Wanderlust Wisdom: Financial Tips for Traveling Abroad

Girl overlooking city

I recently had the opportunity to take an extended leave from work. This pause provided me the chance to embark on an adventure into the unknown. Since starting work in my teens, I never faced a season where I wasn’t a full-time student or employee. It left me wondering – what would it feel like to take a break from my responsibilities, visit a foreign country, and spend my days doing whatever I wanted? There was only one way to find out!

Thus began my eight week adventure to Asia! Even though my day-to-day life as a financial planner is full of projections, what-if scenarios, and to-do lists, I decided to switch it up and give spontaneity a try on this trip. And I’m happy to say some of my most amazing experiences came from unplanned moments. I made new friends, visited hidden waterfalls, and tried the most delicious local foods. During my trip I found balance between the thrill of adventure and the peace that comes from knowing I’ll be provided for. 

Are you the type who loves the thrill of adventure and believes that the best experiences come from unplanned moments? Do you want to take a once-in-a-lifetime trip but are having some fear or confusion around where to start?

Here are a few ways to best prepare for the trip of your dreams. I hope this encourages you to advocate for yourself and take time to do what fills your soul.

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Create a Rough Estimate

While I loved the idea of waking up to a day with no agenda, making some preparations before my trip did enhance the overall experience. While spontaneity is likely at the heart of your journey, having a general idea of the costs involved can help you navigate your impromptu adventure smoothly.

Start by researching the typical expenses associated with flights, accommodation, transportation, and daily costs in your desired destination. This can be fun! I used TikTok videos to find people who had a similar travel style and listed the cost of their trip. Although you won’t have a fixed itinerary, having a rough estimate of expenses can provide a useful starting point for saving and budgeting purposes.

Furthermore, allocate a portion of your budget to account for unexpected expenses and spur-of-the-moment activities that may arise during your journey. I suggest multiplying your budget by 1.2% to account for expenses being 20% more than you anticipate. This financial safety net ensures you can embrace unforeseen opportunities without unnecessary money concerns.

By estimating expenses and preparing within a flexible framework, you can strike a balance between readiness and the excitement of your impromptu adventure.

Set Yourself Up for Ease

Look for a travel credit card with features like no foreign transaction fees, travel rewards, and easy cash withdrawals. Some credit cards even offer access to airport lounges and discounted hotel stays. Such cards provide the freedom to make purchases, earn rewards, and eliminate the need to carry large amounts of cash. However, use your card responsibly and repay it promptly to avoid interest charges.

When booking flights, select tickets that allow free cancellations or changes. This flexibility empowers you to adapt your plans if necessary while still maintaining the spirit of your trip. Look for airlines or booking platforms that offer flexible options to avoid excessive fees.

Be aware that lower cost flights will likely have higher cost fees for bags, meals, or other perks. Don’t be fooled – if you are planning the trip of a lifetime, you will want to buy souvenirs and gifts along the way. In Japan, I bought a whole new suitcase to hold all my purchases (I mean, come on, they have the best EVERYTHING). It’s very possible you will come home with a heavier (or additional) bag.

Prepare for the Unexpected

The best way to prevent your mind from going through bad what-if scenarios is to make a plan to protect you if the worst were to happen. Travel insurance offers peace of mind, especially during unforeseen circumstances. Look for a comprehensive policy that covers medical emergencies, trip cancellations, and lost baggage. This way, you can embark on your journey knowing that you’re protected against unforeseeable disruptions.

Unexpected issues will inevitably arise, and having extra cash can be a lifesaver, especially in countries where vendors don’t accept credit or debit cards. On my trip, my debit card was compromised and the bank had to send a new card. Since I was on the road, there was no appropriate way to mail a card to an address for me to receive it. I only had $200 USD in a country that didn’t accept credit cards at most locations. Talk about stressful! Thankfully I was traveling with friends who were able to loan me cash, otherwise I could have been in a bad situation. 

If I could have done it again, I would have set up a prepaid travel debit card before I left the U.S. Not only are these cards widely accepted and offer the convenience of a credit card without the risk of overspending, they also function as a debit card at ATMs around the world. Plus, they provide added security because they are not linked to your primary bank account. Having a prepaid travel debit card ensures you have the financial flexibility to handle unexpected expenses without derailing your adventure.

Maximize Your Time On the Road

One of the joys of spontaneous travel is immersing yourself in local culture and experiences. This can be challenging if you don’t speak the local language or understand the cultural customs. 

Before you go, try watching a TV show or movie produced in the country you want to visit. While we know there’s more to a place than how it’s depicted in media, watching something in the local language and filmed in that country can help you understand it a bit more. You may even pick up on the language a bit!

Visit the country’s tourism site to understand everything you need to know about optimal transportation before you get there. Taking care of this before you go will help you maximize the time to check out local sites. I can’t believe I spent nearly an hour walking around an intersection looking for the correct train stop in Seoul, South Korea. It was so challenging to navigate a new system in a foreign language with no access to wifi! 

Most major cities will have a tourist center, usually near major tourist attractions or transportation sites like the airport. If you don’t have time to do research before your trip, be sure to go to these centers once you arrive on location.

If you realize you don’t have as much money to spend because you spent so much on your flight, seek out free or low-cost activities that let you connect with your destination authentically. Stay at a hostel, bed and breakfast, or guesthouse to meet other travelers. Explore local markets, parks, and community events by using apps like MeetUp or the local country app (LINE in Japan and Kakao in South Korea). Engage in free walking tours or discover discounted museum days to create unforgettable memories without straining your finances.

Bon Voyage

Embracing adventure doesn’t mean neglecting financial responsibility. By making smart financial moves, such as preparing for an impromptu adventure, choosing travel-friendly financial tools, prioritizing travel insurance, keeping emergency funds accessible with a prepaid travel debit card, and seeking out local experiences on a budget, you can seize the moment while keeping your finances in check. So, pack your bags, embrace the thrill, and let your adventure unfold while your finances remain secure and ready for whatever surprises await you along the way.

Wondering how a financial advisor can help you find more balance to your work and leisure times? Reach out and schedule a free call today to see how Abacus can help you be more mindful of what matters to you most.


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