7 Strategies for Traveling With a Credit Card

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A credit card can always come in handy on a trip. Before you take off, check out these strategies for traveling with a credit card so nothing goes wrong on your vacation.

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Whether you’re on a strict budget or not, traveling usually involves plenty of transactions. You’ve got meals, activities, gifts, and transportation, to name just a few typical travel expenses once you’re on the ground.

It’s hard to top credit cards in terms of convenience and security, and that goes double for when you’re traveling. But if you aren’t prepared, you could have trouble using your card or end up paying much more than necessary. That’s why it’s important to follow a few key travel strategies with your credit card.

1. Pick the right credit card

If you have multiple cards or you’re thinking of getting a new card before your trip, make sure you bring whichever one has the most travel perks and will earn the largest rewards on your spending. For example, if you think you’ll be eating out a lot, a card that earns more back on dining would be valuable to have.

For international travel, there are two other things you’ll need from your credit card:

  • Acceptance at your destination -- Visa and Mastercard are accepted almost anywhere. But can you say the same about a Discover card? What about an American Express card? Chances are, you should double-check how acceptance is in the area you’re visiting.
  • No foreign transaction fee -- Foreign transaction fees are often 3% of the transaction amount every time you use your card, and that gets expensive. You can check if your card has this fee in its terms and conditions. Most travel credit cards won’t have a foreign transaction fee, and there are also select cash-back cards with no foreign transaction fees.

2. Notify the card issuer

Transactions on the other side of the world can set off your card issuer’s fraud alerts and cause them to decline the transaction. To avoid any inconvenience, you should inform them of your travel plans beforehand.

Some card issuers let you do this online or through their mobile apps, and calling in always works. Note that travel alerts aren’t always necessary. For example, they aren’t required with Capital One cards.

3. Check what travel benefits your card offers

There are all kinds of credit card travel benefits that can save you money and improve your overall experience. Perks may include:

  • Free checked baggage
  • Complimentary hotel upgrades when available
  • Airport lounge access
  • Complimentary trip insurance

Of course, the best travel rewards cards tend to have the longest lists of benefits. But even quality cash-back cards could still have some benefits that help you out, such as rental car insurance.

4. Don’t rely entirely on your credit card

Given my love of credit card rewards, I loathe paying cash for anything, but sometimes that’s the only option. Not every merchant accepts credit cards, and in more rural towns, cash is still king. Make sure you get some cash in the local currency just in case you need it.

Tip: Instead of using a currency exchange, withdraw money from an ATM using your debit card. You generally get a better deal this way. Just see what your bank will charge for this ahead of time and notify them of your travels so your debit card works properly. It’s also wise to get as much cash as you think you’ll need in one visit so you don’t keep going to ATMs and paying withdrawal fees.

5. Consider bringing a backup card

It’s always good to have a backup plan, including one for what you’ll do if you lose your credit card. Getting a replacement credit card while traveling probably isn’t going to happen, so my personal solution is hiding a backup credit card in my luggage.

Ideally, you’ll have a place to stay where you don’t need to worry about someone going through your bag and stealing your extra credit card. If not, a luggage lock is a good way to secure that backup card and the rest of your belongings.

6. Don’t choose dynamic currency conversion

Some merchants offer dynamic currency conversion, which lets you convert your bill to your home currency on the spot instead of paying in the local currency. For this privilege of knowing exactly what a transaction is costing you in your own currency, you’ll almost always get a poor exchange rate, and there could also be an additional fee for the service.

Dynamic currency conversion isn’t there to help you; it’s a way to make more money off a transaction. You should always decline it when it’s offered.

7. Carry only what you need

If you’re the type to carry around a giant wallet, traveling is a great time to swap it out for something slimmer. Bigger wallets are easier for a thief to notice and grab, and the more you carry, the more you’ll lose if your wallet goes missing. One or two credit cards, your ID, and some cash are all you need on a day-to-day basis.

Consider carrying your wallet in your front pocket instead of your back pocket, too, as it’s at less risk there. Truth be told, I’ve found Internet advice about pickpockets to be exaggerated, so don’t stress too much about this before your trip. Keep everything in your front pockets, be reasonably aware of your surroundings, and you’re good to go.

When you’re properly prepared, your credit card will make traveling much easier and earn you some rewards in the process. Just stick to the strategies above and you shouldn’t have any issues.

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