By: Laurie Belew
Fellow travel bugs: Did you welcome the new decade with your bucket list itinerary for international travel already in mind? I’ve not only created my bucket list, but I’ve also booked several flights!
For some of us, exploring the world is one of the reasons it’s worth getting up in the morning. Intrepid travel is great as long as you keep in mind: safety and security…and wise spending shouldn’t take a vacation just because you do.
In Part 1 of our international travel series, we helped you sort through travel insurance options. In Part 2, we’ll help you deal with security, finances, and car rentals abroad.
Keep Security Top of Mind Before You Go
Put these items on your to-do list and boost your peace of mind while on your trip:
Put mail on hold.
You may think such a travel security basic goes without saying, but we’ll remind you anyway. A mail hold is easily done in person or online at USPS.com under the Track & Manage tag. The Post Office will hold your mail from 3-30 days for free, and you can order the hold as late as the day before you want it to begin. Are you planning to be gone for longer than a month? You can have mail forwarded to a temporary address for a small fee.
Bring your passport and visa but stash other important documents safely.
Most foreign travel requires a passport, and it’s a good idea to carry one even to Canada and Mexico. Some countries also require a visa—research your destination in advance. But avoid bringing your Social Security card or birth certificate. When you carry sensitive documents, lock them in a hotel safe or other secure location. I had a friend get pick-pocketed at a London Market – they got the wallet that was hidden in the bottom of her bag and attached with a clasp while she was wearing the bag across her body!
Carry a lean wallet.
Whittle down the number of credit cards you carry when traveling. I usually carry one credit card and a debit card that is linked solely to my “travel” account with limited funds available. See savvy spending tips below for how to choose which cards are best for foreign travel.
Consider carrying your cards, passport, IDs, etc. in a wallet that blocks Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) waves. Your cards typically contain a built-in antenna that allows RFID devices in stores and other locations to read the information stored on the chip or tag. That data can also be accessed by criminals using portable RFID readers. RFID blocking wallets offer protection against these hackers.
Make a list for quicker recovery.
Before you leave on your trip, write down numbers, dates, where to call to report theft or fraud, and other pertinent information from your credit cards, driver’s license, medical insurance, and other vital documents. Carry this list separately, so if your wallet or documents are stolen, you know what’s missing and can take prompt action.
While you’re in a list-making mode, make sure close family and friends know where you’re staying and how to reach you. It’s also a best practice to provide their temporary guardians, or whoever is watching them while you’re away, with their medical cards and signed healthcare power of attorney.
Keep Security Top of Mind While You’re Away
Be part of the 32% of travelers who resist the temptation to post information on social media before and during trips. That goes for more than shots of gorgeous sunsets and sunny beaches. Do not post your location, agenda, or shots of your passport, tickets or boarding passes. Criminals monitor social media sites for information to plan robberies, steal identities, and commit fraud, including convincing relatives that travelers are in trouble and need money right away.
Avoid public wifi.
Free wifi is often a standard amenity at hotels, cafes, and other locations frequented by travelers. Even though public wifi makes it easier for hackers to access personal information stored on your mobile devices, only 47% of travelers avoid the service, according to a survey by Experian, the consumer credit reporting company.
Experian notes that you can easily set up your wifi hotspot with a portable router and a local SIM data card available at electronic stores or airport kiosks.
Protect your mobile devices.
Only 48% of Experian survey respondents said they password-protect their smartphones, and only 26% have tracking set up in case the device is stolen. Thwart thieves and hackers with a robust and unique password that you change frequently and enable tracking to hunt down a stolen device. Install wiping software so you can destroy data on your device if you can’t recover it.
If your phone plan does not offer international service or it’s too pricey to add, look into free apps such as Skype or WhatsApp for free worldwide messaging and calling from mobile devices with internet access.
Don’t forget to designate emergency contacts on your smartphone so medical personnel and others can reach your loved ones.
Don’t Let Currency Confusion Shrink Your Spending Power
- Make sure you know the exchange rate ahead of your trip, so your calculations are accurate.
- Find out in advance if your bank imposes extra fees for ATM use or your credit card charges a currency exchange fee when you use the card abroad. If that’s the case, consider the following before you sign up for a new credit card to avoid the fee:
- Credit cards that don’t charge for currency exchange may also have a substantially higher annual fee. This may not be a good deal if you don’t travel frequently.
- Even credit and ATM cards with exchange fees have a better currency conversion rate—2% to 7% less—than if you exchange cash dollars or traveler’s checks for local currency.
- When you make a credit card purchase, pay in the local currency, not U.S. dollars. It’s almost always a better deal.
Read the Fine Print Before You Rent Your Wheels
Renting a car in a foreign country entails more complications and due diligence than a domestic transaction. To start with, most U.S. personal auto insurance policies will not cover car rental abroad. Here’s a checklist to help you navigate how to get coverage:
Before you leave, find out if any of your credit cards offer primary rental car coverage abroad.
If so, read your agreement carefully, as most cards have important exclusions. These vary by issuer and card and may include:
- Certain countries or territories.
- Luxury and antique vehicles.
- Trucks and other vehicles with open beds.
- Motorcycles, mopeds, and RVs.
- Time limits. Fifteen- and 31-day limits are not uncommon.
- Restrictions on loading vehicles on ferries.
- Border crossings, which may carry a fee if permitted.
Calculate whether the rental company CDW is worth the price.
Your rental car company may offer a collision damage waiver (CDW) for an extra—often hefty—fee than may cost $10 or more per day. For that fee, however, rental companies generally waive any costs if your car is damaged or stolen. Consider the time, paperwork, deductible, and likely delayed reimbursement involved with insurance coverage for an international incident when you calculate whether a CDW fits in your travel budget.
Evaluate options to purchase more insurance before you leave.
You don’t have to settle for credit card coverage and/or a CDW. You can shop for rental car coverage online and/or add collision coverage to a trip cancellation insurance plan. That means you can fill in any gaps and boost the amount covered beyond what’s already available to you.
Line up the ID required to rent abroad.
You must prove you are legally allowed to drive before you rent a car. In most countries outside North America, that will require an International Driving Permit (IDP), according to the U.S. State Department. An IDP is not a driver’s license, but an official translation of your U.S. license into ten languages. IDPs are available for $20 at a local AAA branch office or through the mail. You must be 18 years old, hold a valid license, and produce two passport-sized photos.
Now that you’re briefed on safe, secure, and money-savvy travel, feel free to reach out to the financial experts at FJY for a balanced plan that considers your money, your travel passion, and your other hopes and plans for the future.
Since publishing Part 1 of our international travel series, we’ve heard personal stories from some serious world explorers about the wisdom of travel insurance:
Cancellation Policy That Includes Severe Weather: “We actually encountered this during a domestic trip. Hurricane Matthew made landfall the day we were planning to leave for a trip to Disney. With the hurricane impact unknown, we were glad to be able to make a last-minute decision to rebook our trip for another time.”
Medical Coverage/Family Travel: “Sadly, I saw this experience through the eyes of a college friend, whose mom had a heart attack while traveling abroad. She was hospitalized for weeks before passing away. Fortunately, her children were able to travel there to be by her side.”
Evacuation Coverage: “We purchased evacuation coverage when my husband entered a mountain biking race in British Columbia. You never know what will happen on the side of a mountain. We recently saw a biker airlifted out of a canyon during a race in Texas.”