With the dollar the strongest it’s been in years, now might be the perfect time to travel overseas — especially to Europe. Before you hop on that airplane, though, you want to make sure you’re financially prepared for your trip. Here are a few things to do ahead of time so that you are ready for your overseas adventure:
Deposits for Bookings
Depending on your travel arrangements, you might need to make deposits for various bookings. Whether you place a deposit for accommodations, a tour or a cruise, you need to be prepared. How is the deposit applied to your total price? Also, you should read the fine print about how much of your deposit is refunded if you have to cancel. In some cases you might receive a partial refund, but there are companies that won’t refund your deposit at all.
Also, be aware that you might lose your deposit if the company goes out of business before your trip. Research the company ahead of time to ensure that it is reputable and is likely to still be operating by the time you travel, especially if your vacation is planned for more than four months away.
It’s possible to purchase travel insurance policies that can help protect you in the event that your booking deposit is lost. You can also use travel insurance to protect you in the event that weather, illness or death in the family changes your plans. Check your credit card benefits as well. Many credit card issuers offer basic travel insurance to help cover costs related to lost baggage or canceled flights.
Review your health coverage before you leave the country. You might be covered for treatment in a foreign country, and even for medical evacuation. However, not all policies cover these possibilities. You might be required to purchase additional coverage for the time you are outside the country. The U.S. State Department offers a list of insurance companies that offer coverage for overseas treatment or medical evacuation.
When I took my first overseas trip as an 18-year-old, traveler’s checks were the accepted mode of traveling with money. Today, things are much more convenient. You can use major credit cards in most countries, and receive a more favorable exchange rate. There are major issuers, such as Capital One, that won’t even charge foreign transaction fees. While you’ll still lose a little something on the exchange rate, it won’t be as much as if you try to exchange cash at an airport.
Many countries in Europe use a chip and PIN system for credit cards. Before you go, consider asking your issuer if you can get a “smart” credit card and a PIN so that you can use your card with ease. While the “traditional” magnetic stripe cards might still be accepted at major retailers, you might have trouble using them at some locations. Better to be safe than sorry.
If you do decide to get cash, use an ATM rather than going to an exchange kiosk. Get a list of ATM locations from your debit card issuer and try to use those when possible. You’ll pay fewer fees and the exchange rate will be more favorable to you. Also, Western Union can be cheaper than exchanging at the airport, so be sure to check locations beforehand.
Be wary of sellers who offer to accept dollars and return your change in the local currency. Unless you’re very good at math, you could end up paying more than you think. There are several apps and calculators available that can give you immediate exchange rates to help you when you make a purchase. Load those on your phone before you leave.
Finally, be on the alert for travel scams. Avoid deals that seem to good to be true, or that are offered to you through email. Be sure that merchandise you buy and ship home is packed and sent in front of you so that nothing is taken out or substituted. Ask about what fees might be extra, including services charges, taxes and processing fees. Also make sure you understand how customs works and what you will need to declare if you bring items home with you.
Be wary of cab drivers and others who try to get you to change your mind about your destination or accommodations by telling you they know of a better deal. They might actually be steering you someplace where they will get a kickback. Even worse, you might be set up for a more sinister encounter.
There’s a lot to think about when planning your overseas travel, but if you are careful about protecting your wallet or purse (don’t fall for commotions and distractions), and you are savvy about where you are going and what to expect, you can avoid the worst financial blunders.
By Miranda Marquit, Contributor