The appreciation of the U.S. dollar against the Euro recently has made saving money while traveling to Europe a little easier. I was fortunate enough to travel there during this time and learned a few lessons that could be helpful for future travelers there (and elsewhere). I will discuss a few tips and tricks to consider before heading out across the pond, or even further abroad.
Make sure you are saving money, on money, too.
If you are able to time your trip to correspond with foreign currencies that are declining against the Dollar (Euro, for one), saving money will already be built into every transaction you make abroad. Effortless savings from that perspective. We were lucky enough that we hit the timing on our trip to Spain to see the Euro at a 10% vs. 30% premium to the Dollar as has been the case in recent history.
This leads into the next lesson which is key: obtaining and using currency. You have a few things to consider here. First, credit card usage is not quite as prevalent as I had hoped on our trip. Either it wasn’t an option, or if it was (as we saw on our taxi from the airport) the driver wouldn’t let us use our card. Could be the same scam that happens in the U.S. – no one wants to pay the interchange fee so the machine is “broken.” There goes some points earning opportunities, oh well. Lesson: you will definitely need to have cash.
You have a few options for obtaining currency: 1) ATMs; 2) Currency Exchange; 3) Obtain currency before you leave the U.S. (The American Automobile Association allows you to “buy” currency through them at a better rate than the currency exchange places. You will need a few days lead-time, though). Since we didn’t bring any currency with us, we elected to use the ATM option upon our arrival. Saving money becomes a little tricky here. While we didn’t get nicked with a higher currency exchange rate than a hotel or other location might charge, we got hit with foreign transaction fees. Ouch. It cost about $7 to withdraw money, so that stung a bit. What really bit was that it wasn’t just the ATM surcharge, but also a percentage of the withdraw that we were charged. But since we didn’t do this often, it wasn’t too painful. Lesson: get a bank debit card that minimizes these fees. Here’s a helpful article on that. On the bright side, we brought two credit cards from Chase that didn’t charge foreign exchange fees.
Hotels. Options were plentiful, but we elected to not go the “chain” route, especially as it would have limited our destinations. We found that off-the-beaten path boutique hotels provided excellent service that would be more akin to any “elite” level treatment at a major hotel. For example, breakfast was often included and the attention given to us was welcomed. Brand loyalty isn’t everything, I learned.
Transportation. We ended up renting a car from Hertz. And, nothing against Hertz because it was the cheapest option, but they did nick us hard on an “extra driver” fee which is almost never an issue in the U.S. if you are married. And, because we didn’t top off the gas tank, we got charged for fuel. Fine, no problem, but was also got charged a Fuel Service Charge on top of that. What? It was my understanding that the fuel price they charge when you don’t return the tank full was baked into a higher price they assessed, nope. Lesson: fill the tank if you can! We were getting a little tired of navigating the tricky traffic circles, so we decided to just return the car and not risk an accident while trying to find a gas station.
The only public transportation outside taxis we took was a long-distance train ride. It was awesome, but what was not awesome was how Rail Europe mislead us into believing our tickets were easily exchangeable. We ended up having to kill a few hours of time before departing one station because we weren’t able to get on an earlier train. We also ended up paying a surcharge for buying the ticket ahead of time. Lesson: buy your ticket at the station. Trains in major European cities are plentiful and frequent. You don’t want to spend more time in a public place like a train station than you have to with all of your stuff as we did. Get there early, get your ticket, and get out of town.
Phones. You definitely want to be mindful of using your cell phone abroad. If you don’t have a global plan, or SIM card, you will get charged pretty outrageous data and per minute charges. We headed this lesson from before (even in Canada this is an issue) and this time also switched the phone to Airplane Mode and only used the phone to surf over wi-fi.
Travelling abroad is an extraordinarily positive experience. The memories will remain forever. Saving money can also be a part of your adventure and there are many things to keep in mind before you head out of town.