Get a travel credit card and a ATM fee free debit card
The thing that’s saved me the most amount of money while traveling has been:
- Having a bank account that refunds me any ATM transaction fees and
- Having a credit card that doesn’t charge me a foreign transaction fee
With these two combined, I’ve saved thousands of dollars in fees alone. Plus, they tend to give you the best exchange rate.
I personally have a Capital One Venture credit card. While it doesn’t give you the best perks, it has no annual fee and a pretty decent point system.
I bank with TD and opted to open a Beyond Checking account, which refunds you any ATM fees as long as you maintain a minimum daily balance of $2,500. I know there are a ton of options that don’t require a high minimum daily balance. Charles Schwab is the best for international ATM use.
Google Translate has saved my life when it comes to language barrier. While I highly recommend learning a few key phrases (especially because I noticed locals appreciate it when you make the effort), sometimes there’s more that we want to communicate than we can with our little bit of knowledge. The best part about the app is that they have a ‘conversation’ feature, which allows you and the person you’re communicating with to speak in your native language and it’ll auto translate. I’ve made so many friends this way and found it a great help to supplement a convo besides ‘Hello’ and ‘How are you?’.
Get a local sim card (and use the eSim feature if your phone allows)
I’ve tried the frugal method of not buying a local sim card for a few countries and after a while, the frustration was not worth the few extra bucks I was saving.
Currently, I travel with an iPhone 12 Pro Max which has an eSim feature. After a few trials and tribulations, I finally figured out how to set this up. Let me spread the wealth of knowledge and hopefully save you a few headaches.
Back in the states, I have a T-Mobile plan, which allows for international texting and data at no extra cost. The only thing is that at 2G speeds and capped data roaming, this offers minimal help when I’m trying to book tickets or locate where I am on the maps in the middle of nowhere. So, I reached out to customer service and changed my physical T-Mobile sim to an eSim. It took about 10 minutes over all through their chatting feature. Another 5 minutes and a restart of my phone, voila! I was able to use both my American plan and a local plan.
This freed up the physical sim card slot which means that whenever I get to a country, I can buy a local sim with data and stay connected at 4G and 5G speeds. Life changing! This has helped when I needed to call hostels, contact anyone within the country or use data to supplement spotty WiFi connection. Honestly, I don’t know what took me so long but I’m grateful for the advances that technology offers.
Research local transportation/lodging apps and download them
When I’m traveling, I like to have a few apps downloaded on my phone. A few of the staples are:
While these three are a great resource, a lot of countries have their own companies of transportation. Do some research on what the locals use to get around and download them. It’s much easier to book a ticket on your phone an hour before you want to leave than trying to get to the train or bus station early and finding out there aren’t any tickets until a few hours or a day later.
I also find that when traveling, sometimes showing up to the place and booking directly, you get a better rate than booking online. That way, it cuts out the middleman and any commission fees that they have to pay.
Stainless steel water bottle…and a strap
I love my stainless steel water bottle. It’s able to keep my water cool for the heat and warm for cold days. One of the best things I ever spent money on was an additional water bottle strap. There are so many different designs and styles that I’ve seen (a sling, cross body strap, wrist strap). In any case, it’s great for when you need to be hands free or don’t want to keep digging into your bags to find.
Capture your experience
Whether you enjoy taking pictures, vlogging, writing in a journal or sketching in an art book, I recommend a way to make note of the memories and experiences. I usually travel with a camera and a notebook, which allows me to take some great shots, create vlogs to tell my stories and journal to brain dump any anxieties, worries, fears, happy experiences or travel tips.
Yeah, I get it. You probably have a photographic memory. Maybe that works for you. For me, I enjoy having these things to look back on and reflect somewhere in the future. Most of the time, I come across things that I’ve done that I completely forgot about!
Have a general idea of where you’re going and what you’re doing but leave it flexible enough for spontaneous adventures
One of the things I’ve learned after traveling long term is that:
- If you have no plan, you’ll end up like a chicken with its head cut off and no idea where you want to go and
- If your plan is too rigid, you might miss out on some of the most spectacular adventures and people
Have some structure and a general idea of what you want to do. Leave room to account for things like: you not vibing with a specific city (but then you can’t leave because you booked 6 more nights there and you wanna hightail out of there after 2), meeting amazing people who are planning on doing something super cool that you want to tag along with (but can’t because you already paid and booked for something else).
Ask fellow travelers what they liked, where they’ve been. Listen intently. Take notes.
When I travel, I tend to fly by the seat of my pants and not book tickets or places to stay maybe a few days or even a few hours before I’m about to do them. Granted, if you’re more of a budget traveler, the chances of you getting cheaper fares is higher when you book in advance, though I have had experiences where the fares are even cheaper the few days leading up to it.
Create some sort of routine
When traveling for a while, it’s easy to have your entire life seem like each day is blending into the other. Find ways to ground yourself back to you. Do yoga. Go for a run. Go to the gym. Meditate for 10 to 15 minutes. Have a set time where you write about yourself. Call family or a friend back home. Check in with your loved ones. Reach out to someone you’ve met while traveling and ask how they are. Practice gratitude. Traveling can be hard on the mind, body and soul at times, so it’s important to have a practice that you can return to.
Trust your gut and listen to your intuition
I can give you any and all the advice you can consume but no one knows you better than YOU. Trust yourself. Trust the decisions that you make. Know that even if one door of opportunity closes, there will always be another that opens. Do your research, do things that you like but also do things that pushes the boundary of your comfort zone.
Trust people but also remember to be assertive. ‘No’ is a full sentence. My perspective is that the most important part of traveling is that you learn and grow at a rate that you are comfortable with.
Take time to slow down and enjoy where you are
I am all for packing your days full of adventures, sights, tours and things to do. I also understand the importance of taking a step back, sitting down somewhere for an hour or two and soaking everything in. Against all odds, your family and friends telling you that you’re crazy for going wherever you are, doing whatever you’re doing, months and years of saving, you are finally there. You made it. You are where you intended to be. The journey will keep going but, at this moment, you are here. Now. No one to be. Nothing to do. Nowhere to go.