04 Mar Managing Finances: travel tips, accounts and credit scores
Want to find a bank account that won’t charge you for taking out money abroad, figure out how to track your expenses, maintain your credit score or find a good travel credit card? We get a few queries about how we organise our money while we travel so we’ve put together these simple tips on managing finances on the road.
Tips for Managing Finances while you Travel
1) Get a Great Savings Account: first things first, make sure all your hard-earned cash goes into a travel fund that will provide maximum interest and boost your savings. Andrew and I worked hard for around two years in the UK to save £30,000 for our travel adventure. When we started saving we shopped around for the best savings accounts in the UK, which we compared in this more detailed post. In summary, we made £444 from HSBC Regular Saver accounts and £404 from Santander ISAs over two years.
When we left the UK we moved everything into a Post Office Savings Account which we transferred money into from our debit account online each month. During our first year of travel we earned £253 in interest from the Post Office account. That means that we made £1,101 in three years just by keeping our travel funds in high-interest accounts. Each year since then, we’ve researched which savings accounts have the best interest and switched accordingly.
2) Check and maintain your credit score: whether we’re travelling, working abroad or spending time back in the UK, we try to maintain a good credit score in case we need to borrow money in the future. This will come in handy if we need a loan to top-up funds for the Tiny Home we’re saving for. To maintain a good score, we use our credit card regularly and make sure we pay it off every month to avoid charges. It’s possible to set up an auto-pay function for this but we’ve simply set a reminder on our phones every month.
Every year, you can get a free credit check in the UK under GDPR rules introduced in 2018. Likewise, in other countries like Australia, everyone has the right to one free credit report a year from each of the three main credit reporting bodies, you can access yours by visiting CreditSmart.
3) Find a Current Account that Doesn’t charge Abroad: almost all current accounts charge you to use cash machines or make transactions abroad. In 2013, we did a thorough search of all UK bank accounts (which you can read here) and found that Norwich and Peterborough had a current account with zero fees for using it abroad, this saved us around £150 in bank fees during the first year of our trip.
Unfortunately, Norwich and Peterborough no longer offer current accounts so we’ve switched to a new app-based bank, Starling, which is perfect for travel. It has zero fees for cash withdrawals and transactions worldwide, uses the MasterCard exchange rate and sends notifications to your phone every time you make a transaction. Find out more about the latest debit and credit cards we use for travel in this post.
4) Avoid Extra Bank Charges: some countries charge ATM fees on top of the individual bank fees mentioned above. Thai ATMs, for instance, charge up to £3 per withdrawal and in Laos you’re charged between £1.50 and £2. There are ways to avoid these charges; in Thailand take your passport and card to a big bank and ask the cashier to withdraw cash manually for you – you won’t be charged for this by the Thai bank. The second time we went to Laos we took US dollars with us from Cambodia and exchanged them for Laos Kip although we’re not sure how much this saved us in the long-run because exchange rates vary.
5) Find a Credit Card that Doesn’t Charge Abroad: we were very reluctant to get a credit card but needed one in order to rent a car in New Zealand. Again, we researched the best UK travel credit cards in this post and chose the Halifax Credit Card which has zero cash withdrawal and purchase fees abroad. In reality we’ve only used the credit cards a couple of times in relation to car hire. However, there was one occasion when our debit cards wouldn’t work in Malaysia so we withdrew cash from our credit card and paid the money back as soon as possible to avoid being charged interest. So, I’d recommend carrying a credit card with you when you travel for emergencies if nothing else.
6) Use Internet Banking: to make sure you can access your money easily while you’re travelling set up internet banking services for all of your accounts and make sure that you can transfer money between them online. We have to phone N&P each time we want to set up a payment to a new account, which is a real pain when we’re travelling. Another important thing to remember is to memorise all your log-in details and passwords for your online accounts; we use the ‘Keeper’ app to encrypt and safely store all our passwords.
7) Transfer your Earnings: we spent nine months living in Vietnam, where we earned money from teaching English to replenish our travel fund. Earning abroad can be tricky when it comes to transferring money back to your home country. We paid our earnings into a Vietnamese account each month, when it came time to leave we had to produce all of our payslips to prove where our money had come from and fill in numerous forms to transfer our money back to the UK; it was a major hassle and we lost around £300 in fees and exchange rates.
8) Order Back-up Cards: losing your one and only cash-card while you’re in a foreign country could be a complete disaster. We each have our own debit and credit cards as back-up in case one of them gets lost or stolen.
9) Track your Expenses: finally, we keep meticulous track of what we spend while we travel using the excellent Trail Wallet App, which we find invaluable. Each time we spend any money throughout the day we log it on the app under the relevant category and set up daily budgets per country so we can keep an eye on whether we’re spending too much. I would recommend tracking your expenses whether you travel or not; creating a spreadsheet to track all our income and outgoings really allowed us to figure out how much we could save each month back in the UK. You can check out all our detailed travel cost posts here.
Do you have any more tips on how to manage your finances while you travel? If you have any more questions feel free to ask in the comments below.