This guest post from Laura is part of the “reader stories” feature at Get Rich Slowly. Laura is a retired travel agent for AAA and the writer of the new blog, Have List, Will Travel Some reader stories contain general advice; others are examples of how a GRS reader achieved financial success or failure. These stories feature folks with all levels of financial maturity and income. Want submit your own reader story? Here’s how.

“One certainty when you travel is the moment you arrive in a foreign country, the American dollar will fall like a stone.” — Erma Bombeck

I like to travel, but I’m also frugal. Budgeting for a trip is important to me. I spend a lot of time before I go figuring out what the trip is going to cost me. I don’t believe in credit card debt. There’s some debt that’s acceptable, like for a house or car, but to me a vacation wouldn’t be enjoyable if it wasn’t paid for before I went. So I budget. And save. And plan.

Advance Planning
Before I go on any trip, I figure out how much that trip will cost me. I start with the airfare. Then, depending on the type of trip, I start looking at other expenses.

For instance, if it’s a cruise or a tour, I pretty much know what the cost will be for that package, but even then there will be expenses to plan for ahead of time. If I’m going to my destination independently, a lot of my expenses will be estimated.

On a cruise or tour, once you’ve budgeted for air and the price of the package, you have to look at optional excursions and how much those will cost. The cruise or tour company will have a list of those excursions and the cost, so those are pretty easy to budget.

On a cruise, your food will be provided, but on a tour usually only some of your meals are included. Usually all breakfasts are and most dinners are included, but you will definitely have lunches to pay for, and some dinners, as well as snacks and drinks. I also allow for shopping and miscellaneous expenses. It’s surprising how there are always those surprising things that pop up.

If going to my destination independently, then after the airfare cost I start looking at hotels. Those I often book from home before I go, so I know what the cost of those will be. I tend to budget $100 per day per person for food. That’s usually higher than what I actually spend, but I’d rather budget high than low. The food isn’t just meals, but drinks and snacks — those chocolates, gelatos, pastries, etc. When traveling, I don’t want to have to worry if I can afford that expensive meal at a great restaurant.

I also budget for entrance fees to museums, amusement parks, whatever might come up that will cost to get into. Transportation is another thing that goes on my list, whether it’s the train or a rental car.

A Sample Budget

Here’s a typical budget from a trip that I took recently with my husband:

  • Airfare $1500 per person ($3000 total)
  • Hotels (15days) $100 per night $1500 total)
  • Food (15 days) $1500 per person ($3000 total)
  • Car Rental $350
  • Gas $200
  • Entrance fees $200
  • Misc. $200
  • Shopping $300
  • Total $8750

I also had to figure in the cost of a house/dog sitter, not something that everyone would have to consider when planning a trip; that was another $500.

Cash Considerations
When we travel, we carry only a small amount of cash, debit cards, and two credit cards. I carry a debit card and one credit card and my husband carries his debit card and the other credit card, just in case a wallet or purse is stolen.

I don’t always get currency from the country I’m going to in advance. Sometimes I do, but I don’t purchase very much here; the rate of exchange is better once you get to your destination. I usually go to an ATM when I arrive at the airport and get several hundred dollars cash, which I split between us. My debit card (which is with a credit union) will charge a small fee, but it’s still better than purchasing foreign money here, as there are fees for that too.

While traveling, I pay for hotels and restaurants using my debit card. They ring it up like a Visa transaction, but it comes directly out of my checking account, which is where I put the money I have budgeted. There’s no fee when using it as credit, and the rate of exchange is the best I can get using it that way. I enter it in my checkbook register in the foreign amount and then deduct what I think it will convert to — but I always figure it a little high, so that when I get home I will have more money in my account than the amount shows.

I only use my cash for small purchases. That way I don’t have to go to the ATM often, since the ATM does have some fees attached to it. Sometimes it does get complicated. Since the Euro, it’s been a little easier, because so many countries use the Euro.

Recently we took a trip that started in Austria (Euro) went through Slovenia (also on the Euro), then Croatia (they have their own currency), then we were in Hungary (also their own currency) and then Turkey (again their own currency). It got complicated.

I didn’t mind having some Euros left over; we can always use them on future trips. However, the Croatian, Hungarian and Turkish money would have no value after this trip, so I had to be careful not to get too much of it, but I wanted to make sure I had enough that I wouldn’t have to go draw out more (because of the fees). The last day in each country I was diligently using up the cash. I figured it was best to get rid of it. We may go back to those countries someday, but by then they will most likely be on the Euro too.

Words of Warning
A word on credit and debit cards in foreign countries. Before you go, check with your bank, credit union, or credit card company. Find out what their fees are. Let them know you are taking your card out of the country (so they won’t forbid transactions thinking it is fraud). And make sure you write down the information on those cards and keep that information in a separate location. In other words, write down the card number and a phone number, in case you have to report the card as stolen.

Always take several cards with you, with your travel partner carrying a different card than you carry. That way you will have a backup card in case one is stolen.

When we were in London a few years ago, I went to the ATM to get cash, and my debit card didn’t work. I tried at several different ATMs and no success. I then got on the internet and signed on to my account to check if there was a problem. Everything looked fine, as I had plenty of money. But still the ATM kept rejecting me. I needed the cash, so I got a cash advance using a Visa card.

When I got home a few days later, I asked at my credit union why I couldn’t get a withdrawal. They told me that they had a computer problem and that for 24 hours the ATMs in foreign locations could not connect to check balances; therefore, they would not work. In all the years we have been traveling with that debit card, it only happened once, and that was over five years ago. But always plan for the unexpected, and have a backup, because things happen.

Also, be aware that Visa and Mastercard are the most widely accepted cards, and probably American Express the least accepted. I love my American Express because I get a cash rebate on it every year, but I do find that there are many places that don’t accept it, so I use it when I can, and carry my Visa for when I can’t (on neither of these cards do I carry a balance and I pay them off as soon as I return &mdsah from the money I budgeted before I left on the trip).

Since I don’t like debt, I save for my trips all year. This way they are paid for before I leave and I can enjoy my trips without feeling guilty about them.

Reminder: This is a story from one of your fellow readers. Please be nice. After more than a decade of blogging, I have a thick skin, but it can be scary to put your story out in public for the first time. Remember that this guest author isn’t a professional writer, and is just learning about money like you are. Henceforth, unduly nasty comments on readers stories will be removed or edited.

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