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7 International travel tips you'll actually use

After moving to NYC, I made very little money and had to maximize every dollar I earned. That lifestyle taught me many different techniques on how to save for the things I wanted.

You may be thinking school just started up again, my travels are done for the year. If there is any possibility to squeeze a fun vacation into the schedule, there are really good deals in the fall on trips outside the U.S. Here are some foreign travel tips that can also help you with weekend trips around the States.

1. Don't over-pack, you will pay through baggage fees

This is mistake number one when traveling. First, check your baggage limit and weight your bag while packing. This will eliminate most of your worries. Having status on an airline will allow you more bags, but don't let that be the reason to over-pack; you will need room for your souvenirs.

On my last trip, I flew on an airline with a very low maximum for bags. I couldn't help the number of bags I had, because I was traveling for work for five weeks, but it resulted in spending an extra $160, almost as much as the ticket itself, to fly my extra bag, which was 100 percent over my allotment. Next time, I'll pack lighter.

2. Make sure you have a chip in your credit card

Credit cards were the main way I paid my way through Europe this summer (I'm obsessed with points). I only ran into a few issues, where the card readers only took chips and not the full swipe. Biggest issues encountered were smaller shops and transportation centers. In collecting a train ticket, most of the time I needed to speak with a counter clerk because the machines only read chips.

What can you do? According to a call to my card company, all credit cards will have a chip by the end of 2015. If you are in need of one sooner, you can call and replace yours. If your card is expiring, the new one will most likely include the chip. Check with your company before leaving.

3. Don't pay more for purchases, get a credit card with no foreign transaction fees

If you leave the country, you must get one. Most cards charge you 3 percent or more on every transaction you make. A few years ago, I took a long weekend trip to Iceland; fees on my purchases added $120 to the cost of my trip. Since then, I smartened up and I only get cards with no foreign transaction fees, saving me hundreds over the years.

4. Ask that your purchases be charged to your credit card in local currency

No worries, your credit card bill will still come in U.S. Dollars. Your best bet is to charge in local currency because your card will give you the best rate of the day, whereas a store will give you their rate set for the day, most times higher, costing you more money.

  • Example 1: I went to Harrods and they accidentally swiped in U.S. dollars, so I made them re-run it in British pounds. I saw their exchange rate, which was 10 percent higher than my credit card's rate. Why pay more for that tea than necessary?
  • Example 2: In Turkey, you can pay in Turkish lira or euros; after doing the three conversions back to U.S. dollars, paying in Turkish lira saved us about $100.

It is also a good idea to use as little cash as possible. By doing so, you avoid ATM and Currency Exchange fees, and get the best rate of the day on your card.

5. Buy water at the grocery store (not as silly as it seems)

Everywhere you visit you have to remember that people live there too, so they need to shop somewhere, right? Nine times out of 10, there is a grocery store or bodega near your hotel. After finding one, I stock up on bottled water, which in a lot of countries is less than 50 cents. I buy a few large bottles and two small ones to pour the big ones into. This way, I have water that fits in my purse and don't have to pay tourist rates for a bottle of water (which could be up to $2 each times a week's worth of drinking).

6. Bargain down prices

Admittedly, I am not great at this, and get really discouraged when my price is too low for stores to accept. One reason is that I have no idea how much things are worth. To work on my bargaining skills, in large markets I asked several places the price on the same item to get a better feel for what the going rate was. In doing so, I knew what I wanted to pay and I didn’t insult the merchant.

The other bonus us that you are saving a bunch of money by not taking the first offer. This is a difficult concept for a lot of Americans because we are used to paying the listed price.

7. Write your expenses down to curb excessive spending

When you go on a trip, you should have a budget in mind. To stay on track, write all your expenses down and how you paid for it. This helps in several ways: 1. You know what/if your travel companions owe you, 2. you can check your statements for errors, and 3. you will spend less knowing where you are versus your budget.

Happy Travels! Stay tuned for tips on holiday travel.

Photo credit: michaeljung/Getty Images
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