It's that time of year. As the school year winds down, the summer travel season warms up.
Whether you're heading out on a road trip or getting on a plane, here are 10 tips for smart travel this summer:
1. Alert your bank and credit card company that you'll be traveling (especially if overseas). Bank fraud departments are more vigilant about unusual activity on customers' cards. If they see an ATM purchase in Seville, Spain, for instance, they typically will call you to verify charges. If you miss the call, your credit card could be frozen while on vacation. Avoid the hassles by notifying your bank before leaving home.
2. Be aware of fees. When booking flights, note all extra charges, such as for checked bags, meals, even blankets. Sometimes the lowest fare you see online doesn't include those extras, said Ed Perkins, contributing editor for SmarterTravel.com, whose "Airline Fees: The Ultimate Guide" offers comparison charts.
Same with hotel fees. Many hotels, such as those in Las Vegas and other resort areas, tack on housekeeping or resort fees that can add an extra $10 or $20 a day. The fees often aren't specified online; if you're calling the hotel directly, ask about those extras.
3. Trip insurance? It's a good idea any time you've paid a large, nonrefundable deposit or there's a hefty cancellation penalty. "You never know what's going to happen. If you have an expensive cruise, vacation rental or tour package, it's recommended," said Perkins. Don't buy travel insurance from airlines or cruise companies, he said, because coverage can be limited. Go to travel insurance sites, such as InsureMyTrip.com, SquareMouth.com and QuoteWright.com. Look for "cancel-for-any-reason" policies.
4. Hold the mail. Have a neighbor or friend pick up your mail and newspapers daily, or have the post office temporarily stop delivery. Papers piling up advertise you're gone and can be a gold mine for identity thieves. "There's no greater magnet for burglars than a mailbox overflowing with mail," said Adam Levin, chairman of IdentityTheft911.com and Credit.com.
5. Don't announce on Facebook. If you're posting about your California beach vacation or Himalayan hiking trip, keep it vague. Never post the exact dates you'll be gone: "That's like issuing an open invitation to thieves," said Levin. Ideally, wait until you're back to post those away-from-home vacation photos.
6. Weed out your wallet. Pickpockets thrive in tourist areas, so don't carry your Social Security number and only take credit or debit cards you need. Make copies of all important documents (passport, driver's license, credit cards, health insurance, airline tickets), in case your wallet is stolen. Keep copies either encrypted on a computer thumb drive or on paper that can be locked in the hotel safe. Also leave a copy at home with trusted friend or family member.
7. Carry the plastic. But use it wisely: Use credit cards for larger purchases (restaurants, hotels, train tickets). Use debit cards to get cash at local ATMs (the fee is far lower than what most credit card companies charge for cash withdrawals).
Check with your bank about its overseas exchange fees; they vary. Typically, credit card users will see a 3 percent surcharge on all transactions. Some cards, like Bank of America, offer no-fee cash withdrawals in certain countries. (Note: Traveler's checks have largely become passe due to high exchange fees when converting to cash.)
8. Be wary of ATMs. It can happen anywhere: Illicit credit card readers attached to ATMs can capture your PIN number and account information. To lessen the risk, Levin recommends sticking with ATMs at bank branches.
9. Check regularly for suspicious activity. If your bank offers it, sign up to receive texts or emails whenever transactions above a certain amount are made on your card. Or call your card's 800 number to check on recent transactions. Be sure your phone and laptop are password-protected and have the most up-to-date security software possible. "Anything that's a gateway to your financial life should be protected," said Levin.
10. Stay vigilant once you're home. Identity thieves are patient, and "it can take them a long time to pounce," said Levin. Check your credit report for unusual activity at http://www.annualcreditreport.com. (You're entitled to a free report every 12 months from each of the three credit bureaus.)
Even if your vacation is staying home in the backyard, that's good advice.