12 Tips to Make International Travel Easy
International Phone Plan
Most US carriers now have a phone plan you can use while abroad. I personally use T-Mobile, which allows free international data and text for almost all their plans. T-Mobile’s international data is not fast (only 2G/3G) but it works great for Google Maps. Contributor Nick Serati uses Verizon’s TravelPass , which costs $10 a day, and allows you to use your regular phone minutes for calls.
After purchasing an economy ticket it may be possible to upgrade to a premium seat for $50 – $200 more. You typically receive priority boarding, more legroom, and better food/drink service. If you have a flight longer than 7-8 hours, I’d say it’s worth it for the extra legroom alone.
Charles Schwab debit card
If you are a frequent international traveler, there is no better option than opening an online checking account through Charles Schwab. There are no ATM withdrawal fees ANYWHERE in the world. This is a no BS solution to avoid international ATM fees.
You will be required to open a Charles Schwab checking as well as a brokerage account but that is done at no cost. This isn’t a gimmick. It’s one of our favorite ways to save.
No Foreign Transaction Fees
If you’ve ever went on an international vacation or purchased something online in a foreign currency, then you’ve probably been the victim of a foreign transaction fee. Most credit card banks levy a 3% fee on international transactions in a foreign currency. We try to avoid any unnecessary foreign transaction fees. There is no reason you should be paying extra fees when there are many credit cards that offer no foreign transaction fees as a benefit.
Don’t pay to take out foreign currency at your local bank before you arrive at your destination. Use a debit card such as the Charles Schwab checking account, which has no ATM fees or foreign transaction fees. ATM’s typically have the best conversion rate for taking out foreign currency. I always use an ATM as soon as I land at at my destination.
Avoid Currency Exchange Booths
The currency exchanges you see at the airport, train stations, or city centers charge you to exchange your money. We recommend using an ATM upon arrival. If you have extra foreign cash left over at the end of your trip, you can apply it to your hotel bill and cover the rest with a debit or credit card.
I always bring Advil and the antibiotic ciprofloxacin. You should consider asking your doctor for a prescription of ciprofloxacin. It’s used to treat travelers diarrhea and is a miracle cure. Travel enough and you’re going to need it.
Free food and drinks? A quiet atmosphere? Free wi-fi? These are the top reasons I try to visit an airport lounge on my travels. There are several credit cards which allow you access to lounges all over the US and the rest of the world. Our favorite lounge pass is the Priority Pass. It is offered by the following cards at no extra cost:
The American Express Platinum card also allows access to the American Express network of Centurion Lounges across the country. These are some of the best lounges in the US. They are usually quite busy, but offer gourmet food, drinks, and cocktails at no cost. If you are in a city with a Centurion Lounge I would strongly recommend the American Express Platinum card. Otherwise, I’d make sure to pick up one of the other cards to get the Priority Pass. My personal favorite lounge in the Priority Pass network is the Escape Lounge at the Minneapolis-Saint-Paul Airport.
USB Power Brick
There are so many reasons why your devices run out of power. This is one of the few devices I never leave home without. Charge it up once and you can typically charge your USB devices 2-3 times before the power brick needs to be recharged.
Long plane or train ride with no access to a USB charger? The Anker E3 is your solution. It offers two USB charging ports and charges my iPhone almost three times before it needs to be recharged itself. It’s a steal for under $25! (Amazon Link)
Tired of waiting in customs lines? Want expedited re-entry back in the United States? You should apply for Global Entry. It’s only $15 more than TSA precheck and also includes TSA precheck. Global Entry requires a more extensive interview process than getting TSA pre-check, but the time you save at customs will be worth it. You will be required to go to a US Customs/Homeland Security interview center. Wait times to get an interview slot may take a couple months, but you can try showing up to the interview site and wait to see if they have an opening.
International Plug-in Adapter
Amazon has a cheap option and it gets the job done and includes a USB charging port as well. If you’re traveling as a couple I would recommend bringing one for each of you. It gets ugly when Mrs. TT and I fight over who gets to charge their phone, so don’t leave home without this. (Amazon Link)
Six Month Passport Rule
Don’t plan to travel if your passport expires within six months. There are several countries (including Mexico) which will not allow you entry if your passport expires within six months. There is nothing worse than gearing up to travel and then being denied entry to your next destination.
Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews, or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer.