When I adopted a nomadic way of life nearly 3 years ago, I unknowingly adopted ‘nomadic’ financial ways too. I’m not sure if that’s a real term yet, but what I mean is, I’ve found sneaky creative ways of making the most of my bucks on my constant travels, without giving in to the fear of fluctuating exchange rates, getting mugged or being targeted by credit card frauds.
If you’re traveling abroad, these simple tricks will ensure that your money goes a long, safe way:
Peg the exchange rate
That’s a lesson I learnt the hard way. On my first ever trip to the US, I booked a beautiful studio for a month, and as these things often go, decided to pay the bulk of the payment at the end of my stay. Turns out, the US dollar climbed steadily in that month and I ended up paying 1.3 times the amount in rupees, than I had planned to pay!
I promised myself that would never happen again on my travels, given how much the volatile rupee fluctuates against other currencies. My forex card, which pegs the exchange rate against 16 currencies, ensures that I never end up doubling my expenses between the start and end of a trip.
Book flights on your home country’s travel aggregators
Since my epic 6 month sojourn in Central America, this is a trick I swear by. While in the US, instead of booking flights to countries like Guatemala and Honduras on American aggregators or directly on the airline websites – which would charge me in US$ or the Central American currency – I researched flight combinations and booked them on an Indian website like Goibibo. The conversion rate seemed fair, but more importantly, I ended up saving a ton of money on foreign transactions by paying in my local currency.
Don’t carry too much cash
On my first Euro trip, I fell prey to a common rookie mistake– money belts; gasp! My friends and family who had travelled to Europe before convinced me it wasn’t a choice, but they couldn’t have been more wrong. Countless trips to Europe (and other parts of the world) later, I can promise you: ditch that money belt. Forget traveller’s cheques too.
Carry little cash at any time, and use your plastic money. With a pegged exchange rate and little fear of fraud transactions, you can swipe your forex card at retail stores and withdraw cash from ATMs abroad. Truth is, as part of my ‘nomadic’ banking, I’ve been withdrawing money from my debit card using ATMs around the world for years; most modern ATMs have a rescue mechanism for the rare occasion that your card gets stuck (never happened to me), and the convenience of being able to withdraw a small amount of money when you run out is just incomparable.
Subscribe to transaction alerts on your phone
While on the countryside of Nicaragua in Central America, I received an SMS alert of a transaction of INR 40,000 on my credit card at a Zara store in the US! I was horrified – I could spend that kind of money on an international flight, but at Zara, never. I immediately contacted my bank, who managed to stop the transaction and block my credit card. Case in point – keep your local number on and subscribe to transaction alerts over SMS. If that’s not possible, check your online banking regularly.
Buy alcohol and last-minute gifts at duty free
Except for local co-operatives that support a community financially and culturally, I seldom spend time shopping or buying gifts on my travels. The only way I can get away with that is airport duty free, where I’ve often made a last minute dash to buy promised gifts or local alcohol; that’s how I ended up sharing the finest Seychelloise rum with a local host in Rajasthan, and German chocolates with friends in India. A by-product of my hatred for consumerism is saving money with tax-free shopping 😉
Don’t be a penny pincher; spend on experiences
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard fellow travellers proudly compare their travel expenses down to the penny, or hold off on tipping in a developing country to save money, or choose a miserable budget stay over a value-for-money experiential accommodation – all because traveling on a budget has become something of an egotistical competition on who can spend less. My advice – work hard, save as much as you can, and then stop counting every bit of money you spend; even scientific research proves that people who spend on experiences (as opposed to hoarding the money in fixed deposits) are happier!