Bank Cards & Finance How to save money when you're travelling abroad

Published on May 6th, 2014 | by Tom Wake

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9 essential travel tips to save you money on calls, texts, Internet usage, cash withdrawals and more

How to save money when you're travelling abroadHolidays are supposed to be relaxing and fun – an escape from financial stresses, the daily grind and Max Clifford’s face.

The last thing you want to worry about  when you’re away from home is whether you’re racking up huge, unnecessary bills.

Here are 9 tips to help you save money on everything from cash withdrawals, phone calls, texting, Internet charges and more.

(Most of these take just a few minutes to set up but could save you hundreds of pounds – I say this from hard won experience!).

1. Download offline maps and city guides

When you’re in a foreign land you need to know how to get from A to B – preferably, if you’re a bloke, without having to ask another human being.

The good news is that using GPS on your phone (the technology used in Sat Navs that pinpoints where you are) is 100% free. The bad news is that using maps on the move (such as Google maps or Apple maps) is not – so it’s a bit of a catch 22…

However, there is a simple workaround. If you take a smartphone on your travels, download a city guide that includes an offline map and supports GPS tracking (there are plenty of apps that offer this).

You’ll then have a free map that opens instantly, tells you where you are (and where you need to go) but won’t cost a penny to use. No more “where the hell are we?” arguments or financial stress.

Most of these offline map apps are free (it depends on the city or the country) but even if the app for your destination costs 60p or £1 it’s still a fantastic money saver. You could easily spend as much in a few minutes downloading data on the move.

2. Turn off international roaming on your phone

The single biggest holiday rip off is ‘data fees’. This is when you use your mobile to surf the Internet, read/send emails, watch videos or anything that involves data (that includes using Google or Apple maps).

I’m not exaggerating when I say that even moderate usage can quickly rack up a bill that’ll set you back hundreds of pounds. Believe me, coming home to that sort of mobile phone bill can be devastating.

There’s a simple solution. Turn off international roaming on your phone the moment you get on the plane. When it’s switched off you’ll only be able to download data when you’re using free wifi and could save yourself a packet.

3. Buy a cheap, local sim card when you arrive

Using your existing home contract to make calls when you’re abroad is an absolute rip off – don’t do it! While prices when travelling around Europe have improved somewhat over the past few years (thanks to some heavy lobbying) you still pay a big fat excess to use a ‘partner network’.

Luckily there’s a simple alternative. When you arrive at your destination, pop into any mobile phone shop and buy a pay as you go sim card. Then just pop your existing sim card out and replace it with the local one and buy/apply pay as you go credit on your new card.

Not tech savvy? Don’t worry – get the person in the shop to do it for you and check that it’s working before you leave.

Important: some smartphones (like the iPhone) come ‘locked’ to one mobile phone operator (e.g. Vodafone or 02). If you do have a ‘locked’ phone then you’ll need to bring a different phone (that isn’t locked) or it won’t work.

You can pick up a cheap phone on eBay for under a tenner. Sophie and I have one that we use for travelling, festivals – anywhere where we need to be able to make calls when we’re away for extended periods of time.

4. Download Whats App for free text messaging

There’s a smartphone app called ‘WhatsApp’ which lets you send free messages to other users when you have an Internet connection.

Get your travelling companions and any friends or family back home that you might want to communcaite with to download the same app. That way you can send them messages while you’re away without worrying about how much it’s costing you.

Remember, this only works when you have an Internet connection. As you hopefully will have turned ‘roaming’ off, use this app when you’re in an area which has free wifi – such as cafes or in your hotel.

5. If you desperately need to get online (outside of your hotel, cafes and free wifi hotspots) check to see if you can get on a premium wifi package

Often big telecoms companies will offer nationwide wifi hotspots where you can use their premium wifi (for a fee obviously).

It’s not cheap but if you desperately need constant connectivity (e.g. to check in at work) it’s usually MUCH better value than using International roaming.

6. Exchange money before you travel

I’m not about to suggest you take out enough money to cover your whole trip (and carry it around in your shoe) but you’ll almost always get a better deal by exchanging some cash before you travel.

It’s an urban myth that you get a brilliant rate withdrawing cash from ATMs abroad – you don’t. If you’re not stung by exorbitant withdrawal fees of 5%, 6%, 7% or more you’ll more than likely get hit by a shoddy exchange rate.

If you do have to withdraw cash from an ATM always, always, always select to withdraw in the local currency. That might sound like a strange thing to say – because obviously you’ll be taking out local currency – but here’s the thing: some ATMs give you the option to withdraw a figure relating to your home currency (supposedly to make the maths easier).

For example instead of choosing 10,000 yen you’ll have the option to take out £70 in yen. Don’t do it – 9 times out of 10 you get ripped off by the conversion. Always select the direct option.

7. Get a bank card that doesn’t rip you off on international withdrawals

Ultimately you will probably have to visit an ATM at some point in your travels, so sign yourself up for an account that offers free international withdrawals before you travel.

Check who currently offers this, as it changes all the time. It used to be Nationwide, but they’ve since gone back on this. At time of writing Metro bank (based in London) offer free international withdrawals.

8. Think about loading up a pre-paid credit card to take abroad

If you’re nervous about taking cards abroad with you, you could opt for a pre-paid credit card. These are credit cards that you pre-load with cash (before you travel) and then use for purchases abroad.

Some offer better rates than others on purchases and ATM withdrawals. You can see a list here.

If your card is stolen the most that can be taken out of your account (and that’s assuming they are able to crack the pin) is the amount you have pre-paid onto the card – which will be an appealing safety measure for some.

9. Use a credit card that offers rewards for online hotel bookings (and make pay off your balance in full each month!)

Whatever you do make sure you use a cashback website, a rewards credit card and an online booking platform to make all your hotel reservations. That way you’ll avoid paying commission charges (as it will be charged in your home currency) and you’ll make not one, but TWO savings.

Here’s how it works:

Step 1: Log on to Topcashback (accounts are free) and search for your preferred booking agent. For example – booking.com, ebookers, Agoda or expedia. Click on the link via Topcashback and then select your reservation as normal.

Step 2: Now pay for the hotel using a rewards credit card. This could be a cashback credit card that offers you cashback on online expenditures, or an American Express Airmiles card that give you credit towards free flights.

Bonus 1: You’ll get 3%, 5%, 10% or more in cashback on your hotel booking (this varies according to the vendor) for doing absolutely nothing.

Bonus 2: You’ll get rewards via the card you use – e.g. airmiles that you could use to redeem for a free future flight – and payment protection, again for doing absolutely nothing!

It’s an absolute no brainer. Hotel bookings are THE best ways to rack up cashback because you get the lowest price and they often offer high % rewards.

Remember – always, always, always pay off your credit card balance in full otherwise you’ll scupper any reward benefit!

I hope you found these tips useful. Now it’s your turn! Please leave a comment below with your money saving travel tips.


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About the Author

My name's Tom Wake and I'm the editor of Insider's Edge. I bring you tips, tricks and shortcuts to help you save money, make money and save time.



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