It’s easy to get confused while traveling—and it’s even easier for any “mistakes” you make to result in a fee or ticket of some kind.
Luckily, you can easily avoid many of these hidden costs if you look up rules, customs, and common fees for each city you’re traveling to, as well as for each company or bank you’re utilizing.
Check out three fees I’ve personally run into—and tips for how to avoid each.
1. Money Exchange Costs
On my current trip, the first thing I did at my departing airport was make a terrible financial mistake—and I wasn’t even in a foreign country yet! I changed all my U.S. dollars into Euros at the American Express currency exchange office.
I did zero research beforehand, so I should have walked away. However, after initiating the transaction, I felt roped in, and I was too shy to decline the exchange. Somehow, I lost about $30 in fees.
Instead of changing cash at the airport (like I did), look up banks in your destination city that have a partnership with your bank at home. Then, when you withdraw money, get a week’s worth of cash and keep it somewhere safe (like a hostel locker or a money belt under your clothes). Making fewer withdrawals in total will keep your fees to a minimum. But don’t take out too much money at once—just in case.
Also, if you’re lucky enough to have a trusted friend or family member living in the country you are visiting, you can transfer them money for free through online banking or PayPal. Then, they can withdraw cash from their account for you. This is the cheapest method I’ve found yet!
2. Airline Baggage Overages
Most airlines have limitations for the amount and weight of your luggage. And while your transatlantic flight might have high limits, budget airlines for traveling between European countries won’t.
On Ryanair, each checked bag costs around €25 (~$34) when you book your ticket. If you check a bag last minute, they up that charge to €50. I booked a flight from Berlin to London for just €25, so bringing an oversize suitcase without booking it in advance would cost as much as two additional plane tickets! Since I plan to return to Berlin, I’m leaving a bunch of my stuff with a friend there to avoid these fees.
Check your airline’s rules carefully. If you are able to leave home with just a carry on, then you should be able to use budget airlines without paying extra baggage fees.
3. Public Transportation Fare Evasion Fees
In Berlin and some other European cities, you can get on the train or bus without tapping or swiping a card. In Berlin, you’re supposed to buy a ticket and validate it with a time stamp before you ride the train. Now, if you really need to save money, you might think it seems easy enough to take a free ride. You might even “get away with it” a few times—until a control officer (dressed in plain clothes) asks for your ticket.
If you fail to show a valid ticket, you will be charged a fine of €40 (~$54) on the spot. There’s no mercy for tourists who don’t speak the local language, and if you don’t have the money, you must provide your passport number and home address. If you don’t pay the fine, it could cause problems if you ever try to return to the country.
However, watch for fraudulent control officers. My best friend was caught in Budapest without a ticket, by a man she suspects was impersonating a control officer (he had no ID badge).
Ultimately, the best way to avoid fare-evasion fees, whether they’re charged by a real official or not, is to make sure you have a ticket! If you ride trains and busses frequently, buy a full day pass or weekly pass, depending on how long you’ll be there, to save money.
What hidden costs have you discovered when traveling abroad? Tell us in the comments!