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Special section Jump into travel

Memories may be free but vacations generally aren't. Here's how to save some money on your travels.

How to afford it

20 savvy tips for using plastic on vacation

It's the vacation version of the old grocery store conundrum: cash or plastic?

For most instances a credit card is the best bet when you travel, hands down. But when you want to get a little spending money, an ATM card is a great resource.

Here are a few tips to smooth out the financial wrinkles and give you that hassle-free vacation you've been planning:

Save when using plastic
1. Select cards for overseas use. 11. Beware of double billing.
2. Ask about fees in advance. 12. Watch out for tip hogs.
3. Carry lost/theft phone number. 13. Clarify purchase guarantees.
4. Tell card issuer your plans. 14. Remember cards are safest.
5. Prepare for emergencies. 15. Check for ATM networks.
6. Take cards from two banks. 16. Obey your limits.
7. Check limits and expirations date. 17. Leave debit cards at home.
8. Keep all your receipts. 18. Use ATMs for cash.
9. Try to use just one card. 19. Check out ATMS first.
10. Make sure certain card is accepted. 20. Remember: card has to be paid.

Credit cards
1. Select cards for overseas use. For an international trip, find which cards you'll be able to use. In certain parts of the world, some cards will be accepted more widely than others, says Clark Howard, co-author of "Get Clark Smart: The Ultimate Guide to Getting Rich from America's Money-Saving Expert." Check a couple of good guidebooks to find out which cards will give you the most options in that area.

2. Ask about fees in advance. If you're leaving the U.S., ask about fees. Call the issuing bank and find what kind of fees it charges for using the card outside the U.S. Many institutions charge additional fees -- flat rate, percentage or both -- for foreign transactions. "Most people don't think to ask, or know to ask," says Howard.

Look for a foreign currency exchange fee or foreign transaction fee, says Howard. What can be really galling: Some banks will add them to the bill even if the merchant conducts the transaction in U.S. dollars. Take the cards that will cost you the least to use. If you belong to a credit union, see if its credit card might offer a better deal on overseas travel.

Even if you think you know your credit card bank's policies, check again. "A number of major credit card issuers recently made substantial increases to the nature and amount of the fees they charge for foreign transactions," says Edward Hasbrouck, author of "The Practical Nomad" travel series.

In some cases, you'll face a similar situation with ATM transactions. If there is a flat fee on every transaction, that string of little credit card charges can really skyrocket.

-- Updated: June 21, 2007
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