By Tom Parsons
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 â€œconversion rateâ€ 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 youâ€™ll want to make larger withdrawals, instead of more frequent, smaller withdrawals. Some bank affiliates donâ€™t charge a fee; check with your bank before you leave home.
Itâ€™s also a good idea to access your bankâ€™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 didnâ€™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 Iâ€™m not tempted to pay $6 for a soda in my room. In Prague, we went to the cleanest and best-looking grocery store Iâ€™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 youâ€™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 werenâ€™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.