sharing her passion for exploring new places. As a Certified Financial Planner™ professional in the Caudle Meares Group at McAdam, Rebecca helps her clients retire and stay retired, so that they may pursue their passions and next big adventure. Come by and share a travel story if you attend the DC Ideal Living Show.
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