This year, I had many friends traveling to Europe and South America. Their families are doing well in the current economy, and the dollar performing strongly compared to currency in other countries. These boosts – along with airfare prices staying at reasonable levels – have led to a 5% percent increase in international travel from the US during the last year.
If it’s time for you to explore the globe, here are some important tips to help you cut costs and travel efficiently.
Traveler Cara Conn of Los Angeles was surprised to find that some international airports have a second security check. “In Panama City, we bought water at the airport after passing through security. Before boarding the plane, we passed through another security point and our water was confiscated.” That’s money evaporated! Be sure to ask ahead of time what to expect for security.
Conn also encourages travelers, especially those with children, to pack affordable snacks for air travel. “Even if you think there will be time in the airport to purchase food, flight delays or gate changes can alter plans. And depending on the hour of your arrival, some airport restaurants may be closed.”
Check the exchange rate well before your trip to learn the valuation of the currency in the country of your destination. If the currency is low compared to the dollar, you might want to purchase some currency ahead of time. But, as more and more credit card companies offer cards with zero foreign transaction fees, the best way to exchange money is perhaps to not to. “Use a bank card for everything,” says Whit Honea, a writer who toured several European countries this summer.
His wife Tricia Honea agrees. “In Sweden they don’t want your cash. They want people to use cards. It’s a whole thing.” She adds, “Check on paying in local currency or US dollars. One of them will be better for your money.”
Your phone can keep multiple digital itineraries, e-tickets, and travel receipts organized. Andrea Fellman, a frequent international traveler and blogger, also keeps photographs and screenshots of all travel paperwork in her phone, including ID’s and passports for everyone in her party. “That way, in case you don’t have a WiFi connection or even access to the Internet, you can still use the electronic version of your tickets,” she says. “Of course you’ll need the paper version of your passports,” she continues “but for safety and to have a record of them, photos can be useful.”
Free WiFi is generally available at hotels and restaurants, but connections may not always be secure, and it certainly won’t help if you are lost while driving between cities. There are several ways to get hooked up. Check with your cell phone provider to see if their international roaming and data services are cost effective. Alternatively, you might want to purchase a local SIM card for the country you are visiting, or even rent a cell phone at your destination. Some services will rent you a portable WiFi hotspot so you can have connectivity wherever you go – prices depend on your location and how much data you need. It’s a great way to stay connected to your loved ones and your budget!
Remember, power outlets may differ in various countries. Depending on the device, you may just need an adapter. But in some cases you may need a voltage converter or transformer. Factor this in while packing. Fellman adds, “Bring not just a converter, but also a power strip or block with multiple outlets. It’s a life-saver for charging multiple devices.”
The blessing of the international flight is that on many airlines your checked luggage, at least the first piece, is still included in the cost of your ticket. If you are traveling with family, this allows you the option of packing most of your gear in one or two suitcases, and returning from your overseas trip with an additional case full of souvenirs. Or pack a full suitcase inside a larger empty one, filling both for the trip home.
The curse of the international flight is time and distance. Pack a carry-on bag to keep essentials with you just in case your checked luggage is delayed or missing. One savvy traveler I know uses a space-saving bag to pack a full-sized pillow so he can be more comfortable on longer flights.
If you have any must-know international travel tips, share them in the comments section below or on Twitter at @mint with hashtag #MyMintTips.
Kim Tracy Prince is a Los Angeles-based writer who has a husband and two young boys. She has traveled to Mexico, Costa Rica, London, and the British Virgin Islands.