You've got your passport and your walking shoes. You've spent months assembling an itinerary and brushing up on your Renaissance art. You can almost feel yourself drooling while imagining that first taste of real Italian gelato while strolling through cobblestone streets.
While you're doing all your preparations for this summer's international getaway, spend a little extra time thinking about how you'll carry your travel funds. Some legwork before you leave might save you quite a bit of money when it comes time to turn your greenbacks into pounds, euros, or rands.
If you're planning to take your credit card and pay your way through Europe on plastic, keep in mind that many cards charge big fees for international transactions. A recent blog entry from Green Light co-advisor Dayana Yochim cited a survey of credit card fees for foreign purchases. The survey found that both Visa and Mastercard
If you're not so keen on adding a several percentage-point surcharge to all your vacation purchases, you'll need to do a little homework and find out the safest and cheapest way to make purchases and convert your currency at your destination.
Paper or plastic?
To get your hands on cash, a credit card will probably not be your least expensive option. A cash advance may be subject to those foreign transaction fees, and many credit cards also start charging interest immediately on cash withdrawals.
You may consider using your ATM card instead of using your credit card, though it can be difficult to determine the exchange rate you'll be paying. You may also have to pay ATM fees, though some large banks have cooperative agreements with international banks. Check with your bank to find out what kind of charges you may expect to pay and how to find the prevailing exchange rates. Some may charge special fees for foreign withdrawals.
You might opt for paper instead of plastic by using travelers' checks. You'll often pay transaction fees both to buy the travelers' checks and to convert them into local currency once you get to your destination, so look around for the lowest fees and the best rates. You probably won't find the best deal at your hotel or at money changing bureaus in areas swamped by tourists. Seek out a post office or a bank instead.
If you prefer the convenience of plastic, you might look for a prepaid travel card, like the American Express Travelers Cheque Card or Visa TravelMoney. In most places, they can be used as credit or ATM cards, allowing you to make purchases or get your hands on some cash while abroad. Take a look at the fees and any restrictions, such as limits on the amount of money that can be loaded onto the card, before signing up.
Other Foolish tips
You can use a few other tricks to minimize your transaction costs. Do as few currency exchanges as possible, though you'll want to balance the safety of carrying less cash with minimizing your currency transactions. You can avoid being forced to change money at an expensive airport counter if you arrive with a little bit of the local currency in your pocket, just enough to get to your hotel and maybe get a meal. And try to anticipate your daily spending needs and access your money before you need it. You'll be less likely to get stuck making an emergency currency exchange at less-than-favorable rates.
You'll find even more tips about travel perks and vacation deals in the upcoming issue of Green Light, free for your wanderings for 30 days. Pick up more money-saving ideas for your summer getaway in the Travel Center.
Fool contributor Mary Dalrymple does not own stock in any company mentioned in this article. She welcomes your feedback. Mastercard is an Inside Value recommendation, and US Bancorp is an Income Investor pick. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.