Chances are you spend more time watching one episode of "must-see" TV than you do planning a financial strategy for your vacation.
A recent survey by MasterCard International showed that 91 percent of Americans spend less than 30 minutes making financial preparations for their vacations. And 40 percent say they spend no time at all."Before leaving home, every traveler should take at least half an hour to set a budget, determine the best ways to pay and have a plan for accessing funds - especially when traveling outside of the country," says Mary Alice Kellogg, editor of the in-flight magazine for the Delta Airlines Shuttle. "Determining these steps ahead of time will help you to get the best possible exchange rate, rack up frequent traveler points and have access to assistance in case of an emergency."
Michael Sabitoni, a Johnson & Wales University professor, advises you to rely on credit and debit cards in order to obtain the best possible exchange rate and to protect yourself from fraud.
"When traveling abroad, you should always charge major purchases and restaurant meals on a credit card," Sabitoni says. "That way, you'll avoid paying the fees most hotels and exchange bureaus charge, which in turn can save you a significant amount of money. And, if your cards become lost or stolen, you're only liable for about the first $50 in fraudulent use."
Sabitoni also recommends using a debit card, which withdraws cash from your checking account via an ATM, to access enough local currency to last 11/2 to 2 days. "If you're traveling in Europe, for instance, you'll need some local currency to pay for things such as cab fare, quick meals and gratuities to doormen and bellhops. The ATM will also give you the most favorable exchange rate," he says.
If at all possible, he says, avoid using exchange bureaus.
"Some of these, such as Eurocharge, will charge you a flat fee to exchange currency or travelers checks. It recently cost me an extra $10 to exchange a mere $50 in London," he says.
To help you budget for your next trip, MasterCard International devised "Smart Travel in Thirty Minutes," a guide for planning vacation finances ahead of time.
Set an overall vacation budget. Budget daily expenses on paper. Be realistic about what you plan to spend at your destination. For example, meals and lodging will likely cost more in New York City than in Orlando, Fla.
Call your financial institution. Obtain your checking account balance so you'll know the limits of using your debit card, your debit card's daily limit and the limits on your credit card. Note that when you make reservations for hotel rooms and car rentals, a hold will be placed on your available funds to cover the amount.
Find out whether your credit card is widely accepted in the countries you plan to visit, how well you are covered in case of loss or theft, whether it entitles you to trip insurance and if you can use it to earn frequent flier miles.
Review your medical insurance plan. Know what steps you need to take in a medical emergency while you are away from home. If necessary, make arrangements for additional coverage.
Remove unnecessary items from your wallet. Leave your library card, health club ID, movie rental card, checkbook, Social Security card and credit cards for local department stores at home.
Pack your wallet carefully. Be sure to have these items: debit/ATM card; credit cards with adequate spending limits; enough local currency to cover immediate incidentals (cab fare, gratuities, etc.); passport; driver's license or other photo ID; frequent flier/hotel/car rental numbers; insurance cards; telephone calling card and instructions.
Make a list of your wallet's contents and keep it separate in case your wallet is lost or stolen.