Don’t make financial mistakes which can ruin your vacation, part 1

New York City Skyline, photo by NSL Photography

April arrives later this week. Summer vacations start just a few months from now. Many are actively investigating summer vacation plans, while others are finalizing their travel plans. There are, of course, many ways to lower one’s costs of vacation and increase their enjoyment too, but there are also many important measures vacationers can and should take after their plans are complete to ensure they return home happy.

Before beginning a trip, there are a number of things travelers need to do before locking up their home and starting their vacation to avoid making financial mistakes which can ruin any vacation before it begins.

Gather all your travel documentation together — Make sure you have copies of all reservations, tickets which aren’t electronic, copies of passports if you’re traveling internationally, a detailed itinerary, etc. If you’re traveling with a smartphone or tablet, digitize these documents and upload them so they are ready at any time while you’re away. I also store my travel documents password protected in the “cloud,” to prevent identity theft.

Extra Tip: If you plan to use your US cell phone internationally, be aware you won’t be able to use foreign toll-free telephone numbers. Before you leave on your trip, make sure you have the regular telephone numbers of all your hotels, airlines, rental car companies, and other emergency numbers, etc., in case you have a problem.

Check your credit card and debit card fees, if traveling internationally, long before you depart — Different credit cards and debit cards have different foreign currency transaction and exchange fees and some have other surcharges. You don’t want to return home to find you racked up lots of unnecessary debt from fees. Before traveling internationally, find out what fees your cards impose when used out of the country. Perhaps you’ll want a new credit card for international travel.

Make sure your ATM card will work internationally — At some point, you’ll need foreign currency while traveling internationally. Before leaving, make sure you know which of your accounts is “primary,” and that it has plenty of cash in it, as when you’re out of the country, ATMs may not give you access to any accounts other than your “primary” account.

Make sure you know where the nearest ATM is located — You can’t use your ATM card unless you can find an ATM machine. Before you leave, get the necessary app(s) on your smartphone or tablet. Or, bookmark ATM locator websites in your laptop if you’re taking one on vacation or print out a list of ATM locations near your hotels throughout your trip. Take special note if any of your locations have no bank or ATM available and get the necessary cash prior to arriving at those locations.

Shortly before you leave, let your credit and debit card companies and your bank know you’re traveling — You want to alert them whether you’re traveling domestically or abroad, so their computerized fraud detection systems won’t suspend your credit card or ATM card use just when you need them.

Don’t forget insurance — Emergencies do happen, even on well planned trips. If your trip involves any expensive and/or non-cancellable travel, get travel insurance. In particular, health care when traveling internationally can be expensive. If you’re traveling abroad, make sure your health insurance will cover you. For US senior citizens insured by Medicare, your Medicare coverage doesn’t extend out of the US, so make sure you have travel health insurance when out of the country.

Before you travel internationally, get an international calling, text and data plan for your cellular devices — Especially if you’re from the US, the cost of international roaming and international cellular data can be enormous. Either get international plans for both, or essentially turn your cellular device off, except for an extreme emergency.

Extra Tip: For local calling, if we’re away for an extended time, my wife and I purchase a local SIM card for one of our “unlocked” cell phones. It’s much less expense than having an international calling plan on that phone. We leave the other phone, with the international plan, to make it easy for family to contact us, and to call home, if necessary.

Don’t let your mail or newspapers pile up in front of your door — If you’ll be away for more than a couple of days, have the post office hold your mail. Stop your newspapers on the day you leave. The last thing you want is a pile of mail or newspapers at your door, or spilling out of your mailbox, while you’re away. It would advertise you’re away to thieves who could sift through mail for credit card statements, bank records or other financial data to steal your identity, and/or literally clean out your home.

I’ll have more vacation finance tips next Monday.