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International trips involve careful planning, but while you’re packing your suitcase and making a list of must-try restaurants, don’t forget one important detail: how you’ll pay for stuff once you arrive.
Thinking through what to pack in your wallet can spare you some serious travel nightmares. Our advice: Pack two credit cards and grab some cash in the local currency, ideally from a bank ATM with your debit card.
2 is the magic number
You may stick mainly to one card back home, but carrying a spare while you travel can help you out of a bind.
Certain vendors may not accept all card networks — Visa and Mastercard are widely accepted around the world, while American Express and Discover are accepted less frequently. If your usual card gets rejected, your backup card can come into play.
What about taking more than two cards? You absolutely can do this, but limiting the number of cards you travel with can save you the headache of countless phone calls to credit card companies if you get pickpocketed.
Keep your cards safe: Consider leaving additional cards in a secure place, like a safe in your hotel room, or having a travel companion carry one of your cards. Carry your wallet in your front pocket. If you wear a purse, opt for a crossbody style that closes with a zipper, and keep it in your sight at all times. Don’t hang it from the back of a chair at a restaurant, for example.
What to look for in a travel-ready credit card pairing
No foreign transaction fee
This pesky fee tacks an additional 3% or so onto every international purchase. Credit cards with no foreign transaction fees help you save money every time you spend while traveling.
As mentioned earlier, cards in the Visa and Mastercard networks tend to be accepted by more retailers in other countries. There are always exceptions, though, which is why having two cards to choose from can give you options.
Different payment networks
Diversify your cards so you don’t carry, say, two Mastercards or two American Express cards. That can help increase the odds that one of your cards will work.
Cards that earn rewards on your spending
Traveling often means higher day-to-day expenses — more dining out than you may do at home, tickets to tourist attractions and, of course, lots of souvenirs. Use that spending to your advantage by bringing a card that earns cash back so you can later offset your spending with a statement credit. Or opt for a travel rewards card, so that this trip’s expenses can help fund your next adventure.
A premium travel rewards card like the Chase Sapphire Reserve® can come in handy despite its $550 annual fee. To start, you earn 10 points per $1 for dining purchases made through Chase Ultimate Rewards and 3 points per $1 on dining not booked through the issuer. The card also offers a $300 annual travel statement credit (helpful for offsetting that annual fee), which will reimburse you not only for hotels, flights and rental cars, but also for expenses like taxis, tolls and parking. Once you max out that credit, you'll earn 3 points per $1 on travel, and even more for travel-related spending made through the Chase portal: 10 points per $1 for hotel stays and car rentals and 5 points on air travel. And since points are worth 1.5 cents each when redeemed for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, your vacation purchases today will stretch your travel budget even further later on.
If a high annual fee isn't for you, the Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card earns an enticing 4% cash back on dining and entertainment, which includes tourist attractions, theme parks, sporting events, concerts, aquariums and zoos. It does have an annual fee, but it's a more modest one. The U.S. Bank Altitude® Go Visa Signature® Card is a $0*-annual-fee alternative that earns 4 points per $1 on dining, but doesn't include entertainment as a 4x category. Both of these cards charge no foreign transaction fees.
Cash can still be king
It’s helpful to carry even a small amount of cash in the local currency, because some retailers (especially small ones) may be cash-only or require a higher minimum spend before accepting a credit card. Skip the airport currency exchange kiosk for a bank’s ATM that accepts your debit card. Also, avoid a credit card cash advance, because a high interest rate will kick in immediately and you’ll be subject to additional fees.
When checking out of your hotel or paying the tab at a restaurant the night before you leave, use up the last of your cash — unless it’s a country that you plan to return to, in which case you can always save your cash for the next trip.