5 simple tips to stretch your travel budget

Written by |

You love to travel, but let’s face it: traveling gets expensive. Here are five essential tips that will stretch your travel dollar.

5 tips to stretch your travel budget

1. Use exchange rates to choose your destination

Track various exchange rates against the U.S. Dollar.  For example, the South African Rand has a rate of about 16.1 to 1 right now, which is far below where it was five years ago, around 5 to 1. This means your money will go much further — allowing you to take a trip for a lot less and even splurge on that 4 or 5 star safari experience that you wouldn’t have been able to five years ago.  

Read more: The #1 rule of cheap travel

2. Take the right credit card

Most credit card issuers charge 3% if you use the card outside the United States, so it’s best to have a card that doesn’t charge these foreign transaction fees.

The Chase Sapphire Visa Card is a personal favorite.  It has a concierge service, you can transfer points 1 to 1, and there are no foreign transaction fees. It has an annual $95 membership fee compared to other cards with similar benefits that have $450 annual membership fees. Other cards worth considering are Delta SkyMiles cards, Amazon Rewards Visa and Capital One Venture Card. In fact, most Capital One cards come with no foreign transaction fees, while MasterCard/Visa usually charge a 1% fee.

Read more: 6 bank fees eating away at your money

When traveling internationally, if you use a credit card with no fees to pay for as many transactions as possible, you can earn points that will help reduce the costs of future travels.

Check out NerdWallet’s list of the best credit cards with no foreign transaction fees for 2016.

If you are planning to use a debit card, check with your bank to find out if there are ATMs you can use at your destination fee-free. ATM charges overseas can be outrageous — and they can add up quickly, cutting into your overall travel budget.

Extra tip: How to protect your cards and personal documents 


Money belts are highly advisable in many international cities. Pick-pocketing can happen anywhere.

You should also make photocopies of your passport before you go. Only the ID pages need to be copied, along with any current visa stamps. Check out the State Department’s Traveler’s Checklist for more info.

3. Use public transportation

The cost of taxi cabs and rental cars can really add up when you are traveling. That’s why you should use public transportation whenever possible. Metropolitan cities around the world offer public transportation by rail or bus, and by taking advantage of these options, you can spend your money on more activities, great restaurants and accommodations. And of course, if walking is an option, nothing is cheaper than that! And you can experience some culture along the way. For more tips, check out our Travel Booking & Planning Guide.

Read more: 7 travel safety tips to protect you and your wallet

4. Get the right cell phone plan

When traveling internationally, avoid the temptation to use your phone’s international roaming features. Even the best international roaming plans will cost you a bundle, on top of what you’re already paying for monthly cell phone services. Instead, make use of the abundant free Wi-Fi available in hotels, cafes, libraries and so on. When booking a hotel, pay attention to whether or not it offers free Wi-Fi. If the hotel does charge for it, common spaces (lobby, lounges, pool) will often have Wi-Fi available for free — so if possible go to these areas when you need to browse the Internet. Keep your data off — and know that someone will still be able to call you if there’s an emergency. If you’re not sure how your phone will exactly work with data and other features turned off, contact your provider for more information.

One thing to remember about using free Wi-Fi: Especially overseas, never sign in to any financial or other account that holds your personal sensitive information. If a scammer is watching (via that Wi-Fi network), your information could be exposed and stolen before you even realize it! 

Another option for affordable and secure Wi-Fi when traveling internationally: If you want to have a way to safely and securely log in to your email, social media accounts and other sensitive accounts, you can get a one-month pass for two devices on a service called Boingo.com, which offers 700,000 worldwide hotspots. This is a particularly good idea for cities.

Once you connect to Boingo’s Wi-Fi hotspot, you can use free services like Google Voice calls, Skype, Facetime and Whatsapp to stay in touch via your smartphone, tablet or whatever other device you take with you. There are several free apps for free unlimited international talking now available — just remember that these apps are free over Wi-Fi, so make sure you’re connected to a secure network/hotspot, otherwise you could end up using your data without realizing it and racking up some hefty fees.

You can also check out this list from PCMag of some of the best Wi-Fi hotspots to buy and take with you abroad, in order to ensure a safe and secure connection wherever you go.

5. Get mobile data for less

If you decide you can’t live without mobile data, texting and calling during your travels — without having to rely on Wi-Fi via personal or other hotspot — find out if your phone works with international SIM cards and buy a pre-paid card for your phone either before you leave or when you arrive at your destination. The website www.willmyphonework.net can tell you if your current phone will work at your destination. It’s important to note that you may need your cell phone carrier to unlock your phone before you travel. Call your carrier’s customer service department for more information.  

  • Buying a SIM in the U.S.If you buy a SIM here in the United States, you’ll get a U.S. number so it’s free for your family and friends at home to call you. Plus, most SIMS allow free unlimited incoming texts.Check out GoSIM.com or Telestial.com to buy a SIM at home. You’ll get pre-paid minutes for the countries in which you are traveling and you’ll be sent a SIM card that replaces the current SIM inside your phone once you get to your destination.
  • Buying a SIM abroadIf you don’t want to buy a SIM before you go, it’s perfectly acceptable to buy one once you get to your destinations.Lycamobile.com is the largest discounter with service now in 17 countries across Europe. Three.com is another big discounter that is now in eight countries.Both companies provide cheap calling both in country and to the United States, as well as free or cheap texting and generous amounts of data.
  • Wi-Fi in AsiaIf you’re going to Asia: Getting a prepaid SIM card with local calling service is difficult in Japan. It’s better to rent a handy little wireless router, known as ‘pocket WiFi’ in Asia. This will allow multiple gadgets — smartphone, laptop, tablet, Kindle — to connect at once with un-throttled, unlimited data. Local calls are then possible via cheap Internet phone services like Skype. You can rent and return one of these devices easily at the telecom company counters at most airports. Booking online before the trip brings the price down even lower. Global Advanced Communications, for example, offers deals for a 7-day rental plan if you book before the trip. They deliver the device to the airport/hotel/office for free the day before your arrival and include a prepaid envelope for returns.

What are your favorite ways to save money when you travel? Tell us about your tips and tricks on Facebook and Twitter!


best travel rewards credit card Best Travel Credit Cards: Top Rewards Picks for 2024 - The best travel rewards credit cards! Compare the latest sign-up bonus offers to start earning free flights, hotel stays and more.