Want to leave home with the same ease of, well, being at home? Try these 10 time and money-saving travel tips (plus five bonus hacks) to make traveling internationally and domestically a little smoother.
Car Rental Insurance
To purchase or not to purchase the car rental company’s insurance? Call the credit card carrier you intend to make the purchase with, and ask if they offer complimentary car rental insurance protection. Chances are, you can save yourself around $20 per day. NerdWallet offers an in-depth overview of the major credit card carriers and their rental coverage policies.
No Foreign Transaction Fees
When you make purchases outside the United States with your credit card, you need to factor in the conversion rate and also foreign transaction fees from your credit card company. I called three major credit card carriers in early 2016 to find out their transaction fees for making purchases outside the U.S.
American Express: 2.7%
Capital One: 0%
The big winner was Capital One.
Good ‘ol NerdWallet comes in handy again with their extensive list of major credit card companies and their corresponding fees.
VIP Security Treatment
With Global Entry or TSA PreCheck, you’ll walk through the “VIP” security line at the airport. Keep your laptop and liquids in your bag and your shoes on. The time and hassle saved every trip you’re able to use your TSA PreCheck is oh so worth it. Make sure your airline and airport participate in the program. As of our last flight, Spirit does not partake in TSA PreCheck, and some smaller airports do not have a TSA PreCheck line.
Most major airlines offer in-flight Wi-Fi; check to see if your airline carrier offers Wi-Fi and the cost (some airline credit cards come with complimentary inflight Wi-Fi). Even various international routes are Wi-Fi capable, like Gogo on Delta flights. Unless you need time to rest on the shoulder of your seat neighbor, read a book or watch an in-flight movie, you can keep up on work and browse the web for low to no cost.
Free Wi-Fi Spots
When traveling internationally, I look for the nearest Starbucks or McDonald’s because they nearly always have password-free Wi-Fi. American chains in other countries never looked so good as when you’re lost on foreign streets and in need of your Google Maps. Most restaurants in tourist-friendly cities will have Wi-Fi (if you ask for the password).
If you own a phone out of contract, its last phone carrier should be able to unlock it or verify that it’s unlocked. Make sure the phone has a slot for a SIM card. Buy your SIM card online, or once you arrive at your final destination country at the airport or a mobile store. Our pay as you go plans in Slovakia cost around $9 per month for in-country calls, texts and data. While I also brought my primary phone (and turned off data to avoid out-of-country charges) to keep up on incoming calls and texts, I used my extra phone to secure a local number (allowing me to make local calls and have Wi-Fi even when not at a Wi-Fi hot spot).
With the Google Hangouts app, if you have a U.S. number, you can call the States for free when out of the country. The exception I found was conference call lines (ie. FreeConferenceCall.Com). For work conference calls, the per minute Skype rate is much less than paying international calling rates or having an international phone plan.
When you’re out of the country and your international data plan is turned off, you can utilize various apps to respond to incoming text messages. On an iPhone, for example, sending a text from out of the country to someone in the States will cost you $.50, but opening an incoming text from a non-iPhone user only costs $.05. To respond to the message, you can use a free texting app like textPlus or Nextplus while you’re abroad. Just be sure to tell the person you’re texting who you are, as your number will appear as a U.S. number (but not your regular phone number). Remember, iPhone to iPhone iMessaging is free internationally when you’re able to access Wi-Fi. Other apps like Google Hangouts, WhatsApp and Viber are other excellent ways to stay in touch with those you love (or like), but the other user will need an account too.
The Google Translate app was my translation tool of choice while
living in Slovakia this winter. My husband’s top pick was iTranslate. When we went grocery shopping for the first time in Slovakia, we walked in without grabbing a cart. Matt walked out the “exit door” to grab a shopping cart, and alarms instantly sounded! What we thought was the exit door was an emergency door, and the sign apparently said we could be fined 40 euros for sounding the alarm. We giggled the rest of our grocery trip, and I downloaded Google Translate as soon as we left so we could read signs in Slovak going forward. You can talk to it, take pictures of words (menus, signs, etc) or text translate. Living in a city where we could go days without anyone speaking English to us, Google Translate was a lifesaver to make our stay more comfortable.
Access U.S. Websites
When you browse the internet in the country you’re visiting, you’re limited to parts of the internet accessible in that country. Many countries don’t have Netflix (gasp), and if you pay bills online, you’ll notice that several of your insurance companies aren’t accessible outside of the United States. Plus, some countries ban various types of web content. Browse the internet like you’re at home with a VPN (virtual private network). Your VPN encryption also offers an added layer of protection against hackers. Shop prices and options at PCMag. In the PCMag article, the author notes that several VPN’s failed to open Netflix, but while we were in Slovakia the first couple months of the year, we were able to use Netflix (and access the U.S. version through our VPN connection).
Here’s five more bonus trips for taking the headaches out of domestic and international travel.
Call your credit card companies to put a travel alert on your card. Otherwise, you risk being declined if you make a foreign purchase. If you don’t have an international phone plan (and haven’t utilized my tip for making free calls), you’ll spend a couple dollars per minute calling your credit card company asking them to re-activate your card.
International security is tightening, so plan ahead and make a back-up of all your identification in case anything happens to your originals while traveling. A simple way to make ‘copies’ is to take pictures on your phone or camera of any documentation (ie. passport, credit cards, proof of clean criminal background check) you would fear losing.
If you can help it, wait to get local currency out of an ATM or exchange dollars for the local currency until after you leave the airport. A local bank will typically offer better rates. If you don’t use up your foreign currency before you return home, check with your bank (as many do not charge a fee to exchange your money back to dollars).
For your electronics that plug into a wall outlet, buy an adapter* suited for the country you’re visiting.
I forgot my Euro adapter on my first day on an international trip. Using free Wi-Fi at Starbucks to work from my laptop, I realized my error as my battery dwindled. The kind worker advised me in his best German accent to go a few blocks to “Za-tour-n” for an adapter. I spent the next 15 minutes searching for “Za-tour-n”, and finally found an adapter at the electronics store Saturn. Learning the local language’s pronunciations is always an adventure!
For road trips where you need your laptop for work or pleasure, charge on-the-go with a power inverter car charger*. Various new vehicle models already have the wall outlet style plug-in built in, as do some airplanes.
If your phone plan includes a hot spot, turn your hot spot on, find your phone’s Wi-Fi on your laptop and enter the password provided from your phone to access the world wide web on the road. I’ll assume I don’t need to clarify that you are the passenger in the car when using your laptop.
What other travel tips do you have for the Native Gypsies community to help save time and money? Share on social media using #nativegypsies or leave a comment below. Safe travels!
*Please see our Disclosure page for information on Amazon affiliate links in our blog. No, none of the apps I provided paid me directly or indirectly to highlight them in this article. I certainly wouldn’t turn it down, but I will make you aware of it.