Tag Archives: travel

Credit Card Travel Notification

If you’re going to travel internationally, you’ll want to let your credit card provider know ahead of time so they don’t automatically flag your first international transaction as fraud.

UPDATE (March 29, 2016): I am not a bank or credit card company, I don’t want to know what your travel plans are, please call the number on the back of your cards.

American Express is pretty sweet in that you don’t need to let them know – they started as “the” travel card for Americans, and it’s still very widely used in business travel. It’s not very useful for most non-business transactions though – like paying for a hostel, or pulling money out of an ATM.

ATM Cards

Call your bank and let them know your travel plans in as much detail as you know (I’m going to be in this country on this date, and I’m planning on being home on this date…) They will mark your account so you can continue using it. ATMs also generally offer the best exchange rate, so make sure you’ve got an ATM card that works in the country you’re traveling to! The only issue I’ve ever had is that some of the ATMs in Japan require a 6 digit PIN vs the standard US 4 digit PIN. But, the ATMs at Narita airport and at all 7-11s will take US ATM cards with no problems. In rural Europe, you might run into ATM machines (and automated gas pumps,etc) that will only accept the Chip and PIN card, which only one US bank issues that I know of (Chase) – and it’s kind of in beta. If you need a Chip and PIN card, you can get a pre-paid one through AAA and Travelex. If you’re sticking to the big cities, you shouldn’t need to worry about it.

Other Credit Cards

Some have online travel notification (USAA), others you’ll need to call the issuer. It’s the same as with ATMs, you’ll need to let them know your itinerary. And if you have any authorized users on your account that will not be traveling with you, make sure they know that.


International transaction fees are usually about 3% for most credit cards, but there are several that are designed for frequent international travelers that do not charge the transaction fee (Pentagon Federal is the big one here that charges no fees). American Express charges a 3% transaction fee – despite being a “traveler’s card”. My bank (PNC) will refund any international ATM fee (usually $4), but will charge me 3% if I use it as a Visa card.

Usually, the best option is to pull out as much cash from an ATM as you think you will need at once, where there’s a flat fee on the ATM withdrawal instead of a percentage fee on each use. If you travel a lot, look into the options which do not charge transaction fees. I’ve yet to get a card that is transaction fee free, but I tend to use cash when traveling (except for business expenses, then I expense the 3% transaction fee for the corporate AMEX).

International Travel and Cell Phones

When you have a cell phone, you feel a bit lost without it – especially if it’s a smartphone with a data plan.  So, what can you do when you travel overseas?

Pre-paid SIMs

If you have an MVNO (Republic, Straight Talk, Ting, etc), your best bet is to get a SIM card in the country you are traveling to once you get there.  I used to use ekit.com to pre-buy my international SIM card for travel, but that’s more expensive than buying a pre-paid card when you get to where you’re going – I needed to give folks my phone number ahead of time, so the ekit route was best for me.  One thing to watch out for is that some countries require you to be a citizen to legally buy a SIM card (India), and you might not be able to get one at your destination.  It’s worth checking out before you go.

International Roaming

A second option, and one which I’ve used on short trips (2-4 days) is to just enable international roaming on your cell phone plan (free on AT&T), and pay per minute, per text, or per kb for what you use.  If you’ve switched your cell phone plan to an MVNO, this won’t apply to you, since you can’t roam internationally (and one reason I haven’t jumped the AT&T ship). In Europe, AT&T charges $1.69/minute and in Asia it’s $2.50/minute for talking – including a call going to voicemail! Everywhere I’ve been is $0.50 for an outgoing text message (SMS not MMS), and incoming text messages count against your domestic plan.  I generally encourage folks to text me rather than call me.

Data on international roaming is umm.. expensive to say the least.  I used my phone to check in on four-square once in Belgium on a per kb basis, and it ended up costing me almost $50 (and I had data disabled for that entire trip, except that one check-in….)  So, if you want to use data, I suggest you follow my next option.

International Data/Talk/Text Plan

With AT&T (at least), you can enable this for as little as a month, so if you’re traveling for 2 weeks or more and want data, I suggest you go this route.  I pay $30/mth for 120MB of data.  I was in Switzerland for 3 weeks last year, and didn’t use all of the 120MB I had available – and I used my phone for train tickets, GPS maps, etc.  I tried to keep the data usage down by turning off push, and forcing manual syncing of everything, but I certainly used my data.

I have this option enabled for September and my current international travel. The data you use internationally does not “count” against your domestic plan, so you basically get an additional 120MB above and beyond what you already pay for – as long as it’s used outside the US.  If you’re a very heavy data user, you can also pay for more, and as you go up in MB, the price per kb goes down.

In previous trips, I have not ever paid for an international talk plan, but on this trip I am.  A minute in Singapore and Malaysia is $2.50/minute without a plan, and I expect to spend at least 5-10 minutes on the phone while I’m traveling to sync up with folks I’m meeting.  AT&T offered a 15 minute plan for $30 – which works out to $2/minute, and any additional minutes are also $2/minute in Asia – and less in Canada.  I get to expense all this, so it’s not that big of a deal for me to add the 15 minutes.

The data plan, I’d add even if I weren’t traveling for business and getting to expense things.  I’d choose to pay for it myself, especially in Europe where a lot of things happen on mobile devices (train tickets, airline tickets/checkin, etc).  It was very nice buying my SBB tickets from the station platform!


Over the next two weeks, I will be in 6 countries, not counting the US.  I plan on keeping up with a posting schedule, but things may have strange hours.  For the first week, I’ll be working in Singapore and Malaysia, and transiting through Japan, Thailand (Bangkok), and Germany.  This will be the first time I’ve been to either of those countries and Thailand – but really, an hour in the airport doesn’t really count as “visiting” a country.  Even though the flight schedule is pretty grueling, I hope to get to see a few things while I’m there.

The following week, I’ll be in Canada on vacation with Dad.  This will be our first vacation for more than a weekend without Daughter Person since she was born over 2.5 years ago.  We’re going to Niagara Falls and Toronto, and it just happens to be during Niagara-on-the-Lake’s wine festival…. (Really, we didn’t plan it that way).

The fun part is that my flight from Asia returns to the states at about 12:30pm on Friday the 20th, and that night, we drive to Grammy’s to drop off Daughter Person – I’m going to have a messed up body clock for a while.  On the plus side, I’m getting about 30k miles on Star Alliance towards my gold status for next year!  And I’m pretty sure after this trip, I’m going to need to get more pages in my passport before I can go anywhere else.

Mileage Run successful!

Dad and I returned on Sunday from my mileage run, and United already has me as a Gold member 🙂 I had to immediately turn around and drive to Grandma’s hometown for work – so I picked up Daughter Person on that trip. We just got back this afternoon. We missed Daughter Person, and she most definitely missed us, she wouldn’t let go of me while I was at Grandma’s. She wasn’t quite as excited to see Dad though.

She and I managed the 4 hours drive with very few problems. I bought her a magna-doodle which is designated as “car-only”, and she played with that for a while before falling asleep right before my planned stop. I didn’t need to stop, so I wasn’t going to wake her. She woke up about 10 miles before the next convenient stop. She gave me a bit of hassle about getting back in her carseat, but she eventually did and then she played with the magna-doodle for the next hour and a half until we got home. I had to run an errand before a certain time though – and I couldn’t bribe her into the car. Luckily, Dad was working from home and was able to watch her for the 15 minutes it took me to get to the post office and back.

Home at Last

I’ve spent the last three weeks in Europe (mostly Switzerland), where the food is really expensive.  I’m glad to be home to see Daughter Person and Dad – I actually missed her. I’m also glad that we had food in the freezer – I went to the grocery Sunday morning and only bought fresh stuff, knowing that there was plenty of food in the freezer.

According to the freezer inventory, we have a whole ton of food still left – however, Dad admitted that he wasn’t very good at marking things off when he used them, so we’ve got a bit of a guessing game over the next few months.  I think we can make it through November without having to make a meat run at Costco.  I will probably make a mini run in late November, early December, and make a new (much smaller) batch of meals to last us through the holidays – if I need to.

Our bank account is a little bit lighter until I get paid at the end of the month since I used cash for a lot of things, and I pulled it out at the ATM (from our account).  I get reimbursed for it (including all foreign transaction fees and conversion fees), and I could ask my boss for a check before my paycheck, but it’s not that big of a deal.  Thanks to YNAB, we can float the difference until my paycheck with no problems.  It did mean however, that we won’t be paying as much to debt this month as I would like, but we’ll be making up for it next month thanks to the additional money in my paycheck.

Detailed Financial Picture – October 2012

September’s numbers

As of October 3, 2012, we are $488,942.73 in debt (that includes the mortgage).  Without the mortgage, we’re at $60,645.81 in debt.  This includes credit cards, student loans, lines of credit and an auto loan.  We currently have $871,433.15 in assets (including our house).  Our retirement accounts are at $240,861.17.  This doesn’t include my September paycheck deduction or match – that doesn’t get deposited until the 15th of the month.

We paid off more last month than I was expecting given our ride through August, but not as much as I would have liked to.  The beginning of September saw us spending a lot of money on groceries, but the end of September and the beginning of October will slow down as I travel.  The accounts get drained a bit, but I get paid back at the end of October for anything I paid out of pocket (except souvenirs, etc.), so by November’s numbers, we’ll be equal.  Most of Dad’s extra paycheck went to rebuild savings after August, and some of October’s budget includes paying our savings back first, so it’ll be another “slow” month in the debt repayment department.  Hopefully, November has us back on track for throwing more money at the line of credit – I’d really like to see if we can pay it off by the end of February.

I sold a few things before I started traveling, and added some money, but not much.  I had to slow down on selling things as I started traveling, as I’m not going to be around to meet people, and I’m not going to ask that Dad does it in addition to everything he’s already doing.  I should get back on track when I get home and get to breathe a little.

The beginning half of October should see a decline in general spending as well, since I’ll still be traveling, and not spending money on gas, etc.  Dad should also be relatively light on the groceries since he has plenty of food in the freezer.

Obviously our retirement accounts did well this month – we didn’t add $20,000 to them from our paychecks.  Hopefully, they continue to do well and we can retire happy – someday.

Debt (in the order we’re paying it down):

  • Line of credit (8.75%): $12,214.22  (-768.34)
  • Student loans (aggregated 5.52%): $14,600.63  (-153.86)
  • Chase (4.99% for life): $6,915.17  (-69.96)
  • Car loan (0%): $26,915.79 (-490.00)
  • Mortgage (4.125%): $428,296.92 (-622.49)

Total paid off in September: $2,104.65


We took Daughter Person to Hersheypark this weekend.  We met two friends who we ride roller coasters with all the time.  They’re Daughter Person’s “godparents” as well, so they like hanging out with her.  It took forever to get there on Friday evening, and Daughter Person didn’t go to sleep until 10pm.  Then she decided to wake up at 5am on Saturday morning (ugh!).  We took her out to play around the hotel as our friends woke up and got ready, and then we headed to World of Chocolate as soon as it opened.  She really enjoyed the singing cows on the “ride”.

As soon as the park opened, I went with one of our friends to ride Skyrush, the new ride – quite nice, but a little painful, while Dad went with our other friend and Daughter Person to the kiddie rides.
Daughter Person’s favorite ride?  The tilt-a-whirl – not a kiddie ride.  She didn’t really want to ride the kiddie rides after that and gave us a look of “really, is this it?” when we put her on them.  She’ll be fun as soon as she is tall enough to ride on the bigger rides.  She’s already pretty short though, so it’ll be a long time 🙁

She managed to snooze in the stroller, and we stayed at the park until 8pm – which we were pleased with.  We took advantage of their parent swap program to ride some of the bigger rides.  It was way too crowded for Dad and I, but she enjoyed it, and we’re looking forward to taking her back again next year.


The last week has been one exercise in staying awake after another.  I finally have a break while traveling.

We spent the weekend at a friend’s cabin at a lake – with no air-conditioning.  I’m OK with heat as long as it’s not muggy and there’s shade available.  There was shade – but it was *very* muggy, and I was very uncomfortable.  Daughter Person ended up with a heat rash – along with Hand, Foot and Mouth (for the third time!).  I took off Monday to take her to the doctor to confirm it, and then spent the day driving her to grandma’s for the week.  We were planning on going to grandma’s this upcoming weekend anyway, so now it’s just Dad and I driving alone without Daughter Person.  I’ve spent way too long in a car the last few days.

Today, I took a day trip to Raleigh, NC for work – I left on an 8:30 am flight, and I’m sitting in the airport now waiting for my flight home.

I expected to be tired from having a child, but never this level of exhaustion.  I sleep well – mostly because I’m so tired that I just pass out in bed as soon as I lay down.  I’m ready for a mental health week.  I’m going to take a week stay cation, take Daughter Person to daycare, and let Dad go to work, then stay home and have the whole house to myself!