International Travel Hacks: Money Edition

Traveling abroad is exciting. Whether you’re traveling by yourself or with friends and family, the opportunity to experience a new culture is becoming more and more available to us.  Flight deals are constantly happening and nontraditional travel agencies are popping up all the time! While it may be easy to start a group text with your friends and collectively book a $200 flight to South Africa for a week of fun and cultural exchange, traveling internationally requires a bit more homework.  Because even though a flight deal can you get there, you should have a plan for your money once you arrive!

I like to travel  internationally at least once a year,  so as a travel junkie who just so happens to be a CPA, I’m always thinking about the most cost efficient way to enjoy myself overseas! Here are a few hacks that I’ve found to some of the most commonly asked travel questions:  

Should I Exchange Currency When I Arrive?

You most definitely want to have local currency. Reasons include:

  1. Places where you can find some of the most authentic souvenirs are usually small “mom & pop” shops and they may not accept USD or credit cards.
  2. Even if you do find places that accept USD, they tend to use less favorable exchange rates and tend not to have the proper amount of change.

Should I Use Cash or Credit Card?

Let me answer this with a true story. I was departing from the airport in Stockholm and needed headphones (ok need is a bit strong, but you get me). I walked into an electronic store and was given the option to use my USD or my credit card (CC). The headphones would have cost me about $31 USD if I used cash with the store’s exchange rate. I thought their exchange rate was higher than the other places I had visited during my trip. I also remembered that my CC company did not charge foreign transaction fees so I decided to use my CC instead of cash. I later checked my CC transactions and found that my bank used a much more favorable exchange rate than the store. What could have been a $31 purchase, turned out to only cost me $20 using my CC. Yay me!!!

Thus, if your bank doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees, you may find it more beneficial to use a credit card in places where you have the option.

Should I Stay in Hotel, Airbnb or Hostel?

When determining where to stay, I think safety should be the priority. You cannot put a price on your well-being. The next factor is location and proximity to the attractions and places you will visit. You may find a hotel that is cheaper than another, but if it will cost you more to get to and from the attractions, you may not be saving much.  

With that said, hostels tend to be the least expensive option. And if you are the adventurous type who doesn’t mind sharing a room and bathroom with complete strangers, it could work for you.

Depending on who I am traveling with or where I am traveling to, I prefer either a hotel or AirBnB.

I suggest staying at a hotel that offers breakfast, shuttle service, and perhaps even discounts on excursions. Having those expenses included in the hotel price, can add up to significant savings.

Is it Cheaper to Eat Local?

One of the best parts about traveling is trying foods from different cultures. In fact, one my new favorite dishes is Goulash – a dish I first tried during my visit to Budapest. When I came back to the states, I did extensive research to find goulash and by extensive research, I mean I googled “goulash in downtown Miami.”

When traveling, I definitely favor the smaller, hole-in-the-wall joints where you can try authentic local dishes at lower prices than the bigger touristy restaurants. Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy fine dining when traveling too, but I prefer asking the locals for their recommendations.

When Should I Plan Excursions?

Generally the further out in advance you book your excursions, the better in terms of price and availability. Many booking engines like Expedia, offer discounted rates when you book your excursions at the time you book your hotel.   

If you’re more of a “go with the flow,” “play it by ear” kind of traveler, don’t fret. You can find some pretty sweet last minute deals too!

When you check into your hotel,  you should ask if they partner with tour companies to offer their guests exclusive discounts. You can call them before checking in as well.

Also, Groupon!! I for one, thought Groupon was only in the states, but my friend found us some great excursions while we were in Dubai a few years ago. We enjoyed a day-long excursion where we drove through sand dunes, rode camels, watched a show, and had dinner – all for about $90 USD.  We booked that only a day or two in advance.

Hope you found these answers useful as you begin to plan your trips for the year! It’s always good to have a plan so that you can make wise money decisions when you’re abroad.

Written by Desnoyers CPA

Desnoyers CPA

Known for her friendly, outgoing nature and her rare talent for financial foresight, Lydia Desnoyers has been serving individuals and small businesses in Florida since 2010. After earning her Master’s Degree in Accounting from Nova Southeastern University and her Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting from Florida State University, she became a Certified Public Accountant and a Certified Fraud Examiner.

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