Travel Easy - Simple Planning for your Travel Tech
Make your travel planning easier using travel tech and tips
1. Travel Rewards Credit Cards & ATM Cards with no foreign transaction fees or ATM fees
If you are a credit card user and you are planning to travel abroad, make sure your cards have no-foreign transaction fees. Many cards charge 1-3% foreign transaction fees. While the fees may only be a small percentage, over the long run those fees add up and there’s no reason to pay them when there are credit cards available with ZERO transaction fees. You many even be able to take advantage of generous sign-up bonuses and use points earned to offset costs during your trip, or save them and use the points to plan for another trip. Our Chase Sapphire Reserve card has no-foreign transaction fees and we signed up during the 100,000 point bonus period which has helped pay for many hotel stays, flights, and car rentals.
On a similar note, also check your ATM cards to make sure you won’t have any ATM fees while traveling. Many banks will charge a percentage of your withdrawal amount, but some will charge a standard fee PLUS a percentage of your withdrawal. Don’t give the banks your hard-earned money, get a no-ATM-fee card instead. Some debit cards even have no-foreign transaction fees as well, but we like to use our no-foreign transaction credit cards instead to earn points. We have an Aspiration account that reimburses any out-of-network ATM fees at the end of the month. Any in-network ATMs will automatically not have a fee. Other banks such as CapitalOne and Charles Schwab also offer no-fee cards.
Whether you use your no-foreign transaction fee credit card or debit card for your purchases, make sure you are charged in the local currency. If you choose to be charged in your home currency using the dynamic currency conversion, you’re basically guaranteed a terrible conversion rate. Even if you end up not getting a no-foreign transaction fee card, it’s usually a better deal to be charged in the local currency because you’ll be charged the foreign transaction fee either way. At least you’ll get a better conversion rate if you choose the local currency.
*Please don’t sign up for credit cards if you don’t pay the full balance every month. The interest rates on credit cards completely eliminate any benefit from travel rewards or included perks.
2. Phone Apps
There are so many apps available that it is hard to know which ones to use. Here are the ones we recommend that you download to make your travels and your travel planning easier and simpler.
Skyscanner – We usually start our flight planning by comparing prices on skyscanner. TIP: search for your flights in the app, and then use a private browser either on your phone or desktop and check the same routes on skyscanner.net. Using the private browser may decrease the prices.
booking.com – Do you need a place to stay on your trip? You can search for hotels on booking.com - but you can also search for apartments, bed and breakfasts, and hostels. It’s easy to set up filters for your budget, any required amenities, and even sort by price or ratings.
Google Maps – You can use the maps app to help plan out your itinerary by plotting out where you want to go and finding out how long it takes to get between each point. TIP: use their offline maps feature to download maps for your trip location so you can still use the app when you don’t have WiFi or when the cell service is spotty.
LoungeBuddy – If you have a credit card that also includes airport lounge access, make sure you take advantage of it! PriorityPass also has their own app, but loungebuddy includes user reviews which can be helpful in telling which lounges have the best food, WiFi, comfy couches, and showers. Don’t have a membership? You can also purchase day passes through the app.
WhatsApp – You might already have this app to keep in touch with friends, but it seems to be a very popular app in our travels so far. We’ve made friends with people sitting next to us on flights who have kept in touch through WhatsApp, and some of the tour companies we have used also have WhatsApp contact numbers.
Local apps – Do a search for the apps that are used in your destination. When we went to Greece, we found out that Uber was not available, but they did have a local taxi app that worked just like Uber. In Salzburg, Austria they had a local app for transportation that was more accurate than Google Maps with bus and train times. In Cairo, Egypt food delivery was available through the Otlob app instead of UberEats or Postmates.
3. Smartphones and staying connected
Most of us are tied to our smartphones 24/7 and rely on them for many things during travel from boarding passes to GPS to taking photos and uploading them to social media. If you are traveling abroad, the simplest way to use data on your phone would be to pay for international roaming, if available. International roaming is different from international plans (without the roaming). Make sure you pick the one with roaming if you are going to use it, because a decent amount of travelers have been caught off guard after buying international plans and then finding out that all those plans do is allow you to call other countries from your home country - they don’t allow you to make calls from a different country! Even if you get an international roaming, check the rates because it might end up being very expensive. Other options would be to get a local SIM when you arrive at your destination or you could get a universal SIM card. To use the SIM cards like this you will need to make sure that your phone is unlocked and has a removable SIM card.
You can also look into renting a cell phone at your destination or renting a WiFi hotspot device to stay connected. We’ve found that you can also use your smartphone as a hotspot to give access to other devices (but it will drain your battery quickly). The cheapest option would be to just rely on WiFi locations that you find as you travel. Most hotels and other accommodations provide complimentary WiFi, but definitely check to make sure. We’ve found that many, but not all, airports have free WiFi – some require you to sign up with an email or Facebook, others just allow you access by clicking the logon button. Some cafes, restaurants, and bars will have unlocked networks that you can access, or they will have the password on signs or on their menus. In Japan, even vending machines are known to have free WiFi available.