7 Tips for Staying Safe When Traveling Abroad

Summer is almost upon us, and with it comes peak travel season. More people are dusting off their suitcases, shaking off the travel cobwebs and getting back on the road or in the air. Frequent travelers can attest that the trend toward pre-pandemic travel norms means pricier airfare and more expensive hotel stays.

As you scratch the travel itch, there are several important considerations (financial and otherwise) to keep in mind to ensure your travels are safe and your finances are taken care of. Here are some things to think about before you travel abroad.

  1. Pay your bills before you go. Prior to leaving town, we recommend doing a quick check to make sure direct deposits and automatic withdrawals are in place so that important bills are paid while you’re gone, and those payments don’t overdraw your bank account.
  2. What’s in your wallet? This is not just a popular and catchy advertising slogan. Before you leave for vacation, especially if you’re heading out of the country, decide which credit and debit cards you’ll be using while you travel, and remember to inform those card companies where you’ll be and when. That way, you can avoid the awkwardness of having your credit card denied after that delicious meal in France or when making that neat souvenir purchase in Italy. Banks have become more diligent about flagging any unexpected charges as potential fraud, and nothing increases their suspicions like uncharacteristic charges incurred outside the country.
  3. Choose travel-friendly credit and debit cards. When it comes to foreign exchange fees, not all cards are equal. Most people don’t realize until after the fact that every time they use their credit card abroad, they’ll likely be charged an extra 2%–4% for the privilege. The same applies to using a debit or ATM card to withdraw cash outside the country, which often also results in charges for using a non-U.S. ATM or simply an ATM from another bank, period. However, there are credit and debit cards that offer more favorable terms and may even refund those foreign bank charges.
  4. A fair exchange…rate. Before you leave, we recommend that you research the currency of the countries you’ll be visiting. If going to Europe, keep in mind that not every country uses the euro as their currency. Since it’s easy to hop from one European country to another, you could find yourself in a situation where you’re staying in a country that doesn’t use the euro, and then take a day trip to a neighboring country that does. This could leave you scrambling to find an ATM or other means of getting your hands on some euros. American travelers should exchange U.S. dollars for foreign currency upon arrival, and this is often subject to specific rules. For instance, someone traveling to Myanmar several years ago remarked that they needed to have absolutely pristine large-denomination U.S. dollars to convert to Myanmar kyat. How many people would’ve known that ahead of time? It’s helpful to do your research.
  5. Get covered. Most people typically don’t like insurance…until they need it. And nothing can ruin a trip more than an unexpected delay, lost luggage or an unforeseen circumstance that forces one to cancel their trip entirely. Travel insurance is one way to help protect against these instances. As with any insurance, it’s important to scrutinize the policy details before purchasing in order to understand what’s covered and to what degree. Also, be sure to use a reputable insurance provider that has strong financial backing and good reviews. Buying the least-expensive coverage is typically not the best approach. While travel insurance can be pricey (especially if it’s “cancel for any reason”), failing to recoup thousands of dollars if you’re not able to travel or if your travel somehow gets interrupted is even more pricey.
  6. Make sure important documents are updated. If you haven’t traveled abroad in a while, we suggest that you check if your passport is still valid several weeks before your trip, or even months before. There have been many instances where people realize right before they’re due to leave the country that their passport has expired. With renewal processing times on the rise for the U.S. Department of State, needing to get your passport renewed at a moment’s notice can be incredibly expensive, if it’s even possible. And if the country you’re visiting requires a visa, figure out ahead of time the best way to procure one. Some countries require you to purchase a visa in advance, while others allow you to get one upon arrival. If getting one upon arrival is allowed, find out how much it costs and how it can be paid for. Sometimes you may use a credit card, while at other times you must have cash. It’s also important to check if your estate-related documents, such as life insurance policies, wills and beneficiary designations, are up to date. If you’ll be gone for a long time, consider giving someone close to you power of attorney over your financial affairs—just in case.
  7. Extra conveniences go a long way. Let’s admit it: while travel is wonderful once we arrive at our destination, getting there isn’t as fun as it used to be. Long security lines at airports and lost luggage are common, and incredibly frustrating. One tip for avoiding those long lines is to apply for TSA PreCheck, CLEAR and Global Entry. TSA PreCheck helps one bypass the really long security lines at most U.S. airports in favor of quicker TSA PreCheck queues. CLEAR takes things one step further by using facial recognition to bypass the TSA PreCheck lines. And, if you plan to travel out of the country, adding Global Entry to your TSA PreCheck application can be a lifesaver. With Global Entry, when you return to the U.S., you won’t have to stand in the long lines at passport control. New technology uses facial recognition, so there’s not even a need to take out your passport. Of course, making use of TSA PreCheck, CLEAR and Global Entry will cost you, but many travelers say that it’s money well spent. As for airlines losing your luggage, sadly, that’s occasionally a fact of life these days. One simple way to avoid that is to pack light enough to travel with only a carry-on bag. Of course, that’s not always feasible, so if you do need to check your bags, using some type of portable tracking device (such as Apple’s AirTag or Samsung’s SmartTag) can help you track the whereabouts of your luggage from your smartphone. Each company offers different kinds of tags, so research which one is most suitable for you.

For those of us who travel regularly and those traveling abroad for the first time in a while (or the first time ever), keeping the aforementioned tips in mind can help ensure your journeys are enjoyable and safe. Happy travels!


Matt Reznik, CPA, MBA, CFP, CFA

Matt Reznik, CPA, MBA, CFP, CFA

Partner, Wealth Advisor

Matt is a Partner, Wealth Advisor in our Itasca, IL, office. Matt received his Bachelor of Science in Economics with concentrations in accounting and finance from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and his MBA in Finance and Strategic Management from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. He joined legacy firm BDF in 2001.


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