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Geoff Whitmore

6 tips for the newbie on traveling abroad with plastic

Today's guest blog is by Geoff Whitmore, lead traveler writer at NoobTraveler.com, a blog dedicated to educating its readers on reward travel, travel tips and cost-saving travel techniques.

Adrenaline races through your veins as you begin to prepare for your first trip overseas. You are already picturing yourself sipping wine in the rolling hills of Tuscany or eating a seven course Michelin meal in France.

Then suddenly, you are struck with the fear of not knowing how you're going to pay for all these memories. Urgent questions arise, such as,  "Do shops and hotels take credit cards? Should I stuff a wad of cash in my undergarments? Do I need travelers checks ... and what the heck are they?"

There's already a lot to think about already (like not getting lost or "Can I speak enough French to order a meal that is edible?"). Now instead of being amped, you break out in a cold sweat.

Take a breath and relax. The Noob Traveler is here to help.

I used to be just like you -- a little ball of stress. That's mainly because I used travelers checks when I traveled. Yes, there was a time when people carried with them pieces of paper called travelers checks. Travelers checks have all but disappeared, and I couldn't be happier these are a thing of the past. You used to have to worry if they would be accepted by the foreign establishment, or if there was a fee associated with the check.

I also went with the popular and more stressful practice of carrying around a big fat wad of cash. Who wants that pressure? Not me. I remember the days of stashing my cash on trips, fearful that at any moment I could be robbed and ALL my money would be gone.

Traveling with credit cards = peace of mind
Today, I can travel without these silly worries. I have conformed to using only credit cards when I travel abroad and life couldn't be better. As you know, not all cards are created equal; this is especially important in deciding the card(s) to use abroad. The points below will help guide you in the right direction.

What you need to know before traveling abroad with credit cards:

1. Ditch foreign transaction fees
Some banks will charge you a foreign transaction fee when you use your card out of country. Yeah, banks are always trying to get your money. Don't let them. Do your homework. There are several credit cards that don't charge a foreign transaction fee. I highly suggest finding one and applying for it. This will save you about 3 percent on ALL credit card purchases. Savings like that really add up.

2. Reward yourself
If you're going to be spending your life's savings anyway, why not maximize your spend with a rewards card? Get points or miles on that genuine Italian leather bag purchase.

3. Contact banks before you leave
Before you start packing your suitcase and making sure that you have the right adapters for your blow dryer, call the bank backing your credit card and let them know you are about to travel. Letting your bank know that you're traveling abroad will keep them from putting a "security" hold on your credit card after they see charges from a different country. Banks don't always do this, but it's better to be safe than sorry.

4. Carry a backup
Traveling gurus have a practice of carrying more than one card. That way, if there is a technical issue with a particular card or -- worst-case scenario, one gets lost or stolen -- you have a backup. My wife and I each carry our own cards, which works well and gives us the security of having a backup plan.

5. Be ready for chip-and-PIN cards
Some establishments in Europe will accept only "smart cards" -- cards that have a security chip in them and require a Personal Identification Number (PIN) to make the purchase go through. Most places still accommodate Americans' magnetic stripe cards, but they're gradually drifting toward accepting only the new secure cards, just as some American card issuers are beginning to manufacture some form of the European-style chip cards. It's something that you need to be aware of and plan for.

6. Carry credit card contact phone numbers
I have all my credit card companies contact information saved in my iPhone. That way if I need to contact them for ANY reason, I can do so quickly.

In summary, traveling with credit cards can offer you peace of mind and make your travels an overall more pleasant experience. I would still carry small amounts of cash around for unexpected scenarios (they will occur), but the days of worrying about losing all your cash are over. I would advise anyone who is traveling overseas to strongly consider getting a credit card that doesn't charge you a foreign transaction fee. It will save you some serious cash and make your travels a thing of ease. Traveling with credit cards is the most efficient way to travel today ... until mobile payments take over.

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