Don’t make financial mistakes which can ruin your vacation, part 1

New York City Skyline, photo by NSL Photography

April arrives later this week. Summer vacations start just a few months from now. Many are actively investigating summer vacation plans, while others are finalizing their travel plans. There are, of course, many ways to lower one’s costs of vacation and increase their enjoyment too, but there are also many important measures vacationers can and should take after their plans are complete to ensure they return home happy.

Before beginning a trip, there are a number of things travelers need to do before locking up their home and starting their vacation to avoid making financial mistakes which can ruin any vacation before it begins.

Gather all your travel documentation together — Make sure you have copies of all reservations, tickets which aren’t electronic, copies of passports if you’re traveling internationally, a detailed itinerary, etc. If you’re traveling with a smartphone or tablet, digitize these documents and upload them so they are ready at any time while you’re away. I also store my travel documents password protected in the “cloud,” to prevent identity theft.

Extra Tip: If you plan to use your US cell phone internationally, be aware you won’t be able to use foreign toll-free telephone numbers. Before you leave on your trip, make sure you have the regular telephone numbers of all your hotels, airlines, rental car companies, and other emergency numbers, etc., in case you have a problem.

Check your credit card and debit card fees, if traveling internationally, long before you depart — Different credit cards and debit cards have different foreign currency transaction and exchange fees and some have other surcharges. You don’t want to return home to find you racked up lots of unnecessary debt from fees. Before traveling internationally, find out what fees your cards impose when used out of the country. Perhaps you’ll want a new credit card for international travel.

Make sure your ATM card will work internationally — At some point, you’ll need foreign currency while traveling internationally. Before leaving, make sure you know which of your accounts is “primary,” and that it has plenty of cash in it, as when you’re out of the country, ATMs may not give you access to any accounts other than your “primary” account.

Make sure you know where the nearest ATM is located — You can’t use your ATM card unless you can find an ATM machine. Before you leave, get the necessary app(s) on your smartphone or tablet. Or, bookmark ATM locator websites in your laptop if you’re taking one on vacation or print out a list of ATM locations near your hotels throughout your trip. Take special note if any of your locations have no bank or ATM available and get the necessary cash prior to arriving at those locations.

Shortly before you leave, let your credit and debit card companies and your bank know you’re traveling — You want to alert them whether you’re traveling domestically or abroad, so their computerized fraud detection systems won’t suspend your credit card or ATM card use just when you need them.

Don’t forget insurance — Emergencies do happen, even on well planned trips. If your trip involves any expensive and/or non-cancellable travel, get travel insurance. In particular, health care when traveling internationally can be expensive. If you’re traveling abroad, make sure your health insurance will cover you. For US senior citizens insured by Medicare, your Medicare coverage doesn’t extend out of the US, so make sure you have travel health insurance when out of the country.

Before you travel internationally, get an international calling, text and data plan for your cellular devices — Especially if you’re from the US, the cost of international roaming and international cellular data can be enormous. Either get international plans for both, or essentially turn your cellular device off, except for an extreme emergency.

Extra Tip: For local calling, if we’re away for an extended time, my wife and I purchase a local SIM card for one of our “unlocked” cell phones. It’s much less expense than having an international calling plan on that phone. We leave the other phone, with the international plan, to make it easy for family to contact us, and to call home, if necessary.

Don’t let your mail or newspapers pile up in front of your door — If you’ll be away for more than a couple of days, have the post office hold your mail. Stop your newspapers on the day you leave. The last thing you want is a pile of mail or newspapers at your door, or spilling out of your mailbox, while you’re away. It would advertise you’re away to thieves who could sift through mail for credit card statements, bank records or other financial data to steal your identity, and/or literally clean out your home.

I’ll have more vacation finance tips next Monday.

  • Nevsky2

    “Before you travel internationally, get an international calling, text and data plan for your cellular devices ” Get T-Mobile. Any other choice does not make sense for most people. No roaming charges to worry about in over 100 countries. If you want high speed data the cost is very reasonable.

    With other companies, even when you think you are using WiFi a setting may be off and you will incur huge roaming charges. I found out the hard way. If you do not use T-Mobile, you are risking high or exorbitant roaming charges with other US cell companies.

    Alternatively, get a local SIM card, but for quick trips, T-Mobile is best.

  • NedLevi

    T-Mobile may have some excellent plans in the US, but using them isn’t without problems. In many of the locations to which I travel in the US, T-Mobile’s coverage isn’t particularly good, and in fact where my parents lived, T-Mobile users could barely get a signal, and to this day people with T-Mobile still can’t. When one of my kids had T-Mobile where he lives, he complained constantly about the quality of their service and about 2 years ago, dumped them for ATT.

    For those of us for whom cellular data speed is important, ATT is the far better choice as show by test after test done by independent labs such as those completed by PC Mag.

    There are many reasons we choose cellular providers. If T-Mobile was the clear favorite, one would think they would have more than about 22-23% of the number of subscribers of US market leader ATT.

  • Nevsky2

    In rural areas you may be correct. However, in most urban areas, recent tests showed T-Mobile with top speeds in many areas and with the new 700MHz A-block spectrum which will be rolling out later this year will be even better as indoor coverage in urban areas will be much better.

    Not only that, in almost every case T-Mobile will be cheaper domestically too.

    Often the market leader is not the best.

  • NedLevi

    I don’t know what tests you’re speaking about, but in February FierceWireless, with partner OpenSignal, a highly reliable company, did extensive testing and found T-Mobile last in latency, the speed it takes to receive a data packet from a source to receiver. Sprint was first in their tests, with ATT and Verizon following, virtually tied, when looking at LTE.

    The trouble I referred to with T-Mobile are in greater LA, San Francisco, and Philadelphia areas.

  • Nevsky2

    Well there may be some issues in some cities in some places. I do not know what tests you are referring to, but the recent FierceWireless tests give T-Mobile very good scores. See

    Regardless, for all the top brands the differences for most users are not that great.

    The big difference is cost, where domestically T-Mobile and Sprint are almost always cheaper, often significantly. Internationally there is no comparison. The other three majors gouge consumers. The numbers are clear on that. Only with T-Mobile are you pretty much assured you will not have an exorbitant bill when coming back from a trip.

    It is pretty clear, if T-Mobile gives you good US coverage where you live and you travel overseas, it is the only logical choice (unless you have an unlimited budget).

    Not only that T-Mobile service is getting better every month, although at the same time they are cutting back on some discounts.

  • bodega3

    With newspapers, it is suggested that you ask a neighbor to watch for you just in case something doesn’t work out as planned. Often subs on a route will deliver regardless of a hold…based on our and others experiences. We also stop the mail and paper a day or two prior to leaving home just to make sure the message was received.

  • NedLevi

    Good tip on having neighbors watch for newspapers and mail, just in case. Where I live the neighbors are always on the look out for everyone else, and we all have a neighbor or two with keys in case of an emergency.

  • Carchar

    I had stopped the newspaper, or so I thought, when we were going away for 3 weeks. When I came home, I found all the newspapers delivered, but hidden behind our parked cars on our driveway. I went to thank our neighbor for being so, and she said, “Don’t thank me. Thank the mailman.” Our veteran mailman had put our newspapers out of view every day, knowing we had stopped the mail. They don’t make them like that any more.

  • bodega3

    We currently have a new mailperson. He has replaced a lady that would have done something similar as yours. She was great and I already miss her! I stop our mail and paper a day or two prior to leaving on a trip just to test things. The mail is usually not an issue, but the paper has been too many times.

  • bodega3

    I scan everything that isn’t in my email. I then email it to both of us so if one of our accounts isn’t accessible the other other one is. I also print things out in case accessing the phone, or a computer isn’t possible. That worked for one component of our trip in England this past fall to have the print out in hand. When time is of essence, sometimes electronics can’t be relied on.

  • NedLevi

    Printing can work. I agree that you can’t always depend on having Internet access, and sometimes, even with access, you need documents more quickly than that can give you. I scan and save documents into Adobe PDF’s. As indicated in the article, I then upload them into my phone and tablet. They are then instantly available without any Internet connection whatsoever, as they’re store in my phone and tablet.

  • MeanMeosh

    A word of caution regarding getting local SIM cards in other countries – this can be easier said than done depending on the country. In India, for example, it is virtually impossible for a non-resident to obtain a SIM card, because the government requires literally half a dozen forms of identity and address proofs just to open an account (unless you know somebody who lives there that can obtain a temporary phone for you). If you have an unlocked phone and plan on renting a local SIM, research the particular countries you’re going to be visiting first to make sure this is even an option. There are also companies that sell SIM cards that work in multiple countries for a fixed cost plus either a pay-as-you-go or prepaid fee for voice/text/data. The advantage here is that you can order the SIM before you leave home, and have it ready to go for your trip. This may or may not be cheaper than roaming with your carrier, and might be worth a look if obtaining a SIM locally isn’t feasible.

    Another tip – if you have Vonage, set up an extension on your cell phone (free) and download the “Vonage Extensions” app on your phone before you leave. You can then call anywhere – even local numbers – using WiFi or data at no cost (assuming you have access to WiFi or data roaming at a reasonable rate). Skype and other VoIP providers offer similar apps, and T-mobile also offers WiFi calling on some phones (not iPhone 4, however).

  • Loonbeam

    Comcast voice customers can also download a VOIP app. I’ve changed to going with the intl plan for emergency calls and just finding wifi to make calls with that to check in. Added bonus, the calls show up as your home phone, so people don’t even have to know you are away.