It’s that time of the year again: time to escape your workplace and the daily din. But to make it really relaxing, you need to be cautious while planning for it.
Setbacks can come in any form. Cameras without memory cards, unexplained cancellation of hotel bookings, loss of critical documents when your luggage goes missing at the airport, credit cards that don’t work where you are holidaying and SIM cards that seem to have slipped into a temporary coma are problems that most travellers have faced at one time or another.
While some of these can be managed if you are travelling within the country, they can become big spoilers if you are holidaying abroad. Here are three broad things you need to be careful about to sort out your basic needs.
You don’t want to run out of cash in the middle of your holiday. A basic plan to counter such a situation is estimating the cost of the trip. But don’t be conservative and stick to it; always keep extra for contingencies. Here’s where the mode of carrying becomes important.
Carrying cash is fraught with risk. Besides, according to the Reserve Bank of India, you can carry only $3000 in cash while travelling to most countries.
While you may need cash for immediate expenses such as commuting, it’s better to carry money in a combination of instruments: the options are prepaid forex cards, credit and debit cards and travellers’ cheque. “If you plan to be away for a week or more, consider a “portfolio” of payment options. Just as you wouldn’t invest all your savings in one stock or bond, you don’t want to tie up all your travel money in one form of payment. Each form of payment has its advantages and together they create worry-free travel,” says Lakshman Pandey, director, prepaid travel payment, South Asia-South East Asia, Australia, New Zealand, American Express.
When you are in an unknown location, carry less cash because there are chances of getting mugged or pick-pocketed. You can opt for traveller’s cheques and encash the same at a money changer after showing your passport for signature verification. They are safer than cash and if lost or stolen can be replaced.
Says Noel Swain, executive vice-president, supplier relations, Cleartrip.com, online travel agency, “I look into combinations of international currency. For example if you are in Thailand when you are exchanging money into Bath it first gets exchanged into dollar and then Bath. It’s better to convert rupees into dollars and carry a combination of currency notes and travellers cheques. However, carry small amounts in the local currency for emergencies.”
When shopping or going to restaurants or malls, you can use either prepaid cards or travellers cheques. “If you want to make large purchases, you can use cards,” says Pandey. Prepaid cards are easy and convenient to use as you only need to remember a PIN (personal identification number) and all VISA outlets accept them. Moreover, if you are running out of cash, you can always call back your friends or relatives and get more money uploaded on the card.
But prepaid cards have costs attached. Apart from issuing fee that you pay at the time of buying, there are other charges. For instance, in Axis Bank’s travel currency card, you will have to pay $2 or €1.5 for withdrawal at an ATM. Similarly, if you use HDFC’s Forexplus Card for the US, then you will pay $2 for ATM cash withdrawal and $0.50 for balance enquiry.
Another option is to use debit and credit cards but you would end up paying extra on surcharges for every withdrawal. “Carrying money through debit and credit cards internationally is not a very cheap option. The conversion and withdrawal charges are fairly high compared with other options,” says Ashish Kishore, vice-president, leisure business, Yatra.com, a travel portal. HDFC Bank on its Gold Credit charges a conversion rate of 3.5% and a withdrawal charge of 2.5% of the amount withdrawn or Rs 300, whichever is higher. If you use HDFC’s international debit card, then the transaction charge is Rs 15 per balance enquiry and Rs 110 per cash withdrawal plus taxes.
However, if you are travelling in interior areas, where accessibility of a bank or a money exchanger would be a problem, carry enough cash in local currency.
Calling back home
Even when holidaying, you need to make certain calls home—whether to update on your parents’ health or to connect with family and friends.
Using the roaming facility on your cellphone while on a foreign trip may not be the best strategy in terms of costs. A good option would be carrying international SIM cards or calling cards.
Calling cards are like prepaid cards and work like a recharge voucher. For instance, Airtel sells vouchers in denominations of Rs 300, Rs 500 and Rs 1,000, as per their website. If you use the Airtel card while in the US to make calls back home, it would cost you Rs 8 per minute compared with Rs 143 per minute from your local SIM card. Similarly, a call from Australia would cost you Rs 11 if made through a calling card compared with Rs 159 from your local SIM card, according to their website.
When calling, punch in the 14-digit number printed on your calling card (it’s a scratch card) before dialling the number you want to connect to. One disadvantage you face with calling cards is the fact that they can be used only for outgoing calls.
International SIM cards are country-specific cards that are compatible to any Indian handset. Though they have to be bought in India, they are ready to use as soon as you arrive in another country. Companies such as Clay Telecom and Matrix Cellular (International) Services provide international SIM cards.
While Clay Telecom has both prepaid and post-paid options, Matrix provides only post-paid.
Says Gaurav Dhawan, executive director, Clay Telecom, “If you are using your local number from India, it may cost you about Rs 80-150 per minute for calling back to India depending on the connection you have and destination you are visiting, while you may pay about Rs 40-50 per minute if you use Clay Telecom’s international SIM card.”
To get an international prepaid SIM card from Clay Telecom with a talk time of Rs 400, you will have to pay an upfront charge ofRs 1,800. For the post-paid card, you will be charged a security fee of Rs 10,000. You need to use your credit card to make the payment.
Since Matrix offers only post-paid cards, you can pay after you come back from your trip. Matrix offers country-specific SIM and data cards for at least 30 countries.
Securing your trip
Even if you plan your trip to the last detail, you cannot account for unforeseen emergencies, medical or otherwise. Travel insurance can take care of such emergencies, at least financially. While you cannot travel to certain countries without travel insurance, it is a must even if you are travelling to countries that do not make it compulsory for you to buy insurance.
A travel insurance policy covers many exigencies other than reimbursement of medical expenses. The policy can cover accidental death and disability, loss of luggage, loss of passport, baggage delay, trip delay, trip cancellation, missed connection, dental relief, personal liability, emergency medical evacuation and more. Different insurance companies offer different benefits.
The price of your cover will depend on the sum insured, location, age and duration of your stay. The sum insured can range between $50,000 and $5 lakh and the cover will cost you at least Rs 500 and go up to as much as Rs 30,000 or even above.
Typically, insurers divide the area of coverage into three parts—Asia, the US and Canada and the rest of the world. The cover for the US and Canada is more expensive.
If you have taken a travel package, your operator may also offer travel insurance. Check what the operator is offering before settling for it.
However, watch out for certain aspects. “Make sure that the insurer has a local office or a representative in the country of travel and has a network of hospitals where you can get cashless treatment. If a person of higher age is a co-traveller, it is important that the fine print is studied carefully,” says Rahul Aggarwal, director, Optima Insurance Brokers.
While these three aspects will keep your holiday broadly worry-free, make sure you plan your holiday well to enjoy it.