Be Wise. Take your American road trip to the next level: pay like a local!



Topics covered in this article (table of contents)

    Road trips are about having fun and exploring a different state or a new country. Everyone loves to save money but who wants to think about saving money when roadtripping? Therefore, Wise has made it so easy to save money on everyday banking for digital nomads and travellers.

    Wise? Who or what is Wise? Well, it is a fintech organisation that has been around since 2011. At the moment (2021) they have more than 10 million customers that move over £4.5 billion (US$ 6.27 billion) every month. And you probably have heard of them. TransferWise is what their name used to be before they changed it to Wise on 5 March 2021.

    So, what does Wise have to do with roadtripping and saving money? The financial products & services that Wise offers are perfect for travellers, holidaymakers and digital nomads that want to pay in shops the same way they do when at home, without hassles or fees. And the same goes for receiving money in another currency or sending money across the world. It should all be as simple and cheap as a local transfer. Wise to the rescue.

    The start of the money-saving journey

    If you think this is a story created by a marketing department or advertising agency, no worries. This is the story of my personal journey and experiences with Wise, from transferring money worldwide without high fees to their Borderless Bank Account.

    I’ll use some of my road trips as an example of how easy it is to save money on your road trip when paying for things like accommodation, fuel or groceries (without the additional fees banks charge you).

    Amazing views on your road trip in the USA
    Explore the USA by car or campervan and enjoy the amazing views

    Paying like a local in US dollars on your American road trip

    The USA is by far the best country for an amazing road trip. Yes there are lots of amazing routes in other countries but the USA is road trip heaven due to its size, variety in scenery and things to do. Most visitors can stay up to 3 months in the USA on a visa waiver (no visa needed), as long as you announce your arrival via the ESTA program (see the official website).

    The challenge for anyone from outside the USA is finding the best answer to this question… How do we pay for everyday things in US Dollars on our road trip?

    Well, the most obvious answers/solutions most travellers come up with are:

    • Exchanging (part of) their savings to the local currency! There are still lots of travellers that do this. They wait for a favourable exchange rate and then swap 1000s of Euros, NZ or AU dollars to US Dollars. Definitely not a safe option! Who wants to walk around with lots of cash in their back pocket?
    • Paying by using the credit card they got from their local bank! A much safer option but also an expensive one. These credit card payments are always done at a less-favourable exchange rate (that’s how they make money) and often an overseas usage fee is added. That’s like being punished for having fun overseas. Not a cool move from oldskool financial institutions, like regular banks and credit card companies.

    How to be Wise: pay in US Dollars without added fees

    That’s when Wise steps up to the plate with the Wise Borderless Travel Card. It's a debit card that can hold over 50 foreign currencies, so you can pay in almost any local currency. The list of supported currencies is like an ever-expanding universe, new ones are being added regularly. When I started using the Wise Travel Card it “only” supported 40 currencies, which was still 39 more than the average travel credit card. And now it's already more than 50 currencies.

    That’s the big difference between a regular credit card and the Wise debit card. A credit card is issued in one currency (your local currency) and exchanges all payments to that local currency. This means you lose out twice: an unfavourable exchange rate and a fee for using your card overseas. The latter might not happen everywhere in the world but that overseas credit card fee is still alive and kicking in Australia and New Zealand.

    With your Wise Borderless Travel Card you simple transfer your local currency to the card in one of the following ways:

    • Do a bank transfer from your bank account to a local Wise bank account, which is always free in Europe, New Zealand and lots more countries. That means that you can transfer funds to the Wise card without any costs.
    • Pay by debit card or use a debit payment like iDEAL in The Netherlands or POLi in New Zealand. This is also a fast and cheap way to get your money on your Wise card.

    As soon as you have received the money on your Wise Borderless Card, it is stored in its appropriate currency basket. EUR is stored in a EUR basket and NZD in an NZD basket etc. That’s the easiest way to understand and to see how multiple currencies can live side by side on your Wise card.

    Via the Wise app (for Android and Apple) you can then transfer the money to other currency baskets. This is done instantly and at a super low fee. If there is a fee involved, Wise always charges a fair and low fee.

    It is so fast that you can transfer money to your US Dollar basket on arrival in the USA (as soon as you have a wifi connection at the airport) and walk straight to a Starbucks, Chick-fil-A or another food chain to purchase a snack and pay in USD, without any fees whatsoever. It is like having an American bank card.

    How much money will you save when can pay in the local currency?

    A lot of travellers don’t realise how much money is wasted on unfavourable exchange rates and overseas payment fees when using a traditional credit card or debit card when travelling.

    When you are using the Wise Borderless Travel Card all your payments are done in US Dollars on your American road trip!

    Saving money on accommodation

    Every day you are wasting money when paying for the motel you've chosen to spend the night at. This is often a daily payment of between $25 and $150, depending on the location and your preferences. At every motel, you are incurring an unfavourable exchange rate and a bank fee when using your regular credit or debit card. Save money and pay in the local currency, American Dollars, with Wise.

    Expert-roadtripper tips: To save more money on accommodation on your road trip, check out this site to find the best motels & hotel deals in the USA.

    Stay at a motel on your USA road trip
    All daily expenses – from motel to food – add up. Pay like a local using Wise

    If you want to save even more on accommodation, it’s best to select one chain of motels & hotels, join their loyalty program and you will soon have reached an award status for free upgrades or free motel or hotel stays.

    My personal favourite is the Wyndham Rewards program because Wyndham has so many different brands in its portfolio. From motel chains like Days Inn or Super 8 to hotel chains like WinGate or Tryp.

    Saving money on attractions or eating out

    Whether paying the entrance fee of a national park in the USA or paying for a classic hamburger at a road trip diner, you can pay for it in US Dollars without any currency conversion fees when you use the Wise debit card for travellers.

    Classic USA road trip stop at a diner
    Pay in US Dollars for your meal at a classic diner with your Wise debit card

    By the way, don’t forget to purchase a National Park Pass when you’re visiting several National Parks on your American trip. You’ll save so much with that pass. Combined with the savings you get when you pay in the local currency with Wise, that’s a lot of money you can use on other fun things to do on your road trip.

    If you want to stay away from eating greasy fast food all the time in the USA, make sure to visit a Whole Foods Supermarket and go for their buffet options. Most Whole Foods in the USA have a buffet with so many yummy and healthy food options, also for vegans and vegetarians. It’s self-serve and you just pay by the weight. Paying at the check-out in USD with your Wise Travel Card.

    As a vegetarian, Whole Foods is my favourite foodie stop on a road trip in the USA. Also, because they often have a craft beer bar on-site or a really good selection of cans or bottles of local craft beer. More yummy food options can be found in our blog post about healthy and tasty road trip tips in the USA.

    Saving money on groceries

    Every purchase you make at an American supermarket in USD with your Wise Borderless Travel Card means no fees at all. Fees that you normally would have to pay when using the card you got from your bank or local credit card company.

    Grocery shopping at Whole Foods USA
    Shopping for groceries or just a road trip snack, Whole Foods is perfect!

    And if you want to save even more on groceries in the USA on your road trip, make sure to join each supermarket chain’s loyalty program. Just get the free discount or loyalty card and scan the barcode with a free loyalty card app on your phone. Then you won’t have to carry all these plastic cards around. Easy as.

    Making it even easier to use your Wise debit card (pro-tips)

    I’ve been using Wise on my travels and road trips for a long time now. Before the worldwide COVID crisis, I did 2 road trips of 3 months each in the USA, a 3 months trip in Europe and a trip of several weeks in Australia. All expenses on these trips were funded by New Zealand Dollars and paid in the local currency via my Wise Borderless Travel Card.

    Therefore, I have some tips to make it even easier to use the Wise card on your next trip.

    • Don’t let ATMs or EFTPOS (payment) machines do the exchanging. Always pay in the local currency when using your Wise Card and make sure you have money in that currency’s basket on your card.
    • Some petrol station chains in the USA have trouble with the Wise Card when using pay at the pump. Make sure to fill in the postcode of the address that’s on your Wise Card in the USA zip code format (5 digits). For example, if you have a Dutch postcode (4 digits and 2 letters) only fill in the four numbers and add a zero as the first number. The same goes for a New Zealand postcode (4 digits). Add a zero as the first number and you’ll be good to go. When you use this travel hack there aren’t that many pumps that can’t handle the Wise Debit Card for pay-at-the-pump transactions.
    • Ignore signs at motels that say “no debit cards accepted”. That’s only for US debit cards as your Wise Borderless Card is a prepaid credit card. I never had any trouble paying with the Wise Card at these motels.
    • Use the Wise app to keep track of your road trip expenses and refunds. In the app, you can see exactly the pending payments and the processed ones. If a hotel or motel requires a bond, you can use the Wise Card as well. The Wise app gives you all the tools to keep track of these. Most motels or hotels that do these create a pending payment (freezing the bond money) which will be released when you check out. However, some actually take the money and then refund it on your card. This works fine but it is nice to have the app to keep track of it all.

    Wise isn’t just nice in the USA, it's a global payment solution for travellers

    I’ve created this article based on my road trips in the USA to show you how easy it is for a traveller to make payments in US Dollars without getting USD cash. All my payments were done digitally with the Wise Card. But basically, anyone can use this card when travelling to a foreign country. Check out the list of supported currencies on the Wise Travel Card.

    This also means that Americans can open a Wise account for free and add a Wise Borderless Travel Card for their next trip to Europe, New Zealand or any other country. And the same goes for Europeans once they can travel again to amazing countries like the USA, New Zealand, or Australia. The possibilities of saving money on your next trip are endless.

    Using debit or credit card on your trip
    What's in your wallet on your next trip?

    And I haven’t even covered the fact that you’ll also get a local bank account for free with your Wise Borderless Account. Now you can have a bank account in for example AUD, NZD, or USD. Perfect for digital nomads to receive payments in these currencies or any of the other supported foreign currencies.

    There’s just too much to tell about Wise and how these guys are making everyday banking easy when you are travelling in another country. Even if your trip is only for a couple of weeks, you will always save money with the Wise Borderless Travel Card compared to a traditional credit or debit card.

    Have a question that isn't covered in this article? Feel free to post any questions in the comment section. I’m more than happy to answer them.

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    He is the digital geek that started it all. First as DIY-OE, then as Travel.Geek.NZ. Dutch roots, Kiwi heart. His favourite countries to travel in can be found in Australasia, Europe & USA.

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    20 days ago

    Seems like you were paid by wise to write a nice article, unfortunately no actual comparison between the exchange fees of a regular bank and the exchange fees/transfer fees that wise charges.
    Checked with my back (ING) and they charge about 0.5% in unfavorable exchange rates and 0 other fees so that seems about similar(or even less) with what wise charges for a currency transfer of EUR to USD.
    These are just examples of things you spend your money on while on holiday but you dont mention the actual fees you paid Wise in total.

    7 months ago

    Dear Martijn, I am planning on using the Wise debit card in Australia and New Zealand. I am from the Netherlands myself. I am considering getting a creditcard, just in cases the Wise card is not accepted. Whenever possible, I will use the Wise card. I am scared that when really necessary, the Wise won’t be accepted. I think this can be the case for specific hotels, tours or possibly airplane tickets. How are your experience with the Wise card in Australia and New Zealand with hotels, tours etc? Do you think I will need a credit card? Thank you… Read more »

    1 year ago

    Hi Martijn. do I understand it correctly that you have to transfer money (in my case EUR from Rabobank to my WISE card / account ) & if i pay with WISE in USA in $ I do not have any fees ?

    Other question : my WISE card is connected with my VISA CARD (icscards). Do you have any idea what kind of advantage that is ?

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