Want to get the absolute best value on your next international trip? Pack your wallet as wisely as you pack your suitcase.
These quick and easy money tips will show you how to get the most bang for your hard-earned bucks while making purchases and getting cash outside the U.S.
Pack your favorite credit card or two. A credit card is a great way to pay for large purchases, such as hotel rooms, rental cars, expensive meals -- you name it -- while traveling abroad.
"It's pretty much the best way to make a purchase, especially your big items," says Anne Banas, executive editor of SmarterTravel.com. "It's just really easy. And you don't lose much in the exchange."
The exchange rates secured by Visa and MasterCard for credit card customers are based on wholesale rates offered to large banks and corporations rather than the retail rate offered to consumers. So you're guaranteed an excellent exchange rate each time you pay with plastic overseas.
Scoring such an excellent exchange rate on credit card purchases is a huge plus for travelers, but you also need to watch out for fees.
Most banks and credit card issuers charge foreign currency conversion fees when customers make purchases outside the United States. These fees range from 1 percent to 3 percent of every purchase.
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So you'll want to call each of your credit card companies and ask about foreign currency conversion fees before you leave for your trip. (It's also a good idea to notify them that you'll be out of the country so that your card isn't frozen by security when you begin using it in Hong Kong, Geneva or New Delhi.)
Pack the credit card with the lowest fees for your next trip and plan to use that card for most of your major travel expenses. Choosing a card with a 1 percent fee instead of 3 percent fee can give a real boost to your travel budget. According to Bankrate's most recent survey of currency conversion fees, only Capital One does not pass the conversion fee on to their cardholders.
Avoid cash advances. One way to blast a huge hole in your travel budget is to take out a cash advance with a credit card.
Yep, your Visa or MasterCard may give you a nifty exchange rate on your cash advance, but you'll also be socked with a hefty interest rate, often 20 percent or higher. And the interest starts accruing the very instant you take a cash advance.
"The rates on those things are awful," says David Lytle, editorial director of Frommers.com. "It's the worst way to get money."
What's the best way to get cash while traveling abroad? Make a withdrawal from a local ATM.
Bring your trusty ATM/debit card. Debit cards, such as the Visa Check card and debit MasterCard, are linked to a cardholder's checking account and can be used for purchases and to withdraw money from overseas ATMs.
As with credit cards, you'll get an excellent exchange rate, but you'll also need to watch out for fees.
Many banks charge 2 percent to 3 percent currency fees on debit card purchases made outside the U.S. and 1 percent to 3 percent fees on ATM withdrawals. In addition, your bank may charge you a $2 to $5 fee for making a withdrawal from an ATM not in its network. Visa and MasterCard have worldwide ATM locators on their Web sites. Be sure to find out about these fees before you travel.