Managing Your Money On The Move – Tips For Keeping Solvent While Traveling

January 28, 2014 by Anil Polat  

money smiley face

The key to not worrying about money is making sure you don’t run out of it. That holds true whether you’re traveling or not; but when you are on the go and converting currencies with a variable income there is a tendency to balance your budget on the fly. That’s where most travelers get into financial trouble because our brains have evolved to focus on large expenditures (called “efficient selection“) and ignore the details of those things that don’t excite us emotionally.

Fortunately for us, computers don’t have to care to care about keeping track of our money and what does excite us – travel – is just the incentive we can use to fill in the gaps from there.

sad looking pugYou Suck At Estimating – Science Says So

The worst thing you can try to do is keep track of a budget without assistance. We consistently overestimate our memories and concentration – a good reason to come up with an automated, efficient, and completely digital travel budget. To avoid having that “oh, where did all my money go” moment you need a backup plan. Leaving everything behind to head out on an adventure is romantic but nobody ever writes about the traveler who ends up broke and living with mom. You don’t want to be that nomad, here’s how to avoid it.

Use A 3-Month Plan Rent Strategy

Your largest expenditure most anywhere in the world is typically rent and the most important. To survive in the travel wild you need to secure shelter and this 3-month buffer plan can help you identify problems before you’re living in the streets.

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sanaa yemen streets

In case your income becomes thin:

  • Month 1: Helps you identify a problem in your budget
  • Month 2: Gives you time to find a solution and save
  • Month 3: In case you don’t find a solution to your budget woes

This strategy can be adapted to your particular situation (6 month plan or something similar) but you need a buffer. Aside from keeping a roof over your head, this buffer – as you add on to it – will give you an idea of how much extra (read: travel) money you’ll have to enjoy. More buffer, more travel.

Find Banks That Don’t Charge You Fees

Depending on where you live and where you’re going this can vary but two of the best banks in the world (that don’t charge fees for withdrawals from global ATMs) are Charles Schwab and HSBC. They can be found in 85 countries and have over 7,200 branches; chances are there’s one somewhere where you’ll be visiting.

  • Transfer Money Wisely – High-interest savings accounts like INGDirect or Ally can earn you a few cents and dollars each month but are also useful as fee-free money movers between bank accounts. (They also let you send and receive money from some accounts to avoid Paypal fees.)

Aside from avoiding fees, choosing the right bank for international travel can help you earn frequent flyer miles keep your assets liquid as latinum.

Withdraw Big, Carry Small

Withdrawal and currency conversion fees add up (use Latte Factor to calculate how much) so limit how many times you go to the bank. As a general rule, each day you shouldn’t carry more than you’re willing to have stolen (as a precaution) but you don’t want to withdraw too often.

  • Have Multiple Accounts – A main, a backup, and one for emergencies. Avoid carrying all 3 cards on you in case of pick pocketing.
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benzin cafe istanbulTrack Fees And See Where Your Money Goes

My personal favorite Mint is an online budgeting tool that connects to most bank and credit card accounts to closely track where your money goes. Mint is especially useful in tracking fees and sends weekly email updates.

  • Don’t Get Stuck With The Bill – The free iOS/Android/Web app Splitwise lets you track expenses so everyone puts in their fair share during group trips.

Notify Your Bank And Protect Your Financial Flank

Now that you’re tracking your money, trick your mind into spending less by adding the right symbols to your bar tabs. Also, make sure you have access to all your funds by notifying your banks of any international travel before your trip. Many financial institutions will place temporary blocks on accounts accessed from international locations as a precaution. (Another good reason to have multiple accounts.) A quick call to let them know you’ll be headed to the beaches of Boracay for two weeks will help keep your account accessible, make the person on the phone a bit jealous, and have you even more excited to travel.

This is the updated and refreshed version of a guest post I originally wrote for, which closed its digital doors last year.

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  1. Kellie says:

    We are a family currently traveling RTW. When we are at home, we track our expenses with Quicken. The challenge with long term travel is tracking how we spend all the cash we withdraw from ATMs. My favorite tool is the Trail Wallet app. It was designed by long term travelers for travelers. We enter every single krona, dong, baht, etc in the Trail Wallet on my iPhone to manage where our money is going. I can’t imagine tracking our money without it.

    • Anil Polat says:

      I’ll check it out, thanks for the recommendation. I too find the hardest money to track is cash after it’s out of the ATM, recording where it goes after there sometimes feels like:

  2. Steve C says:

    So Anil, have you done any research into how “Bitcoin” could be used during international travel? Is there any benefit? What type and how much risk might there be?

  3. Christina says:

    Thanks for this! I seriously suck at estimating, and I’m even worse when I’m traveling because I constantly give in to spontaneous things with friends because I don’t want to miss out on an experience. and I’m definitely downloading Splitwise asap 🙂

  4. James P. says:

    All good tips. In places that I regularly travel to, I have my goto currency exchange spots. Obviously that’s not possible in a new city/country. I also sometimes carry a few protein bars when I’m briefly in a place where food is stupidly expensive and I don’t have a reasonably priced option.

  5. Jaryd says:

    Great tips! However I find (usually) travel is my biggest expense whilst abroad. Also, If you want to save money on fees and ext, you should look into getting the best travel cards which will eliminate heft fees.