Whilst writing my year in review post, I realised that the way I have travelled has changed quite a lot in the past year or so. I thought I’d share five things that I’ve discovered with you, from the big to the small, just in case you haven’t come across them yourself yet.
Needless to say, none of this post is sponsored.
There are few things that infuriate me more when travelling than incurring charges from your bank for using your card abroad, or for getting dinged on exchange rate when exchanging currency 0 even when you book ahead, in advance, and shop around.
Enter Revolut. This is a money changing app and card combo that is literally revolutionary. You top up the app direct from your bank in your original currency, and if you’re exchanging between GBP, USD or EUR you can then exchange your money within the app for pretty much bang on the market rate as listed by xe.com. It’s by far and away the best rate I’ve found, anywhere. The rates are displayed live so you always know what you’re getting, and top ups and exchanges are almost instantaneous. You can then use your card in your destination just like a normal local debit card, incurring no extra fees, and you can see a live balance at any time as well as a list of transactions.
This works really well at locking in one particular rate – excellent if, like me, your native currency is circling the drain. Also it doesn’t leave you guessing how far your money will go on any given day.
I used mine for my trip to New York and the whole thing went swimmingly (a little too swimmingly, if you ask my bank balance). The card worked everywhere I tried it, and it made managing my spending money very easy.
If you’re using other currencies, you can top up the card in your native currency and use the card directly in stores or at ATMs abroad (for no extra charge), where you just get the best available exchange rate at that moment. I hope that makes sense – I feel like I’m not explaining this very well, so maybe check their website – but I’ve saved so many foreign exchange rate bank bank charges last year through using this app and card combo.
Rewards credit cards
Travel using miles and points, specifically through rewards credit cards, has really changed the way I travel. Thanks to my IHG and BA credit cards I have now earned the equivalent of approximately
10 14 free nights in hotels, a companion pass (so both our flights to Bangkok were free except for taxes), and more Avios than you could shake a stick at. All by harnessing my normal spending, and targeting travel plans to particular brands where possible. I also get some nice little perks with my cards like room upgrades and free breakfasts. Of course, you have to make sure to pay off your balance in full every month, watch out for annual renewal fees, and be careful with restrictions. It’s tempting to get sucked in to the ‘dark side’ of the points game (as explained in this post), but as long as you’re careful not to buy things just for the sake of points then I think it’s a great way to make your travel and spending work for you. It’s certainly done so for me!
Ok I think I’ve talked about money enough now, but if you’re geeky about personal finance like me (and Mandy!) then send me a message if you want to know more.
I am horrible at packing, and it brings me out in a cold sweat every time I have to pack my bags for somewhere new. I now have a travel bag with a set of packing cubes and a dedicated washbag with duplicates of everything. There’s a cube for everything I need (tops, bottoms, undies, shoes) and I just go through and fill each cube as required. It genuinely does help me be more zen about the whole experience. I’ve used them on all of my recent trips and they’ve been amazing – also they make unpacking super easy because you just pull out the entire cube and toss it in a drawer. Amazing. Especially with limited packing space eg on a cruise…
My cubes went in these here drawers, because your big bags have to get stowed under your beds. It was actually quite a lot of storage space to be honest, but keeping things in cubes helped keep things neat and tidy.
Getting a local SIM
For ages I would tell myself that I’d be fine with just the hotel wifi when I needed the internet, and then invariably end up frantically searching for public hotspots and wasting valuable holiday time whilst doing so. Sometimes you just need to google a restaurant (particularly when travelling with a special dietary requirement), arrange to meet up with someone, plan a route, or look up opening times for the attraction you’re just about to head off to visit. And yes, sometimes you do just need to post that picture on Instagram.
So for the last few trips I’ve bought a local SIM on arrival for usually very little money, and it’s been game changing. My trips have gone so much more smoothly when I’ve done this, even though it seems like an outrageous expenditure to make when you’ve just landed somewhere new.
Case in point: I didn’t take my own advice on our last trip and ended up sneaking into the library in Juneau about five minutes before closing time to post this gem on the ‘gram.
I also spent $2 for 30 minutes of wifi for one device in a slightly shady cafe in Ketchikan so I could email my great-uncle about our plans for meeting up in Victoria. Because I didn’t have the wifi to google where to find free wifi in Ketchikan…
Harnessing the power of the personal recommendation has really changed the way I travel. Thanks to travel blogging, I now have heaps of very well travelled friends who I trust, who can give me the inside track on basically anywhere in the world. They can also help me pack, recommend me books to read on the go, and take me for a drink and a cake when I get there. What more could you want?
So tell me, have you discovered something recently that’s totally changed how you travel? Please do share, I’m all for the new year improvements!