I recently went to Prague and Amsterdam, and I have tips from that trip.
Bank ATMs are a convenient way to get your spending money while traveling abroad, but I advise travelers to carry two different bank cards. During this trip, I carried a Bank of America card and a Chase card. My B of A card worked like a charm, but I was unable to get cash out with the Chase card, even after five phone calls to try to remedy the situation.
I also had separate cards linked to my accounts for my college-age son, and he was able to use both bank cards without a problem.
In some countries, ATMs will give you a choice of taking a “conversion rate” or a regular rate. Always choose the regular rate. When I was in Prague, I had the choice to pay $184 for the conversion for 3,000 Czech crowns, but the regular rate was $173, so I chose the latter. That $11 difference can really add up when you go to the ATM multiple times for money.
You probably will pay fees for using an ATM, so you’ll want to make larger withdrawals, instead of more frequent, smaller withdrawals. Some bank affiliates don’t charge a fee; check with your bank before you leave home.
It’s also a good idea to access your bank’s ATM finder online before you go so that you know the locations of ATMs near your hotel.
Hotel phone calls can be expensive. When I was in Amsterdam, it cost 3 Euros per minute (about $5) to call the U.S. Because I needed to conduct business while I was abroad, I kept my cell phone on but didn’t answer it. Instead, I texted back my replies. I used my MagicJack computer phone system (www.magicjack.com) at the hotel for calls, where I had free Wi-Fi, so I spent only $14 on incoming phone calls during my 12-day trip.
Before you leave home, check your cell phone coverage. You may want to make temporary changes to your phone or data plans to avoid being hit with a big bill when you return.
Wherever you travel, always avoid using a hotel room mini-bar. I go to local grocery stores and stock up on snacks so that I’m not tempted to pay $6 for a soda in my room. In Prague, we went to the cleanest and best-looking grocery store I’ve seen and bought ready-made sandwiches for lunch and snacks for later.
Another way to save on food is to avoid eating at restaurants in the tourist areas, where you’re often charged more.
Public transportation is a bargain in Europe and much cheaper than taking taxis. When I was in Prague, I bought a 72-hour pass for $18 that provided unlimited rides on buses, trams and the subway. One thing to be aware of is that the subways shut down at midnight; plan your night out accordingly.
In Amsterdam, it cost 7 Euros ($10) just to get in a taxi, plus a metered rate based on distance. In Prague, the taxi rates weren’t posted, so we were charged a variety of rates. If you must use a taxi in Prague, have your hotel call one for you because it will call a reputable company that will be cheaper than those you hail on the street.
A favorite thing from my trip was a Segway tour in Prague. The tour was $90 for three hours, and it was well worth it. I was able to go up hills that I never would have attempted on foot and saw things I surely would have missed in the old and new areas of the city.
Tom Parsons is CEO of Bestfares.com.
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