Vacations can be pretty expensive, especially when you’re traveling abroad in an unfamiliar place. There’s always some painfully expensive surprise. From transportation expenses to exchange fees, here are some of the most common money mistakes travelers make. Try to avoid these, and your wallet will come home a lot happier. 

ATM Currency Exchange Fees

Hand withdrawing euros from an ATM

Did you know you can be charged 10 percent more when you accept the conversion rate of the ATM you’re grabbing money from? JB Macatulad of Will Fly For Food says, “When using your ATM card abroad, some machines may ask if you'd like to proceed ‘with or without conversion.’ 

Always proceed WITHOUT conversion so your local bank does the conversion for you. Choosing ‘with conversion’ authorizes the foreign bank operating the ATM to perform the conversion, usually at highly unfavorable rates.”

Foreign Transaction Fees

If you’re not aware, your credit card may charge a transaction fee every time you spend money on it while traveling abroad. Those fees can add up quickly. Alex Miller, Founder and CEO of Upgraded Points advises, “Before you travel, always know which of your credit cards has a foreign transaction fee and which don’t. Label your cards so you can easily differentiate from them when you use them to pay abroad. Always use a no-fee credit card so you don’t have to pay extra simply for spending abroad.”

Related: The Best Family Reward Credit Cards

Not Getting Travel Rewards

If you’re going to be spending a lot of money on vacation, you might as well earn some rewards for future travel, right? 

Sara Rathner, credit cards and travel expert at NerdWallet says, “If you have a trip coming up soon and you haven’t used rewards credit cards before, don’t miss out on the chance for this vacation to help pay for the vacation you take after that.”

“Apply for a new travel rewards card and use it to pay for all your bookings. Then bring the card along for all those vacation purchases. Between the sign-up bonus and rewards on your spending, you could rack up enough points and miles to book your next trip for a few hundred dollars less.” 

Spending Money at the Airport

A sign at an airport for the cafe and shops

Money spent at the airport is often done so at a premium. Trent Anderson of Rio Travelers says, “The single place where most travelers end up overpaying and wasting money abroad is at the airport. Whether it's exchanging your money, buying food or booking excursions—you won't find a more expensive place to do so than in an airport!”

Not Checking Visa Requirements

If you don’t have a visa lined up for the country you’re visiting, you could be denied entry, either once you arrive or before you board the flight. By failing to have a proper visa, you could be forced to cancel your trip and lose money on your flights, hotel, and anything else you’ve booked. 

Before every international trip, be sure to verify visa requirements for each country on the state department’s website here.

Related: Where Can Americans Travel Right Now?

Not Getting Travel Insurance

In the past year, a lot of people found out just how valuable travel insurance can be. Traveler Emily Mast purchased travel insurance for her two-month European trek in February of 2020. By mid-March, Europe was shutting down and her flight home had been canceled. Fortunately, her travel insurance policy covered everything. The insurance company booked new flights for Emily and her fiance during a stressful, tenuous situation. She said, “Had we not had travel insurance, we could have been stuck in Europe for weeks — paying for unexpected costs the whole time.” 


A tip in euros left beside an empty coffee mug at an outdoor table

Travelers often tip the same amount abroad that they do at home, which can be too much and a waste of money (and possibly even offensive, in some cultures). Be sure to research ahead of time what the proper amount is for gratuities in your destination, and make sure that a service charge or tip is not already added into your bill. 

Not Flying Open Jaws

An open jaw ticket is a ticket where you fly from your point of origin to a destination and then depart from a different location back to your point of origin. Charles Neville of JayWay Travel says, “A lot of trips Americans take in Europe aren't best served with round trip tickets, yet a lot of people buy round trips, then end up spending time and money getting back to their arrival city to fly home. Open jaw tickets are usually only a little more expensive than a regular round trip, but very few people take advantage of them.”

Related: The 12 Best Flight Search Sites for Booking Cheap Airfare

Paying Too Much for Taxis

As for transportation, Miller advises using rideshare where you can, since this is a quoted price and you have the backing of Uber or Lyft. “If you take a taxi, you are at the mercy of a driver and sometimes can be scammed depending on where the city is,” he says.

If you must take a taxi, negotiate a price ahead of time or ask the driver to turn on their meter. 

Cell Phone Charges

Woman in a yellow sweater texting

Your cell phone bill can get very expensive when you’re traveling abroad. Many providers charge $10 per day per phone just for basic access. A weeklong vacation with two phones turns into a $140 charge on top of what you already pay on your cell phone bill.

There are other options for cutting the cost of your cell phone bill abroad, like buying a local SIM card/data plan or using Google FI. 

Not Knowing About Car Rental Penalties

You can get charged an unexpected fee for everything from returning a rental car early to using frequent flyer miles to pay for your rental. Be sure to carefully read your contract before signing.

Traveler Rick Popko said, “The most expensive mistake I’ve made while travelling to date is not knowing about car rental fees and taxes when dropping a car off in a different country. I thought it wouldn’t matter if I picked up a car at one airport and dropped it off at a different one as long as it was the same rental car provider. Had I known about the $1,000 or so dollars in fees to do so, I would have taken the train.”  

Related: 5 Ways to Book a Car During the Car Rental Shortage

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