When you start college, there is probably going to be travel involved. Unless you’re going to a college that happens to be right there in your hometown, you’re going to be heading for another city three times a year and home again three more times.
But this is not what most of us consider traveling to be. There is nothing very mind-broadening about going from A to B. It’s not like, say, visiting the Grand Canyon, followed by a week surfing at Steamer Lane, Santa Cruz. It is nothing at all like taking one of the world’s great rail journeys such as the Orient Express, or The Ghan, that runs up through the wilds of Australia.
But all forms of travel have certain things in common, and one of them is paying your way. Even if your tickets are all taken care of, there will be food and drink to buy, maybe accommodation and certainly unexpected expenses.
Yes, you can expect the unexpected, from being charged extra by an airline because you haven’t printed a copy of your booking to finding yourself in the same place as your favorite singer and simply having to get a ticket.
All of this means one thing: you’ve got to have credit card, and that sounds simple enough, but there is a bewildering variety of them. Even if you haven’t been doing it already, you are now about to start managing your own money, and that means you have to tackle the finances head on right away.
You’re going to need to find a card that will give you sufficient credit, which may be a struggle since you don’t have a credit rating yet because you’ve never had a bank account.
Maybe the place to start is, if you have a student loan, asking the lender about it. They will at least know your story, your history, and have an idea of your family circumstances.
Banks don’t like giving money to strangers. They need reassurance that they’re going to get it back. But if your student loan people don’t come up with the goods, all is not lost. Hit the internet and look for something like credit card options for students.
As you know, whatever you’re looking for, there is almost always someone out there who’s got it, so give it a whirl.
Learn the Terminology
One of the best travel tips is learning the niche language that surrounds travel in general. What’s a cashback card? What is APR? How about a credit transfer deal?
Again, you’d better hit the net and start learning all these terms and expressions to see if what you’re getting yourself into is a good idea or not. Financial institutions live in a world full of their own jargon, and at the very least you need to know how much interest you’re going to be paying and over what period.
Don’t wander in there like a lamb to the slaughter; get yourself clued up on the jargon so you’re less likely to get shafted. It might seem like they’re doing you a favor, but they’re trying to make a living just like everybody else, so there is going to be plenty in it for them, not just you.
There will be benefits as well, though. Some cards and bank accounts come with travel and health insurance, and even if their charges seem steep, those sorts of things can be well worth having.
The chief alternative to the credit card is its humble kid brother, the debit card. With one of these, you don’t borrow anything, so you don’t have to pay anything back. It’s linked to your bank account, so if there’s money in that, you can spend it.
With a little foresight and discipline, you can earn money through a vacation or weekend job and load your account with that.
One disadvantage of these is that if you’re going to rent a car on your travels, they will reserve a hefty sum they can draw on in case you total the thing. That will put a block of several hundred dollars on the card, which you can’t touch until you return the car undamaged.
Before You Plan, Do the Math
This brave new world you’re about to enter is a relentlessly pragmatic thing. You don’t get much for free out there, and if you’re going to be spending a lot of money, make sure it’s doable.
Budgeting is a fact of life: you have to live within your means, and borrowing is not in itself a bad thing, so long as you can pay it back when you’ve agreed to.
Let’s get one thing clear: getting credit is borrowing, but not like taking $25 from your Mom and giving her back just that $25 when you get paid. It’s paying back significantly more than the 25 and if you don’t, there are consequences.