Any type of travel can add up very quickly. Even if you’ve been given advice in on how to save while you’re gone, there are some things you never hear until you experience them first-hand. Here are five tips to avoid wasting money abroad, illustrated by my learning experiences (mistakes made), along the way.
1. Know the conversion rate of the country or city you’re in
Changing currencies from country to country or visiting countries that accept multiple currencies can become confusing very quickly. However, it’s crucial to have an idea of the conversion rate because you can easily overspend. I recommend downloading a free conversion application on your phone, especially one that works without an internet connection so you can quickly calculate price.
In Stockholm, I accidentally spent over $20 on one drink when I was out at a dimly lit, crowded bar because I had no frame of reference for the conversion of SEK to USD. Apart from that, the dim setting did not allow me the time to figure it out.
2. Open a credit card without international fees and avoid withdrawing cash as often as possible
Although many are wary of using credit cards in foreign countries for fear of theft, I personally find this to be the easiest and cheapest way to pay in the places I’ve visited. Withdrawing from ATMs abroad often comes with a considerable fee for each cash withdrawal.
I returned from Europe two summers ago and sorted through my debit card transaction history to realize how much I was being charged each time I took out more cash from an ATM. I wished I had used my credit card whenever possible instead of opting for cash.
3. Carry and pay with coins and small denominations of bills
Not only is this smart in the event of theft so that you may lose less money, but this is especially helpful when going out in a foreign country. It can often be the case that workers in bars and clubs recognize that you are in a distracted setting and are not familiar with the currency and take advantage of this. When you pay with large bills, they may give you back less change than you need and keep the rest, causing you to lose money very quickly.
I went out in Greece last summer, beginning my night with a mix of large bills around 10 and 20 euros. When I returned to my hotel that night, I noticed all my money was gone, save for a few coins. I knew I hadn’t spent it all, but rather the bartenders pocketed much of the change I was supposed to receive because they knew I was unfamiliar with the currency and took advantage of my lack of knowledge.
4. Consider different methods of transportation
Taking buses, trains or taxis sounds like a good option, since many Americans are aware Uber is not as popular in different countries and is not exactly a cheap way to get around. However, Uber does not operate the same in some countries and can be significantly cheaper than all other transportation.
I took a cab from the airport in Zagreb to a nearby restaurant, a mere 10 minute ride that cost over $30. On the way back, I decided to take an Uber and this ride cost only about four dollars. My driver explained to me that this is because the car service operates illegally in Croatia since they do not have a license from the government, so they can undercut the prices of cabs greatly.
5. See if the country offers tax reimbursement for foreign visitors
When shopping in some European countries, you may notice that the prices are as marked on items because there is no added sales tax. The sales tax is already figured into the items, however, so you are still paying the tax. Many of these countries offer tax-free shopping, which means if you are a foreign visitor and leaving their country, you can pick up forms to receive a tax credit back. Over 50 countries allow visitors to receive their tax back when they depart, so it is worth checking out if you will be shopping in the place you’re visiting.
I only learned about tax-free shopping halfway into a trip, and thus missed out on receiving tax back on many items I bought. Once I knew about this, I picked up forms both in store and at the airport before leaving the country so that I could get tax credited back to me. This process took a couple months in my experience, but eventually the returns showed up on my credit card statement.