5 things that transformed the way I travel

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.

Revolut

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.

Packing cubes

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.

Hello Alaska 😱

A photo posted by Rachel (@anestingnomad) on

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…

You

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!

-Rachel

Linking up with Van, Marcella, Lauren and Isabel  for Wanderlust Wednesday. Hope you all had a great break!

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21 Comments

  1. 18th January 2017 / 09:56

    yes, local sim is very important! I don’t use it anymore since the prices for abroad calls have actually lowered significantly (in my case) so I don’t need it really. #wanderfulwednesday

  2. 18th January 2017 / 10:18

    Those are some valuable tips! I’ve never heard of Revolt, but I like the sound of it! Will have to look further into that! #WanderfulWednesday

  3. 18th January 2017 / 12:24

    These are all such great tips for all of us travellers. There is nothing worse than being charged a tonne of money to get your own money out of a cash point, seriously! Grr. And yes to travel bloggers as giving the very best travel tips and inspiration. Glad to be back to Wanderful Wednesday 🙂

  4. 18th January 2017 / 12:38

    I’ve always wondered if packing cubes actually work. I always see them but have never picked them up. Looks like I have to change that!! I think that using duolingo has helped me a lot. I like to learn a few words and about the language before I go somewhere and that app makes it really easy 🙂

  5. 18th January 2017 / 12:50

    These are great tips. I’m feel like I’m constantly learning ways to save money while traveling so we can make the most of our travel budget. We’ve had to take a break from international travel while D was in school but this year we’re starting to get back into it so I’m sure I will learn more tips about traveling abroad as well. #wanderfulwednesday

  6. Jen
    18th January 2017 / 14:30

    Rewards credt cards are the best! We use ours quite often and building up the points is the best part.

  7. 18th January 2017 / 14:35

    I’ve been meaning to try out packing cubes ever since my first solo trip but I still haven’t done it! No idea what’s keeping me though, guess I’m just too lazy 😀

  8. 18th January 2017 / 15:15

    I’m always amazed that people dont take advantage of reward credit cards.

  9. 18th January 2017 / 16:25

    definitely checking out that revolut card – that looks very very useful! I haven’t used packing cubes – not sure why (my husband being a bit of a control freak ahem I mean packing genius probably 🙄) Last year I invested in a portable battery charger for my iphone and wow has that made my “Oh no my battery is only showing 20%” panic moments a thing of the past!

  10. Nomadic clan member
    18th January 2017 / 20:46

    I am currently discovering how to be comfy in my own company whilst travelling (not just by distracting myself with/ hiding behind an iPhone or Kindle, though these are tried and tested techniques). A work in progress… NCM

  11. 18th January 2017 / 22:29

    You are such a seasoned traveler!! Charging exchange rates is ridiculous in this day and age. I am glad I found out the card I was going to bring does this so I brought a different one. My husband had a SIM all ready for me when I traveled to Germany. Contrast to our trip in 2012 when neither of us had SIMS and we didn’t use our phones at all. The simplicity of such a thing is great…but it’s 2016. I need my phone for everything. I love packing cubes too. The set I got came with 4 in different sizes and I’ve been researching to find one more large one. Turns out…they are mostly sold in sets.

  12. 18th January 2017 / 22:45

    Revolut sounds amazing, and I’ve heard the glory of rewards credit cards for ages…I think my issue is actually getting the motivation to change my long term habits!!

  13. 19th January 2017 / 02:24

    Rewards Cards really are the best! We’ve gotten so many free hotel nights and free flights as well, and it’s seriously the best that the cards will basically pay you to use their cards! I never thought of buying a local sim card when we’re traveling, but that might be something to consider for our next trip to Europe! It would definitely help us as far as navigation!

  14. 19th January 2017 / 03:27

    I hadn’t heard of Revoult! I need to check this out!! I don’t know why people don’t use rewards cards!! I also love the shopping portals; I use American’s… last year I earned almost 25,000 miles on things that I would ordinarily buy. I always check the miles portal and Ebates and see who is offering the better deal!

  15. 19th January 2017 / 11:13

    We used packing cubes for the first time on our last overseas trip and they were a game changer! I’m also a big fan of the local SIM and collect points/miles with our credit cards. Now I’m off to check out Revolut, it sounds like it could come in very handy indeed!

  16. 19th January 2017 / 13:26

    I’d love to be able to withdraw cash without fees while traveling. We have a great credit card that never charges us fees when abroad but cash has been an issue for us, especially when we only need a little bit. Thanks for these tips! #wanderfulwednesday

  17. 19th January 2017 / 13:34

    Exchange rates can be so annoying, and you can lose out a lot through fees and bad rates–that’s why we don’t transfer money from the USA to Malaysia or vice versa like…ever. Because we don’t earn any money in America we avoid using our credit cards, since they have to be paid from the American bank accounts and there’s no incoming money over there so that would not be sustainable forever. Most of the countries around here you have to use cash for everything anyways. Sometimes we joke that my Dad seems like a spy due to all the different currencies of cash he might have on hand at any one time due to all of his travels.
    I trust blog recommendations (from real bloggers!) way more than just websites owned by destinations and stuff–the personal side matters a lot and I feel like it gives a better picture of what the visit experience is really like.

  18. 19th January 2017 / 23:10

    Local sims are always my musts when travelling! Especially if we’re staying in Airbnb’s and need to communicate with our hosts!

    We are also really lucky in that our bank doesn’t charge us for overseas transactions and we can use our savings cards anywhere in the world – so whilst I’m a cash girl, Jesse will buy everything on his savings card and we don’t have to worry about messing about with different cards or hefty fees.

  19. 20th January 2017 / 05:59

    Oh I learned so much from this post! I need those packing cubes. I am such a terrible packer. My husband does all the packing so when I am alone I just throw everything in the suitcase and hope for the best. Our credit card gives us straight up cash back which I like a lot. I’ve been loyal to one airline to get me back and forth from Hawaii to New York and I recently realized that I have about 3 free flights to use. Since I use them all the time now I get 2 free checked bags and the possibility of getting upgraded. It works for me because I am going to the same place over and over but whenever we go somewhere else we don’t necessarily use the same airline.

    When we went on our honeymoon to New Zealand, we had a lot of things planned and booked. My husband made a binder with printouts of our confirmations and an itinerary for each day! It made the trip so smooth and every night, we would look over the itinerary for the next day. The wifi in New Zealand was spotty at best so this was a lifesaver. I highly recommend this if you’re doing a big trip with a jam-packed schedule — I never would have thought to print everything out on my own.

  20. 20th January 2017 / 16:21

    Great post!

    With regards to Revolout, I know we were talking about credit cards over email, but are there anywhere you live that offer “no exchange fees” when abroad? The Chase Sapphire Reserve that I mentioned here (http://blog.youreverydaytraveler.com/2017/01/how-obtaining-chase-sapphire-reserve.html) allows me to just purchase my item in other currencies and I pay the exact exchange rate. Another option I have is to use a Schwab debit card for transferring money; they also don’t charge exchange fees OR ATM fees. So WIN, WIN. 🙂 Though again, not sure if either of these options are available where you live … or if anything similar is.

    Also, I think it’s kind of funny that you have discovered the joys of having a SIM card in other countries when my 2016 discovery was that I don’t always need a SIM card in other countries. For example, Quebec City has tons of wifi options. We went from place to place and ALWAYS felt connected. However, I have never experienced that in Europe. I think it may all depend on where you are going and for how long. Google Fi (not sure if it’s offered where you are?) provides free data usage in other countries and I think the cost of making calls is pretty reasonable too.

    Blogger recommendations are my favorite thing on your list. I hate reading reviews on travel sites because 1) they don’t usually go into detail and 2) you never know if it’s a real person. I love hearing actual experiences and being able to ask questions. It makes planning that much easier!

  21. 29th January 2017 / 01:30

    Wow, amazing tips! We usually get a travel card which works well. Also, having access to the Qantas lounges has totally changed the travel experience for us, so much more relaxing when in transit.

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