With spring break approaching and a “wintry mix” in the forecast, you may have plans for international travel. My hunch is that Boulder and Broomfield counties punch well above their weight when it comes to going overseas. This could be due to our relative affluence and high levels of education, the international influence of CU, the large number of foreign-born residents, and the fact that many are self-described life maximizers who moved to Colorado for the high quality of life. You may think international travel is extremely costly, but it doesn’t need to be. With these tips, you can help keep down the costs and risks of your next sojourn abroad.
Be flexible with your destination. Vacationers start to lose money when they get fixated on a particular place to travel. By being open to a new experience, you can unlock airfare values that can help keep your travel costs low. My favorite vacation dream tool is the Explore page on Kayak.com. With this site you can specify budget, months of desired travel, and preferred weather and location to see the deals that other travelers are finding.
The bargains can be tremendous. Just a cursory glance at Explore reveals rock bottom round trip fares from Denver such as $295 to Costa Rica, $333 to Jamaica, and $480 to Peru. Know that it’s highly unlikely that you can get the best times and dates with nonstop flights at these prices. If you must travel to a particular spot, then set a fare alert at airfarewatchdog.com or another travel site.
Pick the right financial institutions. When it comes to using money in other countries, there are huge differences between banks. The best way to exchange currency in most countries is to use the ATM machine once you arrive. You get a much better rate than the exchange windows at the airport. But even though it’s the lowest cost option, that ATM visit cost can vary tremendously depending on your bank.
Imagine you have a checking account with one of the mega banks. You take out $200 from an ATM abroad. You may spend $13 for the privilege once you consider the fees of your bank, the ATM bank, and foreign currency exchange fees. If you use a foreign travel friendly bank such as Schwab, the cost is essentially zero. Also be mindful of your credit cards. Some will charge a foreign exchange fee of 3 percent, while others have no fee at all.
Rental car insurance. When you travel domestically, often you can bypass all of the costly insurance options at the rental car counter because you’re covered by your personal auto insurance. This changes when you travel abroad where generally you are not covered at all. Consider using a credit card that covers collision damage overseas. Then combine this coverage with liability insurance that you purchase at the rental car counter. It can add $15 a day to your rental car costs, but it will be worth it if you run into trouble.
Avoid timeshares. Timeshares and other forms of fractional ownership rarely make sense. But when you have a cold margarita in hand and azure seas out of the window, they can be hard to resist. You may be lured to a timeshare sales presentation with the promise of free massages, hotel stays, or credit in the bar.
Unless you have strong fortitude against high pressure sales tactics, steer clear of these sessions. After all, there are many timeshare owners who list their properties on eBay for a song as they have tired of the annually increasing maintenance costs. A great resource to get informed before you go is the Timeshare Users Group at tug2.net. Your vacation time is too precious to waste on a sales pitch.