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How to Win at International Travel
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How to Win at International Travel


Alas, we have bid adieu to yet another winter and SO ready for an international summer vacation! STAT! If you have wanderlust as bad as we do over at TBN, you’ve probably already booked that international flight. But before you leave for that vacation, you’ll want to make sure you have these five items covered and sorted first.


1 – Charles Schwab Investor Checking Account

If you don’t already have a no-ATM-fee checking account card in your wallet for international travel, you are missing out. Thankfully there are ATM cards like the Charles Schwab Bank High Yield Investor Checking Account. It’s the gold standard in any international travel guru’s wallet. Charles Schwab offers a decent interest rate on your checking account balance, and you can easily oversee all your finances through their mobile app.

Why you should have one in your wallet

You might be thinking, “why would I want an investment brokerage account?”

Here’s why:

  • Open a Schwab brokerage account, which will allow you to open and link an investor checking account.
  • There is no minimum on either account and no fees to maintain them.
  • Since Charles Schwab is not a bank, but a brokerage, they don’t have traditional ATMs for you to withdraw money from. Therefore, you can use any ATM (literally any) with no withdrawal fees.
  • Even better, if that ATM or bank charges a withdrawal fee, as most do, they reimburse you for that charge as well.
  • The reimbursement charges will show up on your monthly statement as a credit.
  • No extra cash out of your account to pull money out. Anywhere. EVER.
  • AND here’s a link for $100 credit for signing up!
  • BOOM — mic drop!

I only carry my Schwab ATM card with me in my wallet, regardless if I am traveling internationally or not because I can use it anywhere. I use it at gas stations, concerts, baseball games, and also during my travels around the world. Internationally, most banks charge crazy fees of up to $10 per international withdrawal. However, now I can withdraw money as many times as I like. ¥500 yen here and ¥40000 there. I t does not matter because I won’t get charged any fees for international withdrawals.


Avoid a Potential Fraud Nightmare

This card also provides me with the peace of mind that if anyone stole this card, it only has a minimal amount of money in the checking account at any given time. In college, my ATM card got hacked. Unlike a credit card, when your ATM card has money withdrawn you are out that money until the bank investigates and clears the fraud. Being out $800 for two weeks and not knowing how to pay my rent was the single scariest event to my 19-year-old self.

Now, I have a primary bank account. However, I never use that debit card to make any purchases. Not online, not physically in stores. Nowhere! I don’t carry the card on me  — ever. I don’t even know the number of that debit card. It stays stashed away in a safe place making it impossible to hack. It pays all my bills via auto pay and also set up to transfer a set amount of money each month into my Schwab account. That way I have access to cash with no fees — EVER. And it helps me budget my cash spending. Plus, my main bank account stays safe and clear from hackers. Win-win!

There are other no-ATM-fee checking account cards out there but I have been using my Charles Schwab for over eight years now and won’t leave home without it  — international or not.    

TIP: Check your ATM card expiration date before you leave on that holiday. I was in Thailand once, a heavily cash-based country, when mine expired.


2 – Check All Your Passports

Quick, when does your passport expire? If you know the answer off the top of your head, bravo. However, do you know when your boyfriend, partner, husband or children’s passports expire? I am going to bet you don’t have all those memorized. If you cannot answer that and you have to check, you need to add this next tip to your pre-trip international travel checklist

There is a general six-month passport validity rule that some people are not aware exist. If your passport is not up to par: an airline can decline to allow you to board. Or worse, you take that 10-hour flight and get denied entry at immigration at your destination. Who’s thinking of Tom Hanks in the movie The Terminal right now? That’s because most countries will not let you enter if your passport is not valid at least six months from your final day of travel.

I can’t tell you how many people I know that missed a trip because their passport had either expired, expires within six months or did not have at least four blank consecutive pages on their passport. You can lose out on hundreds of dollars on any pre-booked nonrefundable trip expenses from this simple mistake.

My sister planned a family trip to London over the winter holidays assuming her kids’ passports expired when she and her husbands did. They didn’t realize till the night before the trip as they were getting ready to leave that their kid’s passports expired in three months. They tried to find next day passport services, but since it was the holidays, nothing was open. So be sure to check for yourself, and the people traveling with you.  

TIP: Always check the visa requirements for each country you visit, as they can change at any time. If you still have a valid visa to a specific country but a new passport, you must bring both passports to enter that country.


3 – Get a T-Mobile Phone Plan

Get yourself a cell phone provider that includes international data. The T-Mobile ONE plan includes unlimited international data coverage and texting at up to 2G speeds in 210+ countries. If you need to make a call, it’s 25 cents per minute. Plus, you also get free wireless without borders in Mexico and Canada with unlimited talk, text, and data. Just like you were in the US!

Next, check your mobile device and make sure your cellular data for roaming is turned on. Each time you land in a foreign country and turn on your phone, you’ll get a text alert from T-mobile that says something like:

“Welcome to Japan! Your T-Mobile ONE plan gives you unlimited texts and data at 2g speeds and calls at 25 cents/min. Enjoy your stay!”

Addicted to Instagram stories and can’t afford to miss a beat? Now you can stay connected during a flight with free in-flight texting, picture messaging, visual voicemail and free Wi-Fi on gogo enabled flights.

Gogo can currently be found on the following flights

  • Aeroméxico
  • Aer Lingus
  • Air Canada,
  • Alaska Airlines
  • American Airlines
  • British Airways
  • Delta Air Lines
  • GOL
  • Hainan Airlines
  • Iberia
  • Japan Airlines
  • JTA
  • United Airlines
  • Vietnam Airlines
  • Virgin Atlantic

TIP: While I had no issues being out of the country for months at a time, T-mobile is starting to crack down on excessive international usage. I recently got a text alert while I was in Japan that stated:

“The majority of the last two months of T-mobile usage for line XXX-XXX-XXXX has been roaming internationally. If this line continues to roam extensively abroad over the next month, the use will violate our terms and conditions, and your roaming usage will be blocked on XXX date.”

I checked with T-Mobile and it turns out if greater than 50% of your data usage is used internationally over three consecutive months, they can block your international roaming usage. If you do travel internationally for extended periods, it would be best to have an unlocked phone with a dual sim like the iPhone 10X. That way you can pop a sim into your phone but still be connected to your main line via the digital sim.


4 – Download Uber

Now that you have a mobile plan that gives you free international data — download Uber. They operate in over 60 countries and 400 cities worldwide. I’ve used it all over the world, and it is often cheaper and better than taking a local taxi. To set it up, you will need to link your US mobile number to the Uber account. They will text you a verification code so do that before you leave US soil. Now you have one powerful app on your phone to help you get around efficiently and effectively!

Internationally, there are many benefits of using an Uber over a local taxi:

  • With Uber, you don’t have to speak the local language. The driver already has your final destination in their GPS. Eliminating the issue of miscommunication as most taxi drivers in foreign countries do not speak English.     
  • Your credit card associated with your Uber account can be used to pay for the ride. So you don’t have to worry about having enough local currency to pay the cab fare. Plus, I always prefer the credit card points over using cash.
  • Uber can be a safer option for solo female travelers as you can share your ride details with others. Now that you have international cellular data, you can follow the car on the real-time map to ensure they are heading to the correct location.

TIP: Choose your linked method of payment on your Uber account wisely. Credit cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve Visa give you three points for shared ride services under the “travel” category.


5 – Get Travel Insurance

Before you leave on that international vacation, do yourself a favor and get travel insurance.

“Why do I need insurance? I have regular insurance. It just seems like a waste of money?”

If anything happens to you while traveling abroad, your insurance likely does not cover international medical costs. It’s even more critical if you are self-employed, an adventurous traveler like I am, traveling to remote places, have a medical condition, or even for travel delays. Travel insurance is relatively cheap and gives you peace of mind. On average it’s $30 – $40 for a two-week trip. I usually travel for months at a time and always use World Nomad travel insurance. They offer an explorer package which is perfect for me since I like to do things like cave diving.

I’m chock full of travel horror stories today so here goes another one. Iceland, the magical island of fire and ice, is on everyone’s bucket list because it is unbelievably beautiful — literally like nothing you have ever seen before. The horror: It’s also one of the most dangerous countries to visit. I met a girl that went glacier hiking, and during her hike, she slipped off the glacier tongue into a deep crevasse and broke her leg. Rescue crews spent hours trying to airlift her out. Lucky for her she had travel insurance and all her expenses were all covered.

The number one reason for bankruptcy in the US is from medical expenses. Don’t end up a statistic. You just worked your tail off to save and go on this amazing vacation. Make sure it’s not your last just because you wanted to save $30 – $40 bucks. As the Brits say, don’t be penny wise and pound foolish! Do yourself a favor and add it to your pre-trip international travel checklist. You won’t regret it!

**Please note all the above are offers to US residents only.


Where will you be heading off to this summer? Let us know in the comments below!


Feature photo by Brett Zeck

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