How to Stay Away from Money Mistakes and Scams on Travel? 15 Tips

How to stay away from money mistakes and scams on travel? Traveling, a captivating escapade into the realm of discovery and adventure offers a tapestry of experiences woven with moments of joy and lessons learned. But within the canvas of wanderlust, some brushstrokes leave a mark of regret. As fellow voyagers, we ponder upon our past travel money mistakes, wondering how we could have rewritten those chapters with wiser strokes. 

How to Stay Away from Money Mistakes and Scams on Travel

1. Withdrawing Money from ATMs: Unraveling the Hidden Costs

In the early chapters of my globetrotting saga, foreign transaction fees remained elusive specters haunting my financial sojourns. Naively, I ventured forth with an unprepared bank account, blissfully unaware of the impending fiscal tempest. The audacity of my oversights manifested in overdraft charges, adding insult to injury as ATM fees range from $5 to an astonishing $8.50, a formidable adversary in Chile.

A proponent of enlightenment through experience, I now advise securing a bank account that graciously waives withdrawal and international ATM fees. Capital One and Charles Schwab have emerged as reliable allies in my cash-seeking quests. I espouse the judicious use of credit cards, reserving cash for essential encounters, and capably limiting daily expenditures to a $50 threshold, if need be.

2. Foreign Transaction Fees: The Unseen Leeches

Beware the insidious foreign transaction fees, their insubstantial appearance concealing a voracious appetite for your funds. As you indulge in foreign purchases, the seemingly insignificant ~3% foreign transaction fee stealthily engulfs your savings, leaving you bereft of potential indulgences during your sojourn.

Fortune favors the informed, and credit cards such as Capital One Quiksilver and Discover Card graciously waive these devouring fees. For those willing to entertain an annual fee, the benevolent options of Chase Sapphire Reserve, Chase Sapphire Preserve, and Alaska Airlines extend their embrace, offering solace and liberation from the financial encumbrances of foreign transactions.

3. Scammers Who Will Sell You Anything: The Sting of Deception

Voyaging amidst the vibrant tapestry of Bangkok, Thailand, we embarked on a Klong boat ride for $27 USD, lulled by a "generous" discount offered by the operator. Alas, our dreams of adventure crumbled as we unearthed official boat rides, offered elsewhere at a paltry $4 USD.

4. Miscalculate the Exchange Rate: The Precarious Pitfalls

In the exotic realms of Costa Rica, our ziplining escapade took an unintended twist when my partner handed over $30 USD in tips instead of a mere $10. As our gracious guides celebrated an unexpected boon, we learned the crucial art of navigating currency conversion amidst denominations that soar into the hundreds and thousands.

With numbers swirling in a hypnotic dance, mastery over math or a convenient conversion app proves indispensable. The likes of CalConvert, XE Currency (available for both iOS and Android), and My Currency Converter unfurl as trusted companions, guiding us through the intricate intricacies of foreign exchange.

5. Pickpocketing: Guarding Against Slick Hands

By a stroke of fortune, I have evaded the clutches of pickpockets during my ventures. However, tales of friends falling victim to their backpacks being slashed or their wallets and cameras snatched from right under their noses send shivers down my spine. How can we fortify ourselves against this insidious threat?

  • Vigilance starts with research. Familiarize yourself with the area to gauge the prevalence of pickpocketing. The perception of its ubiquity may vary between visitors and residents, leading to heightened caution in areas of concern.
  • Opt for a strategic approach with your backpack, wearing it in front to negate prying hands.
  • If you sport a crossbody bag, ensure it remains fully zipped, and nestled securely against your body. Conceal it beneath clothing if possible.
  • Eschew flashy jewelry that may tantalize potential thieves. A friend learned this the hard way when a child in Brazil brazenly snatched cheap jewelry off her necklace.
  • Stay attuned to peculiar behavior from strangers. Beware of groups purposely causing distractions or bothering you, as such setups may serve as pretexts for pickpocketing, either individually or in teams.

6. Have an International Phone Plan: A Lifeline Across Borders

Venturing into foreign realms demands prudence, and an indispensable ally on your journey is an international phone plan with reliable data access. Equipped with a phone plan, you possess the means to call for help should any untoward event unfold. Memorize the emergency phone numbers in the country you visit, saving them as favorites in your phone. Inform family and friends of your solo escapades to stay connected and secure.

In the United States, a convenient option is acquiring a SIM from Net10 Wireless, delivering monthly prepaid plans with a month's worth of data, and calling for a mere $30 USD. Flexibility reigns supreme, with the freedom to cancel anytime, granting you communication confidence abroad.

7. Always Put Your Valuables in the Safe: Fortifying Your Sanctum

Even amid the opulence of upscale hotels, never yield to complacency when safeguarding your valuables. Embrace the habit of securing precious possessions in the hotel safe, out of reach from prying eyes and opportunistic hands. Prudence dictates keeping desirable items away from prying strangers and treating your valuables abroad with the same vigilance you would at home.

8. Watch for Holiday or Weekend Pricing: Unveiling Hidden Surcharges

Navigating the culinary delights of foreign lands demands a keen eye for holiday or weekend pricing anomalies. A seemingly innocuous dining experience during a special occasion like Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving Holiday) can result in unexpected upcharges, surprising you with a higher bill than usual. While the added expense might not be bothersome, awareness of local customs could have averted the surprise.

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9. Be Aware of Different Menus: The Price Disparity Conundrum

The gastronomic exploration in Italy exposed me to an intriguing revelation—different menus for distinct dining experiences. Initially perusing the sit-down service menu, I was taken aback by prices soaring beyond my expectations. Intrigued, I inquired about alternative menus, and the employees graciously handed me a standing menu. To my delight, this menu bore prices of approximately 20% less, in closer alignment with my online findings.

This curious revelation uncloaked the disparity between standing and eating-in options at an establishment, fostering a newfound appreciation for local customs that saved me precious funds throughout my sojourn.

10. Be Conscious of Tipping Customs: Navigating Gratuity Etiquette

A dance of cultural nuances unfolds when it comes to tipping customs around the globe. In the United States, a customary 15-20% tip based on service quality prevails. Yet, when venturing abroad, the labyrinth of tipping etiquette can prove trickier to traverse.

Costa Rica echoes inclusivity, with most establishments factoring tips, or "propinas" in Spanish, into the final check. There's no need to tip beyond this.

In countries like South Korea, Japan, Italy, and China, tipping is deemed impolite, while in some regions, the included service charge is perceived as generous, complicating the allocation of additional gratuity. Often, restaurant owners retain additional tips, especially if settled via credit card.

11. Giving Money to Homeless People: The Ethical Dilemma

The altruistic impulse to offer solace to the downtrodden treads a treacherous path, entangled in the complexities of perpetuating flawed systems. A poignant tug-of-war ensues between the yearning to give and the desire to foster sustainable change. My contemplations yield both affirmative and negative responses.

12. Paying the Foreigner’s Fee: A Tale of Monumental Costs

Venturing into the territories of exploration, we encounter monuments, landmarks, and sights that stand as timeless witnesses of history's majesty. Yet, some countries levy a foreigner's fee upon travelers, a price far steeper than that granted to their own residents. In the shadow of this disparity, we confront an irrevocable reality - haggling may not wield its magic against these stringent costs.

My heart sank as I ascended Machu Picchu, where the foreigner's fee pierced my wallet, demanding $70 USD, while residents enjoyed entry for a mere $37. I found similar tales in Mumbai, India, and Paris, France, where foreigner prices cast a shadow over our pockets, while locals basked in the rays of free admission.

Seeking respite, students might unveil a gleaming beacon in the form of international student discount programs, where foresight and registration offer a golden ticket to reduced expenses.

13. Money Exchange: Decoding the Currency Conundrum

As we navigate foreign lands, the dance with currency exchange unravels a maze of choices. In Argentina, my quest for a reputable exchanger led me to Sergio, a trusted soul with a specific stamp of authentication. Bewildered by language barriers, I eschewed street exchangers, their enigmatic presence evoking a sense of danger. While their rates might lure in the curious, my heart urged me to seek trust in banks or trusted referrals from my hotel and guides.

14. Don’t Trust All Hotel Booking Websites: A Hotelier’s Mirage

In the enchanting realm of online hotel bookings, the allure of great prices beckons us towards websites shrouded in mystery, devoid of reviews. Seduced by the illusion, I succumbed to the promises of a well-priced stay, only to be met with unsettling revelations. The hotel disallowed unmarried couples from sharing a room, and upon entering the room, broken water bottle seals betrayed their promise of a pristine stay. A harrowing glimpse into a roach-infested kitchen sealed my resolution never to return.

In wisdom's light, I sought solace in Agoda, a sanctuary of real-life reviews from fellow travelers. The price might have been a tad higher, but in exchange, I basked in a well-maintained area adorned with abundant restaurants. Within the fold of Agoda, where genuine experiences bloom, the tapestry of hotel choices blossomed into a vision of assurance.

15. Always Have Travel Insurance: A Guardian Angel in Times of Crisis

Like a guardian angel, travel insurance offers an invisible embrace, a shield against misfortunes that may unfurl during our journeys. The Chase Sapphire Reserve (CSR), a credit card adorned with travel insurance, unfolded its wings as my knight in shining armor during my Seoul, South Korea escapade. An inadvertent error in my birthdate booking threatened a $300 surcharge to rectify my flight.

Engulfed in anxiety, the CSR representative adorned the cape of unparalleled customer service, guiding me through the labyrinthine conundrum. Their compassion, like a gentle rain, brought tears of joy to my eyes, for they assured me that I need not bear the burden of additional expenses.

Final thought

In the symphony of travel, each note may resonate with lessons learned, and our past money mistakes now illumine the path ahead. With the tapestry of experience woven ever so delicately, we journey forth, embracing wisdom as our compass, and discovery as our eternal muse.

While empathy tugs at our hearts, I advocate discernment in the face of begging souls. Assessing a person's behavior can offer insight into their intentions. Some may seek support for harmful habits, while others cunningly resell donated goods. My personal philosophy steers clear of offering direct monetary aid, instead channeling compassion into donations to esteemed charities like UNICEF and contributing time through volunteering. A synergy of altruism and discernment fosters meaningful impact while navigating the intricacies of giving in foreign lands.