The Worst Money Mistakes to Make on Vacation

Don't let thefts, accidents and overpriced meals ruin your getaway

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When you’re on vacation, it’s easy to get lazy about guarding your money. But vacationers can be prime targets for scam artists, overpriced meals and simple errors that result in lost cash. Here are six money mistakes to avoid while you’re on vacation:

1. Falling victim to credit card fraud. When you’re using your credit card multiple times a day in new locations, you can be more vulnerable to fraudsters trying to steal your personal information. The best defense is to keep a close eye on charges made to your account, even while traveling, by logging in online. (Just be sure to use a secure Internet connection and avoid shared computers.) If you see anything suspicious, call your card provider right away.

Card companies are also looking for anomalies. To prevent them from shutting down your card unnecessarily, let your card provider know before you jet off on vacation. Spending large amounts in a new location can trigger a red flag alert that puts providers on notice that your card might have been stolen – but the charges might be legitimate ones stemming from your getaway. To prevent any potential confusion, tell your provider where you’re going before you leave.

2. Getting scammed by traditional thieves. Certain cities in Europe are notorious for pickpocketing, but it can happen anywhere. To safeguard your wallet, purse and other valuables, travel expert and television host Rick Steves recommends wearing a money belt around your waist, leaving fancy jewelry at home and staying vigilant, especially in crowds.

3. Overspending on incidentals. Comparison shopping before you leave through travel websites can help you keep the big costs, such as plane fare and hotel expenses, to a minimum. But the smaller daily expenditures can also add up quickly. Consider bringing your own snack bars and water bottles for refreshments while you’re on the road, and look for hotels that offer free breakfast.

4. Buying a timeshare. For resort visitors, it can be a tempting scene: Timeshare salespeople offer free meals and other goodies in exchange for listening to a timeshare pitch. They encourage you to buy partial ownership in a vacation home or condo. Some people are swayed enough to actually make the purchase, which can come with unexpected financial risks.

As U.S. News has reported, timeshare owners pay a lump sum upfront (an average of $19,000 for a one-week per year stay) plus annual maintenance fees of $660. If they need to sell the timeshare later, it’s not always easy find a buyer, and then they’re stuck with the property and the annual fees.

5. Spending too much on food. When you’re far away from your kitchen, it’s not easy to cook up affordable meals. And eating out three times a day quickly adds up to huge costs. To keep those expenses down, consider renting an apartment through a website such as vrbo.com, so you can guarantee yourself access to a kitchen. That way, you can plan on eating at least one or two meals a day in your temporary home.

6. Paying unexpected medical costs. Driving on new roads can increase your chances of an accident, just as exposure to new germs can leave you ill far from home. Almost half the medical evacuations back to the United States among Americans traveling abroad are caused by car crashes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Medical evacuations typically cost $100,000 and up.) Driving carefully, wearing seatbelts and avoiding nighttime drives can help reduce your risk, the CDC says. It also recommends getting all recommended vaccines in advance of overseas travel to help reduce the chances of illness.

When you’re traveling in unfamiliar territory, it pays to keep your guard up.

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