BOOST YOUR SPENDING POWER ON YOUR NEXT EUROPE TRIP WITH THESE TIPS
Expedia, Orbitz, Travelocity, Kayak – the options are endless. Many travelers spend hours searching for flights, hotels or package deals just to save a few bucks on foreign travel. Sometimes, all that effort can pay off. But smart searching is only one way to save money on your travels, and it’s often the most overrated.
People are laser focused on the prices they pay for hotels and airfares but often forget the many other costs that comprise a trip. Many of these are hidden below the surface but really add up over the course of a 1-2 week European vacation.
Today, we take a look at some of these hidden costs, and offer our tips to save even more on your next trip to Europe.
Know Your Exchange Rate
Before you go anywhere, remember – you’ll be paying for things in a foreign currency.
The exchange rate of your home currency vs. the local currency is an important but often forgotten piece of knowledge – and is vital for travelers worldwide. This is easily accessible online in seconds, and yet so many travelers are unaware of the actual value of their money.
If you don’t know the value of US Dollars (or whatever your home currency may be) in the local currency, how can you possibly know if you’re getting ripped off? You dont know how much that cab ride or drink at the bar is costing if you’re not up to date with the exchange rate. It’s an amateur level tourist trap. Don’t fall victim to it.
Pay Upfront in Your Own Currency As Much As Possible
With a foreign currency, when you pay can be just as important as what you pay. This ties back to knowing your exchange rate. If the dollar is strong against the pound (GBP) for example, you might want to prepay as much of your trip as possible in US dollars at the time of booking. If you believe the dollar may fall by the time you travel, it makes sense to pay for all of your flights, hotels, transit etc upfront to avoid paying more in future.
The same applies for cash. If an exchange rate is at a favorable level, it’s crucial to take advantage of it. For instance, if the dollar is at an all-time high against the Euro when you touch down in Europe, don’t be shy about withdrawing a large amount of cash immediately upon arrival. If the exchange rate is particularly strong before you travel, load up on foreign currency before you leave.
Withdraw Cash From ATMs / Find a Good Foreign Exchange Broker
Travelers tend to overthink this one. Accessing money from your own bank account really doesn’t need to be as complicated as people make out.
For starters, don’t even think about walking up to one of those airport currency kiosks once you land at your destination. They’re all over every airport in Europe, but the buy/sell exchange rates are downright laughable. You could easily lose 15 percent of the true value of your money in a single transaction .
Instead, hit an ATM of a reputable bank and get your cash in the same way you would in the US. Use discretion here. That shady looking ATM in the pub, club, or convenience store with tons of fine print and a fake sounding bank name? Give it a miss. In addition to a terrible exchange rate and massive surcharges, there’s a laundry list of reasons not to use that machine – it’s simply not worth the risk.
Many banks in the US charge a secondary fee for currency conversion/using a foreign ATM. Here, too, you can reduce your costs. Like many bank fees, this is negotiable. Although most banking is done online these days, you still can’t beat a face-to-face meeting. If you plan on lots of European travel, simply walk into your local bank, ask to see a manager, and explain your frequent travel schedule. If you stress your need to access your cash while abroad on a frequent basis, many managers will be willing to waive such fees.
If you need to exchange currency, it’s worth finding a decent foreign exchange outlet. Once again – avoid the kiosks in the airport at all costs. We recently identified the best foreign exchange broker in London here
. Swapping your money at a competitive rate can save you hundreds.
Get One (Or More) Credit Cards With No Transaction Fees
A must-have for any traveler to Europe, it’s almost compulsory to have at least one credit card that does not charge foreign transaction fees – ideally one with a smart chip
. The fees can be significant – in the neighborhood of 3 percent every time you swipe your card. Over a lengthy trip to Europe, this could easily add up to over a hundred dollars. Europe is expensive enough – why burn money when you don’t have to?
There’s also the issue of value. As we always stress, if you don’t use a credit card for normal purchases, you’re throwing money away
. Get yourself a credit card with a decent reward scheme and a fat sign up bonus.
You should gain some value back (hotel points, airline miles, cash back, etc.) every time you make a purchase. Paying for an entire European Trip on your card could easily net you enough points for a free trip if you have the right cards
. Using a card without fees allows you to keep that value from being frittered away.
If Given a Choice of What Currency to Pay In – Always Select the Local Currency
Occasionally, when you make a purchase with your credit card overseas, a shop will give you the choice of paying in your home currency or the local currency – ie USD or EUR, with a price in each currency displayed on a screen.
Always pay in the local currency.
This is crucial because while the price you see displayed in the local currency will be accurate, the price you see for your home currency will not be. It will be inflated.
This process is known as Dynamic Currency Conversion – whereby you’re paying a surcharge to the merchant (3% and upwards of the total price), just for the privilege seeing the price displayed in your home currency. Obviously, a blatant rip off that goes unnoticed by a huge majority of US travelers.
When you choose to pay in the local currency, the foreign exchange transaction will be done by your card provider, which should be performed at a respectable rate.
However, if you select the option of your home currency, much like the kiosks at the airport, they are likely to rip you off with a nasty exchange rate.
If you make the mistake of using a card that does charge foreign transaction fees, it can get even worse. You then have to pay whatever percentage surcharge your card happens to charge for transactions abroad (even if performed in your home currency, they still count as “abroad”). A surcharge, then another surcharge before you’ve fully paid.
In sum, depending on your card, you could be hit with a 3-6+% surcharge every time you choose to pay in your home currency.
Be wary of this trick and always choose to pay in local currency for all credit card transactions.
Remember, the cost of a trip isn’t just in the upfront price tag. Follow these under the radar tips and you’ll be saving some serious cash on your next trip to Europe.