7 mistakes to avoid on your first international trip
The experience of international travel is unforgettable: Leaving home, breathing in unfamiliar smells and gazing at new sights for the first time in a country you’ve never visited. But the mistakes you make on those first trips can also be memorable. Take it from me as someone who has visited 36 countries and spent the last year traveling with my husband and our 1-year-old on a budget. We have made plenty of mistakes along the way.
Here’s how you can avoid seven common mistakes with a little planning.
Not applying for your passport in time
Leaving the country for the first time isn’t something you can necessarily do on a whim — unless you already have your U.S. passport.
Otherwise, it takes from six to eight weeks, unless you pay extra to get the process expedited. Renewal or first-time application fees for an adult U.S. passport with a standard six- to eight-week processing time costs $110, according to the State Department. It will cost an extra $60 to expedite the application to a two- to three-week processing time and an extra $16 for a one- to two-day delivery option. For the truly last-minute need, FedEx and RushMyPassport offer even faster expedited passport services that can add an extra $449 on top of standard passport application or renewal fees.
Here are other tips to check out in the TPG guide to 6 passport mistakes that could leave you stranded at the border.
Not applying for your visa in advance
Although international visa requirements and fees vary by country, there’s often a surcharge for applicants needing theirs in a rush. China charges an extra $25 to $37 per person for expedited applications.
Not avoiding costly currency exchange mistakes
Airport currency-exchange kiosks provide the convenience of changing your money at the last minute before you take off or after you land. But it will cost you. Exchanging $500 in U.S. dollars for euros at a Travelex location at the airport could amount to 20 fewer euros than if you exchange the same amount at a Wells Fargo or Bank of America.
Request currency from your local bank before your trip because banks and credit unions offer some of the best exchange rates, and may offer perks to select members. As a member of Bank of America’s Preferred Rewards program, I get a 2% discount on foreign currency exchange rates. The catch is that I have do this in advance — something I have never managed to do. Bank of America suggests customers request currency three business days in advance.
With some countries, calculating exchange rates involves some challenging multiplication or division. To make things easier on myself, I refer to a handy exchange-rate calculator app on my phone to track what I’m spending as I go and not inadvertently spend $20 on medicine for my child that should otherwise cost about $6-10. (This happened once before downloading a currency converter app.)
Using a currency other than the local one
While traveling in South America for six months, I took a side trip to Uruguay from neighboring Argentina. Because it was only a one-week trip, I didn’t want to withdraw too many Uruguayan pesos and then later have to change the currency back, which would have added exchange costs. Short on the local currency, I made some purchases with U.S. dollars and Argentine pesos when credit cards were not accepted. This came at its own cost because local shops and restaurants gave me change in the local currency, not necessarily matching the exchange rate I would have received at a bank.
Not avoiding ATM withdrawal fees
Even with the best advance planning, there may be times while you’re traveling abroad when you need to get extra cash. If that’s the case, do your research about ATM fees and find out whether your bank partners with local institutions so you can save on foreign ATM withdrawal fees (as Bank of America does), has international locations outside the U.S. (like Citi does), waives fees altogether (as is the case with the Capital One 360 Checking account), or will reimburse you for ATM fees (as is the case with the Schwab Investor Checking account ATM card).
Using a credit card with foreign-transaction fees
You may not realize it when you’re using your credit card at home, but cards many charge a foreign transaction fee of about 3% — essentially canceling out any rewards points you might earn — each time you use your card during your international travels. That was a rude awakening for me when I was old enough to have and use my own credit card on my travels.
Bookmark this definitive guide to the best credit cards with no foreign-transaction fees to find a suitable card to cut costs on your next international trip.
Not doing duty-free the right way
It pays to do your research before buying. Figure out what a fair price for an item should be and compare prices on duty-free products at stores in different terminals at your airport. TPG explored 50 airports comparing 13 popular duty-free items across locations and found huge variations in prices between and within airports. Pro tip: Overall, the best duty-free deals are in Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Grand Cayman.
Welcome to The Points Guy!
Earn 90,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases within the first three months of card membership. Plus, earn a $200 statement credit after your first Delta purchase within the first three months. Offer ends 7/28/21.
With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.
- Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 Bonus Miles after spending $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months and a $200 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase with your new Card within your first 3 months. Offer expires 7/28/2021.
- Limited Time Offer: Plus, get a 0% intro APR on purchases for 12 months from the date of account opening, then a variable 15.74%-24.74%. Offer expires 7/28/2021.
- Accelerate your path to Medallion Status, with Status Boost®. Plus, in 2021 you can earn even more bonus Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) to help you reach Medallion Status.
- Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
- Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery and at U.S. supermarkets.
- Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. *Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $75 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
- Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
- Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®.
- Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
- No Foreign Transaction Fees.
- $250 Annual Fee.
- Terms Apply.
- See Rates & Fees