How I manage money on the road

If you’re in New Zealand, you know we don’t get a lot of choice when it comes to credit cards. Even the special travel cards that you can buy and load up with money come with a whole host of fees. Figuring out how we would handle money overseas took up a LOT of my time before we left. After reviewing our options, I was pretty thoroughly depressed. I looked into individual credit cards at many banks as well as several travel cards that you can load and reload, like the Travelex Cash Passport. They all charged astronomical fees, and often there’d be an outrageous charge simply to obtain and activate in the first place. And then I came across the Air NZ Onesmart debit card.

Another Kiwi blogger has covered the ins and outs of the Air NZ Onesmart card for travel pretty comprehensively. I’ll let her extensive overview speak for itself, but in a nutshell:

  • $2 fee to load funds.
  • It’s easy to avoid the monthly fee as long as you’re regularly using the card.
  • No fees for electronic transactions; first three cash withdrawals a month are free.
  • You can store money in different virtual currency wallets on the card, move it around, and lock in exchange rates that way. (That means no crappy currency conversion rates or extra fees at the point of withdrawal from an ATM, unless you are in a country with an unsupported currency.)  Or you can leave it to chance and take whatever the exchange rate is on the day that you make a purchase/withdrawal.

I’m convinced the Air NZ Onesmart card is the best option currently out there for Kiwis travelling overseas for a long period of time, and it’s definitely a much better one than my normal credit card, which charges $8 per withdrawal plus conversion fees. Plus Air NZ often has promotions where you can join the Airpoints scheme (and get a Onecard) for free, which I took advantage of.

How do I manage our finances while travelling? Well, my money system on the road looks something like:

  • Transfer funds from my bank account to my Onesmart card
  • Move cash around to the relevant currency ‘wallet’, ideally when the exchange rate is high (a few cents probably doesn’t make all that much difference, but it makes me feel competent , okay? My new thrill is opening up my daily email update from xe.com. Seriously)
  • Withdraw cash as needed every few days

As for tracking our spending, I swear by the Trail Wallet app. It costs a couple of dollars and is worth every cent. Trail Wallet keeps a running daily and monthly total, tells you how you’re faring budget-wise, and generates colourful monthly graphs breaking down your spending by category. The Trail Wallet app can handle multiple currencies – I enter expenses in the local currency and it converts them to the NZ equivalent. You need to be online if you want to change your currency, i.e if you’re moving between countries and need to switch from, say, pounds to euros – but otherwise you can input transactions at any time. You probably carry your phone everywhere anyway, so whipping it out to record purchases isn’t a big stretch.

How do you manage your money while travelling?

6 thoughts on “How I manage money on the road

  1. I guess this is one area where it pays to be an American. I use my Chase Sapphire Preferred card everywhere I can outside the US. No foreign transaction fees. It gives me an almost perfect exchange rate, and I get double points for hotels, travel fares, and dining.

    For local currency (euros, NZD, pounds, etc) I use my Charles Schwab Checking account if I’m travelling for fun. The Schwab account refunds all ATM fees and again has almost an exact exchange rate. If I’m travelling for work, I take cash advances at local ATMs from my government travel card.

    Between the Sapphire and the Schwab card (or gov’t travel card), I’m getting the best exchange rate you can without buying $1,000,000 on the forex market AND not paying any fees. A good deal if you can get it.

    I tried getting the Air NZ Onesmart card when I signed up for my Air NZ Airpoints scheme. I got stuck when I had to provide a copy of NZ drivers license :( I haven’t quite reached that level of Kiwi-ness yet!

  2. I’m so glad you mentioned Trail Wallet! I found the app a few months ago (we used to just try and record every expense on a ‘notepad’ previously) and it has changed our spending habits so much. With a boyfriend who is an accountant – he loves keeping note of our travel expenses, and trail wallet makes it SO easy to do so while on the go. I’ve introduced it to so many family and friends and they all love it.

  3. This is something that I have always thought about. We haven’t traveled to a country that doesn’t use US Dollars yet, but we plan on changing that soon.

  4. I did a lot of research into ATM and credit card fees, too, before I traveled from the US to Spain a couple years ago. http://awindycitygal.wordpress.com/2011/01/24/international-travel-and-banking-part-2/

    When I get to Scotland next month I think I can actually take my Discover card with me. There’s been a relationship established between Diners Club and Discover card that allows for use wherever Diners Club is taken and involves no fees. I may just test it.

    Also, since I wrote this I’ve established accounts at Ally bank online. I think they also do not charge fees for using ATMs outside the US, so I may be able to use my Ally card instead of my credit union debit card.

    Either way, the crazy fees really irritate me. I understand there are costs to doing business which is why Visa and Mastercard (who are handling all the transactions) charge a small fee. When banks add fees on top of that, though, it just seems greedy to me.

  5. CommentI have a 0% on ATM withdrawals and 0 commission card which is awesome, I would love to have miles and hotel nights but it is worth more to pay nothing on foreign currency.

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