Tips for International Travel

Tips for International Travel

Having just returned from Europe, I thought it prudent to begin our blogging series with a few savvy financial tips from my experiences abroad. Although the process of traveling internationally is functionally the same as traveling within the US (i.e. staying in hotels, eating out more frequently, yelling at Google Maps for giving the wrong directions, etc.) there are some additional things to keep in mind when you are overseas. Here are just a few:

 Your trip will be more expensive than you expect

Whether it be a fancy pair of shoes, a museum tour, or even an unexpected jump in the exchange rate, your trip will cost more than you budgeted. This is an inevitability of international travel, and I have found that it is safe to add roughly 10% to your anticipated total spend. However, remember that you are on vacation and you can’t possibly relax if you’re constantly converting dollars to drachmas and pinching every possible penny.

 Before going to bed, I try to jot down a quick log of my spending for the day and collect receipts in my logbook. This keeps me on track and helps prevent a big surprise on my credit card bill when I return home. In the event that a restaurant or hotel accidentally mischarges me, I’ll have some evidence to show my bank (“of course I didn’t spend $5,000 at the Disney Store in Rome!”). You don’t have to be obsessive, but you also shouldn’t stick your head in the sand.

 ATMs, cash, and credit cards

Call your bank and credit card providers before you leave to inform them of what countries you will be visiting. This will help to avoid the potential embarrassment of, “I’m sorry sir, but your card has been declined” (which will probably be explained to you in a language you barely understand).  Also, ask about ATM withdrawal fees and foreign transaction fees. Some cards and banks will offer better rates than others. Make note of which card offers you the best rate, and try to use that one whenever possible.

 If you plan to use ATMs abroad, make sure to only withdraw cash during regular business hours, and try to use machines outside of major bank branches (Deutsche Bank, Unicredit, Barclays, and BNP Paribas are some of the big ones). You don’t want to be stranded in the event that your card gets eaten or something goes wrong. ATMs are ubiquitous; if the machine looks odd or something doesn’t feel right, walk away and choose a different location.

 Consider carefully the amount of cash you want to carry on your person. Credit cards are accepted almost everywhere (even American Express’s network is growing), and cash cannot be retrieved if it is lost or stolen.  Banks typically recommend carrying the local equivalent of $50 per person per day, but you can likely get by with much less.


Pickpockets are a very real threat and they’re a lot smarter than you are (remember - they do this for a living). Most people assume the thieves are shady men in hoodies, but this could not be farther from the truth. Many pickpockets are actually young girls and boys because tourists would never expect to be robbed by a child, and because the laws are more relaxed for minors.

You can tip the odds heavily in your favor by investing in some kind of hidden wallet. The two best designs I have seen attach across your chest under your shirt, or loop onto your belt to be carried on the inside of your pants. Pickpocketing is a crime of opportunity, and thieves will quickly pass you by if you don’t look like an easy mark. 

Traveling is always a bit stressful, but the more prepared you are ahead of time, the better. Do your research, plan ahead, and things will be just fine. Buon Viaggio!  

Ben Sadtler

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