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Smart and Safe Summer Travel Tips

If you are planning a big excursion this summer, this post will discuss ways to help you save money, stay on top of your finances, and have a safe, enjoyable trip. Many people, sticking closer to home since the start of the pandemic, are deciding to take larger or longer trips this year. As CNBC points out, this year’s theme of travel seems to be “go big, spend big.”

But a lot has changed with travel in the past few years, and many people, even avid travelers, might be nervous about hitting the road (or boarding the plane!) for the first time in two years—and how to pay for it. 

Use Rewards to Offset Trip Costs

Cash in your travel rewards

Maybe you already got started booking your trip and forgot about that stockpile of rewards points you have earned. Or maybe you are saving your rewards balance for a dream trip and are hesitant to dip into it. However, if you are making plans for travel now, don’t put off using those points. Rewards can expire or disappear altogether if you close your account.

Credit card rewards, specifically travel rewards, are an extremely useful resource to help you save money on your travel expenses. If you don’t already have a rewards card and are looking to travel in the not-so-distant future,  a new credit card with travel rewards could be the answer. They can lead to free, or nearly free, flights and hotel stays or allow you to take luxury vacations that you wouldn't otherwise be willing to spend the cash on. Some cards are designated travel rewards cards, while others, including First National Bank and Trust’s Personal Credit Cards, allow you to choose travel as your reward.

Use cash-back debit and credit cards

To save money when traveling, you might also consider the more straightforward cash-back credit or debit card, in addition to a travel rewards card. With cash-back cards, one of the most popular types of rewards cards out there, cardholders earn a percentage of their spending back onto their account balance, which can be used to offset some of the costs of travel. For instance, if a card offers 2% cash back and you spend $100, you’ll receive $2 back. Many cash-back cards also offer bonus cash back in certain categories, such as grocery stores, gas stations, entertainment, and, importantly, travel. In addition to travel, you can also choose cash-back rewards with our personal credit cards at First National Bank and Trust. Learn more about our debit card rewards. 

Stay on Top of Your Bills While You Travel

To avoid surprises or late fees, it’s important to map out what bills will be due and how you will pay them, if you're traveling for an extended time. This will not only avoid late fees or dings to your credit score, but also unwelcome surprises like service shut offs or holds on your accounts. 

Autopay is the ultimate “set it and forget it” bill-paying option. If you plan to travel internationally or somewhere with limited internet access, you can link your bank account to your bills and choose the payment dates. Keep in mind that some U.S. bank websites will not allow you to view them internationally from some locations, so setting autopay will allow you to travel without worrying about your finances at home. Visit First National Bank and Trust’s Online Bill Pay to set up autopay for your bills.

Mobile banking apps are also surprisingly easy ways to stay on top of your bills while traveling, and routinely throughout the year. Most apps let you set reminders and pay financial institutions and service providers directly from the app instead of logging into multiple accounts.

Keep Your Money Safe and Accessible

Use a digital wallet

Digital wallets, also called e-wallets, virtual wallets, and mobile wallets, allow you to pay for purchases at contactless pay terminals simply by tapping your phone over it. There are lots of digital wallets out there, but Apple Pay, Google Pay, and Samsung Pay are the most common.

Digital wallets are convenient for travel for two reasons: they are more secure to use than traditional cards, and, if you use them, you have less to carry. Payment through digital wallets is encrypted, and then further secured through your phone’s passcode, face detection, or fingerprint identification system. You can digitally store credit cards, as well as travel and hotel rewards cards, plane and train tickets, rental car agreements, and health insurance information in them. However, if you use a digital wallet, keep in mind that not every merchant terminal you encounter will be compatible with this contactless payment method, so if you lose your phone, you might be stuck without payment options. Because of this, always carry at least one debit or credit card and some cash separately.

Set up travel notifications and alerts before your trip

Some credit card companies and banks will put a stop on your card if they suspect a fraudulent transaction, such as one made abroad or in a different part of the country. This can leave you in quite a financial bind while traveling. Before you go on your trip, reach out to each of the financial institutions for the cards you plan on using to inform them of your travel plans. Travel notifications can be made by phone, through mobile apps, or online portals. Be sure to set a travel notice with First National Bank and Trust to ensure seamless debit card usage while on vacation. 

Other card companies don’t require advanced notification, but will send you an alert if your card is used in an unusual way (such as in an unfamiliar area). Be sure that you have access to your phone to ensure that you can approve any legitimate flagged purchases right away, so you can keep using your card without issue (or report any fraudulent use!).

You can also log into your bank or credit card account to set up your own alerts to keep track of your account activity while you travel. Alerts can be made through push notifications, text, or email, notifying you every time a transaction is made, or for transactions over a certain threshold amount. If you receive an alert for a purchase you didn’t make, contact your financial institution immediately to put a hold on your card. Again, be sure you will have access to your phone or email in order to respond to any alerts. (Check out more credit card safety tips.) 

Know the PINs for your cards

You might already know the PIN (personal identification number) of your debit card, but many credit cards, called chip-and-pin cards, also can have PINs. In fact, if you are traveling in Europe especially, you may be asked for your PIN if you are at an unmanned payment terminal, such as a ticket or parking lot kiosk. If your card does not have a PIN—or you don’t know what it is—you may not be able to use it.

If you are traveling to locations that prefer chip-and-pin cards, it’s a good idea to check to see if any of your cards will fit the bill. But if you don’t, that doesn’t mean you need to get a new card. In his article, “Using Credit Cards in Europe,” Rick Steves explains his experiences: “I've been inconvenienced a few times by self-service payment machines that wouldn't accept my card without a PIN, but it's never caused me serious trouble.” If you don’t have a chip-and-pin card, be sure to carry a little bit of cash, so you have other payment options if a card terminal won’t take your card. 

Get your phone ready for travel and keep it safe

Because banks' only method of communication with you while you travel will likely be digital, it’s vitally important that you get your phone ready for your trip too—especially if you will be traveling internationally. Make sure that the contact information is up-to-date at your bank or card company. Additionally, don’t just assume your phone will work the same way it does at home. Before you go, log into your account with your mobile carrier or reach out to them over the phone to see if you can send and receive text messages and make calls in the locations where you are traveling. Lastly, take a minute to look up the international phone numbers for your bank and credit card providers, to store directly in your phone or another secure location (not with your cards!), so you can call if the need arises. For more tips, check out Which?’s article, “How to prepare your mobile phone for holidays abroad.”

In addition to preparing your phone for travel, you’ll also want to take some steps to keep your phone safe during your trip. Because so much of what we do relies on the use of our phones, from communication to managing our money, it’s important to practice a few safety precautions when traveling. Here are some basic ways to keep your phone safe: 
  • Limit your use of Bluetooth and public WiFi. Turn your Bluetooth off when not in use and avoid public networks when possible, sticking to those protected by passwords. Cyber criminals can pair their device with your Bluetooth or access your phone over public WiFi, therefore accessing your data which could include financial account or personal identification information.
  • Keep your phone screen locked. Use a passcode, fingerprint, or face recognition method to protect your phone, so not just anyone can access it. This is especially important if you are using a mobile wallet.
  • Store your phone safely. Don’t just pop it in your back pocket. Find a designated place to store your phone while you are out and about to avoid theft.
  • Be wary about handing your phone over to strangers. We all want that perfect vacation photo, but it’s important to be cautious about giving your phone to someone you don’t know to snap a picture. Use your best judgment, but consider asking your tour guide or server at a restaurant to take photos, when a trusted friend or family member isn’t around.
  • Turn your phone’s tracking on. This will help you or the police locate your phone if it’s lost or stolen. Here’s how to turn on your phone's tracking. 

Make copies of important documents

Before you go, make copies or take pictures of all your important documents and cards. These include your passport, driver's license, and the front and back of the debit and credit cards you will be bringing. This step can be helpful in case your passport or wallet is lost or stolen. Store these copies separately from the originals (and accessible without your phone!) by locking them in your hotel safe or upload to a secure, password-protected online storage service. 

Other Ways to Have a Safe, Enjoyable Trip

According to the Global Peace Index, many popular travel destinations are considered safer than the U.S., but other destinations might carry some risks for travelers. Check out the Travel Advisories from the U.S. Department of State for the regions you plan on visiting before you go. If one is issued, read it carefully, and consider whether or not you might want to postpone your trip. Below you’ll find a few more recommendations for things to do to keep yourself and your possessions safe while traveling.

Don’t Make Yourself a Target

Thieves in some regions make their livelihood from spotting tourists and taking advantage of their naiveté or distracted state. Here are some things you can do to prevent yourself from becoming a target:
  • Don’t engage with strangers. If someone comes up to you unexpectedly and starts talking to you in an assertive way or asks you to purchase something or make a donation, politely say “no, thank you” or “sorry” in the local language, avoid eye contact, and keep walking.
  • Ask the front desk at your hotel to point out neighborhoods or other areas to avoid. 
  • Keep your valuables, including expensive or flashy jewelry, devices, and cash, in your hotel room or out of sight, especially when traveling to crowded places. Use the safe in your room. If your room has no safe, but you trust the hotel, ask them if they have a safe at the front desk you can use.
  • If you are in an area where tourists are frequently preyed upon, try to blend in. Avoid obvious photo snapping, having open maps, and other overt signs that you aren’t local.
  • When traveling on public transit, hold your bags on your lap. The same goes for outdoor, street-side dining.

Use reputable transportation companies

Research taxi companies before you arrive at your destination, and use only the ones with a solid reputation or good reviews. If you're ride-sharing with apps like Uber or Lyft, double check your driver's vehicle information and verify their name before you get in the car with them. Having reliable transportation can also make the difference between missing and catching a flight.

Keep your friends and family updated

Whether you’re going on an overnight jaunt or a month-long international journey, it’s always a good idea to let friends or family back home know your plans. Before you leave, send a copy of your itinerary to a few trusted people who can keep tabs on your whereabouts. Check in regularly with your contacts so they know your location, keeping them notified of any potential changes.

Don’t hesitate to reach out for help

Most importantly, whether it’s to the front desk at your hotel, your driver, or in case of emergency, your closest US Embassy, don’t be afraid to reach out for assistance if you encounter any hiccups along your trip. No matter where you are, you are likely going to find a friendly face to give you directions or help you navigate your travels.

If you are planning on taking a trip soon, contact us at First National Bank and Trust before you go to find out how we can help make your travels go more smoothly!