10 Money Saving Pro-Tips to Fulfill Your Travel Dreams
Professional photographer Anna Mazurek travels the world for clients such as Travel + Leisure, Rolling Stone, and National Geographic. But don’t think they’re throwing money at her. These days, successful travel photographers earn around $30,000 a year. Despite this, Anna has figured out how to maximize this income to travel the world full time and still save for retirement. She writes about this in her new book Good With Money.
On the Postcard Academy podcast, she and I talk about actions we can all take to make better financial decisions. Anna also shares the best credit card for travelers; her favorite bank, which refunds any ATM fee you incur on your travels; her vagabond guide to hacking the U.S. Healthcare system, and more. Some of her advice is specific to American travelers, but most of it can be applied universally. Listen to the podcast to hear all her best money saving tips. (subscribe here for free). Here are the highlights.
Avoid ATM fees
“I have a Charles Schwab High Yield Investor Checking Account, which is literally the greatest thing in the banking world,” Anna says. “There’s no foreign transaction fee. There's no minimums on the account. They do not charge you ATM fees, and if an ATM charges you -- for example, in Argentina the ATM charges you $10 every time you take money out -- they refund that for you at the end of the month. I got $40 back last month. I mean it is amazing what they do and. It's free.”
If you’re not eligible for this account due to your location, Anna recommends calling up your bank and asking if they will wave the fees, which has worked for her.
Use credit cards that reward you
If you can pay off your credit card bill each month, charge all your purchases on one card that will give you travel points and does not charge a foreign transaction fee. For American travelers, Anna recommends Chase Sapphire Reserve. “It’s the best reward card on the market right now. You get three points per dollar for travel and dining, and one point on everything else.”
It does have a hefty fee — $450 per year, but they give you a $300 travel credit. You also get free Global Entry and TSA PreCheck in the U.S., which is a $100 value.
“For any Americans out there, Global Entry is literally the greatest thing in the world next to the other benefit from the credit card, which is Priority Pass, which gets you into airport lounges for free anywhere in the world. I get to go sit in a fancy lounge; I have good wifi that's free; it’s a calm environment; there's usually free food...There's a good one at Heathrow that gives you fresh scones and stuff like that, that are amazing.” And you can bring a friend with you!
Always pay in local currency
Shopping abroad? When you pay with a credit card, they’ll ask you if you want to pay in their local currency or your own. You should almost always choose their local currency to avoid fees.
Withdraw money from the ATM
Avoid currency exchanges when you can, especially at the airport. It’s cheaper to take out the money you need from the ATM, just make sure you let your bank know in advance that you’re traveling abroad so a foreign withdrawal doesn’t set off an alert that freezes your card.
Buy travel insurance
Accidents happen all the time. When you’re being helicoptered to a hospital, you don’t want to worry if this will leave you in financial ruin. “I currently use I Am Global or World Nomads,” Anna says. “I always do a zero deductible policy. It's usually $40 a month. World Nomads tends to be a little more expensive than I Am Global, but they will cover you in more extreme conditions.”
Take care of medial needs abroad
“I paid $170 for a full physical in Thailand,” Anna says. “It was done it four hours. They did blood work; they'll do a chest X-ray if you want, it's all included. They give you your results right then and there. The hospital is really nice. I have a lot of friends, people who are my parents age, that come and do this stuff in Thailand, as well, just because it's cheap and it's really good quality care. I also went to the dentist there. It was $30.”
Commit to 2 or 3 financial priorities
“What are your priorities? Are you trying to save for retirement? Do you want to save for a specific trip? Once you have your priorities written down and in order, you can do the research to figure out how much you need,” Anna says. “Maybe people have kids and they want to send them to college. We just need to have a very, very specific priority in mind. Once you understand that, that gives you very defined goals and then you can look at your spending and figure out where you can find that money.”
If you’re trying to get a better understanding of where your money is going, Anna recommends that you “literally look at your bank statements. Sit down, figure out how much you're making, look at your pay stubs. It doesn't have to be complicated. Look at a credit card statement — a lot of bank statements and credit card statements will itemize and categorize where your money is going. Track every penny you spend for a month.”
Apps to help track spending that Anna mentioned on the podcast:
Follow the 50/30/20 rule
“50% of your income needs to go to your needs, and your needs are going to be rent, your groceries, gas, things like that,” Anna says. “30% of your income is supposed to go to your wants, things you can live without, like shopping sprees or going to a movie. And then 20% of your income is supposed to go to savings and debt reduction, and this would include something called an ‘emergency fund,’ which I definitely recommend, which is three to six months of regular living expenses.”
Set spending limits on yourself
“When I go out to eat with my friends, ideally, I'd like to stay under $20,” Anna says. “I think if you have certain amounts in your head for what you can spend or what things should cost, that can help you.”
Stop paying for things you don’t like and don’t use
We’ve all signed up for things with good intentions, like the gym, or ‘free trials’ of software that automatically renew after we’ve forgotten about them. Cancel all of this. Also, “stop eating out for the sake of convenience,” Anna says. “I'm not saying don't eat out at all, you should treat yourself to a good meal. But a lot of times it’s not a good meal. You're just eating out somewhere quick for convenience. It's not even something you're enjoying.” Make tastier and healthier -- and cheaper — meals at home.
If you found this article useful, please share it, and subscribe to the Postcard Academy podcast. Each week, expats and adventurers share their insider travel tips on the best food, nightlife, and cultural experiences in the most interesting places around the globe. I’m your host, Sarah Mikutel, an American who's spent the last 8 years living in, and traveling around, Europe.