3 money mistakes I made traveling abroad

Written by

Jonathan McFadden


July 11, 2019

At least once a year, I get this overwhelming urge to travel outside the U.S. So, when a good friend paid for my flight to Auckland, New Zealand, one of my top bucket-list destinations, I couldn’t pass it up.

With the plane ticket covered, I had to figure everything else out myself: lodging, transportation, excursions, food, etc. This would be my fourth time out the country, but my first time traveling overseas alone, so I wanted to be extra vigilant about how I was spending my money.

So, naturally, I made a series of money mistakes that nearly gave me a panic attack. Here are three epic financial fails from my New Zealand trip. Hopefully, you’ll learn, laugh at my expense and never follow in my footsteps.

Suckered by a pay phone 

As soon as I landed in Auckland, my cell phone stopped working 🙃.

Days before my flight, I called my phone company to switch to a temporary international plan that would let me use my data, make calls, send texts, etc., while abroad. I told the customer service rep to activate the plan on May 10 New Zealand time. I stressed that last part.

I should’ve ensured the customer service rep knew New Zealand is about 16 hours ahead of the U.S. They didn’t 😒.

So, there I was on May 10, in a foreign country without a working phone. I found a pay phone, inserted some New Zealand coins and called my service provider. Two minutes in, the operator dropped my call and informed me I needed to pay more money 🙃🙃.

I did that two more times — never getting past the automated prompts — before trying my credit card. It worked. Twenty minutes later, my data was on and I managed to hail an Uber. Then, I found a charge on my credit card from New Zealand’s phone company: $90 for 20 minutes 🙃🙃🙃 .

Choosing the wrong prepaid card


Even though New Zealand’s very safe, I didn’t like the idea of using my debit or credit cards in a foreign country. Instead, I bought a Visa prepaid card and loaded it with cash. Good idea, right?

Welp, silly me got a card that didn’t work internationally 🤦🏽‍♂️🙄. I didn’t realize this until I tried paying for my lunch at a Thai restaurant in Auckland. I tried the card reader at the counter at least three times. It didn’t take.

The good news: I had New Zealand dollars to cover my meal. The bad news: I wouldn’t be using my prepaid card at all on my trip.

In case you’re wondering, yes, I did read the back of the card before buying it. It said nothing about domestic use only 🤷🏾‍♂️.

Leaving my bank out of the loop

Brace yourself for the rookiest of all rookie mistakes (and I’m no rookie!). I forgot to call my bank and let them know I was leaving the U.S. It slipped my mind because I didn’t plan to use any of my bank cards. When traveling internationally in the past, I had only ever used cash.

This bad habit bit me in the backside once I was ready to leave Auckland’s Sky Tower nine o’clock at night. You see, I Ubered a lot in Auckland. But remember, my bank didn’t know I was there. So, at 9 p.m., Uber refused to send me a ride because it couldn’t charge my credit card 🙃🙃🙃🙃.

I can’t fault the bank. Various charges from Auckland Uber (not the actual name) showed up on my credit card within rapid succession. The bank put a fraud alert on my card and a stop on all transactions.

So, there I stood on the street, miles away from where I was staying, hyperventilating a bit and praying I could reach the bank by phone. Well, it was 5 a.m. in the U.S. The bank wasn’t open. But the third-party vendor the bank uses for fraud detection was 🙌🏾🔥🙏🏾😭! I found the number, spoke with a sympathetic customer service rep and got the hold released on my credit card.

What I should have done

All these money mistakes happened on my first day in New Zealand. The rest of the trip was amazing, but it could’ve been better had I done these three simple things before traveling:

  • Called the bank. Informing my bank of where I’d be would’ve been wise. Even if I didn’t want to use my credit card, I should’ve been prepared in case of an emergency.
  • Did more homework. I should’ve found prepaid cards that included international use as an added feature.
  • I could’ve gotten a travel rewards card. If I was going to end up using a credit card anyway, it would’ve been nice to earn some airline miles and maybe land another free flight (sans panic).