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What is the best Credit Card Combo For Long Term Travel?

There are a lot of credit card options out there.  It would be nice to have one card be your Swiss army knife of credit cards.  A single card that could satisfy all your needs.

Unfortunately no one card covers all your needs.  After several years of trial and error, I have finally come up with the best card combo for long term travel.

This combo will help you keep as much of your hard earned cash in your hands as possible.

These cards are:

  1. Simple Debit Card
  2. Charles Schwab investor checking card
  3. Wells Fargo Propel
  4. Chase Freedom unlimited
  5. Chase Sapphire Reserve

These cards all have their strengths and weaknesses, but when combined, they form a powerful team in your back pocket.

Simple Debit Card

Not a credit card.  We’ll get there, but first we need a place to store our money.  If you haven’t heard of Simple banking, let me educate you real quick.  Simple is banking 2.0.  With simple, there are no physical branches.  All your banking is done online or through the mobile app.

There is one big disadvantage. You have nowhere to make cash deposits.

While travelling I never need to bank cash deposits.  All my actions are withdrawals.  When I’m not travelling I have a local bank account for handling cash deposits.  (It’s also a good strategy to protect your money from direct deposit issuers, but that’s another story)

What makes Simple worth it though are the interest rates, and the ease of moving money around. Interest rates are 2.15% on savings over $10,000.  Most long term travelers have something around that in their account.

For ease of transfer, moving money from savings to spending is instant.  Moving money from one bank to another takes only a couple days.  All with a few taps in the mobile app.

Oh yeah and no monthly fees for account holders.  It’s free.

Now there aren’t a lot of travel specific advantages here, but the Simple card is the best place to park your non invested money.  It is the best short term savings location while travelling.

Charles Schwab investor checking card

That mistake cost me over $300!  Now I have a new card and won’t make that mistake again.

So this next card is not a credit card either.  It’s another checking account card, but with one huge super power.  The Charles Schwab Investor checking card reimburses all, I repeat, all ATM fees worldwide.

That’s huge!

There are other cards that reimburse ATM fees but they all come with a but.  Cards like Capital One 360 reimburse ATM fees, but only up to $15 per month.  Citibank reimburses fees, but only if you maintain a $200,000 balance.  Charles Schwab is but free!

Again, Charles Schwab also charges no monthly fee for account holders.and no minimum balance.

This is your go to ATM card when you need cash while travelling. You should keep enough money in this account to cover a week’s worth of ATM withdrawals.

Whenever you need to juice up your account, do an instant transfer of funds from your Simple savings to Simple checking account.  Then, transfer from Simple checking to your Charles Schwab investor account.  The whole process takes about a minute to execute and then a couple days to clear.

I lost my Schwab card half way through a seven month trip to Asia and had to use another card for ATM withdrawals.  That mistake cost me over $300!  Now I have a new card and won’t make that mistake again.

With these two accounts, you now have a one two combo to get 2.15% on short term savings, and no ATM fees.  Instead of losing money to ATMs, you’ll be earning money.

Wells Fargo Propel

Do you have a cellphone?  Then you need the Wells Fargo Propel.  This is the first true credit card on the list and a solid first move.  As long as you pay your monthly bill your phone is insured up to $600 with a $25 deductible.

Now this does mean you’ll need to hold onto your phone plan from back home.  If you plan on canceling your plan, and only using prepaid sim cards you can skip this credit card.  It really depends on how long you plan to be away.

If it will be more than a couple months, skip this card, get a SquareTrade or Upsie plan, and pickup prepaid sim cards as needed for your unlocked phone.

If you’ll be holding onto your phone plan, this is a great credit card to score some great rewards points, cover your phone insurance at the same time.  Just make sure to pay off your monthly statement each month from your Simple checking account.

All these bonuses also come with no annual fee.

Chase Sapphire Reserve

The Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card does have a nice initial spending bonus, but that bonus aside, this is a card I continue to hold on to year after year.  With this card you get all sorts of travel protection benefits to cover canceled flights, lost luggage, etc. .  On top of that you get complementary Global Entry Coverage, and Lounge access.

There are also some non-travel benefits like extended warranties, but we’re focused on travel benefits only here.

The net cost of this card is $150 per year ($450 fee with a $300 travel credit), but that fee is well worth the benefits.  A few visits to airport lounges more than covers that fee.  On top of that you get the peace of mind of knowing your travelling worry free.

Plane canceled?  Call Chase and they’ll take care of that for you.

Airline lost your luggage?  Chase will cover it.

God forbid you get terribly ill, Chase is there to cover small medical expenses.

It is important to note, you have to purchase your travel with the credit card for the benefits, and you’ll only be covered for the first 60 days.  Beyond that and you should really be looking to get general travel insurance.

You’ll also be rewarded for your spending with bonus points.  In fact they are perhaps the best bonus points in the industry.  If you spend around $1000 a month with the card, you’ll more than cover the annual fee and then all the other benefits are just cream on the top.

Reward points are mostly 1 point per dollar, but there are a few travel related categories that will get you 3x earnings.  Thanks to this card, all of my international flight expenses are covered through reward points.

Chase Freedom Unlimited

If you want to add fuel to the fire, combine the Chase Sapphire Reserve with the Chase Freedom Unlimited.

The Freedom Unlimited allows you to rack up points even faster.  Those points can be combined with the Reserve card for more spending power on things like airline tickets and hotel stays.

There’s a tiny initial spend bonus with this card as well, but the real benefit is points rack up faster with 1.5x earnings.

The Freedom Unlimited card has no annual fee so the benefits don’t add much additional risk.

I’ve tried other card combos, but for the average long term traveler this is the best setup there is.

These five cards should be in the wallet of every savvy international traveler.  Now there is one but to this combo.

You have to be disciplined with credit cards.

As long as you don’t overspend, and pay off your credit cards monthly, you’ll be fine.  It’s easy if you just turn on automatic payments, and keep an eye on your spending.

If you can’t handle the pressure of credit cards, just go for the one two punch combo of the Simple Bank and Charles Schwab bank.  You’ll still save a lot of money.

I’ve tried other card combos, but for the average long term traveler this is the best setup there is.

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