Lost in Transaction

kyatOne of the most startling travel epiphanies I’ve had in recent years came on a trip to Burma, when I was counting out small change so I could buy a packet of toilet tissues. The Burmese kyat had recently suffered a jag of devaluation, and when I’d tallied up my toilet-tissue money, I noticed that it consisted of twelve small denomination bills.

Given that Burmese tissues came in packets of ten, it occurred to me that it would be more economical to just wipe my ass in kyat and pocket the difference.

Though this Burma experience was an unusually vivid example, travel always has a way of testing one’s faith when it comes to the workings of money. At home, one can pass bills without thinking too much about it, but the arbitrariness of modern currency can be alarmingly apparent when one is abroad.

As a veteran Asia traveler, my bewilderment with legal tender goes back to a day seven years ago, when an elderly vendor in Phnom Penh’s Russian Market refused to accept a worn $10 bill I’d brought directly from the United States. “Too old,” she’d told me. When I asked the woman to show me an example of acceptable currency, she held up a discolored (yet crisp) $20 bill that had obviously been counterfeited locally. In Cambodia, it seemed, the true value of American money was not pegged to its authenticity, but to whether or not it was wrinkled.

Such an idiosyncrasy may well derive from fact that portable currency (a system created in part by the demands of travel itself) has never been foolproof. In areas where a standardized money system has yet to catch on, for example, the act of shopping can prove ambiguous. In the 19th century guidebook The Art of Travel, Francis Galton suggested bringing beads and shells to use as “small change” when traveling in remote regions. Galton warned against knickknack-inflation, however — noting that one African chief had complained that his women were already “grunting like pigs” under the burden of beads given to them by previous travelers.

Other times, the absence of standardized currency has worked in travelers’ favor. Pioneering voyages to the South Pacific abound with tales of an improvised iron-based economy, wherein a sailor could acquire a short-term Tahitian wife through the gift of “an old razor, a pair of scissors, or a very large nail.” In 1767, Captain Samuel Wallis of the Dolphis had to forbid his men from trading nails for anything save wood or water, “to preserve the ship from being pulled to pieces” by horny sailors. Of course, iron isn’t the only item that has served as de facto travel currency. Wandering Norsemen once brokered deals in butter, the nomads of the Sahara traded in salt, and (in a scenario that’s fun to imagine) ancient Aztecs paid off their debts in chocolate. Tobacco was legal tender along the roads of colonial Virginia — a fact that sounds strange only until you consider that cigarettes were used as money in many parts of Europe after World War II.

In fact, paper money — which carries a purely hypothetical value — has only recently caught on as a world currency. The Chinese may have valued paper notes against silk to mixed success 1000 years ago, but a similar effort in 13th century Persia was ruined by counterfeiters. William the Bad tried to introduce leather money in 14th century Sicily — though (given the king’s unfortunate name) it’s easy to conclude that this royal experiment didn’t go over so well. To this day, the uncertainty of paper money has been known to break a regime: In late 2001, forged paper notes reportedly helped destabilize the Taliban government (one naturally wonders what graven image the Afghan Islamists had printed on their money — a grenade? an unplugged TV set? a smashed chunk of Buddha statue?).

Even in the United States, a paper dollar has little inherent value beyond the fact that it’s a part of the largest system of common faith in the world. Indeed, despite doctrinal differences, Buddhists, Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus and animists readily accept paper dollars — and even the metaphysical workings of the dollar’s “managed system” of value (wherein American banks and the Federal Reserve determine, Old Testament-style, that a dollar Is What It Is) seems firmly rooted in the ways of shared belief.

When such faith begins to crumble, of course — like it did for me in Burma — it’s easy to conclude that, for all its usefulness, paper money is still just paper.

For the record, I went ahead and swapped those twelve banknotes for ten tissues. But only because the latter were more absorbent.

[This Rolf Potts article originally appeared in Yahoo! News on March 27, 2006. All rights reserved.]

Posted by | Comments (0)  | February 7, 2015
Category: Asia, Money Management

5 Ways to finance your travel dreams


One of the most interesting aspects of traveling is meeting the fascinating array of people who manage to make their travel dreams a reality.

We’ve met young people and retirees, couples, single parents and families of every sort you can imagine. One of the things that always strikes us is the resourcefulness of this community and the many ways that people find to create income and finance their dreams.

The world economy is changing. The financial “security” that our parents generation enjoyed is not nearly as secure. The way people make money and work jobs is changing as fast as the technology that is pushing us forward. Whether you’re saving to take off on your dream trip or realizing that you want to make it last forever, these five strategies can help you fund it!


Less is More

Any good financial manager will tell you that the first thing you can do to find more funding is to cut fat.

Doing without your daily Starbucks coffee at $3.00 a pop saves $1000 a year; it doesn’t take a genius to do the math on that. A thousand dollars will buy a plane ticket, but it won’t keep you traveling for long. If you’re looking to build your nest egg faster, consider the following:

  • Downsize your house
  • Get rid of your TV
  • Get rid of your vehicle and ride a bike instead
  • Sell your junk on ebay
  • Eat in, not out
  • Give up your gym membership and exercise outside instead

If your dream is to travel, learning to live with less and do things “the hard way” to save money will do two things: fund your travel and prepare you for the lifestyle that awaits!

Simplify, live like you’re on the road before you hit the road, and bank the difference!


Stretch your 1st World Money

The digital nomad’s ideal is to be able to make first world money and live outside of the first world.

While you’re barely scraping by in the USA on $35,000 a year, that same amount anywhere in Central America would let you live like a king. For some people travel is actually cheaper than staying home and living abroad allows them to get out of debt faster, save for a house or long term goals faster and at the same time they are living their dreams!

Guess what? Sometimes you can have your cake and eat it too!



Most of the people we know who are lifestyle travelers do not have one source of income, they have several.

For us, this means my husband’s day job (freelance in the tech industry) and my online and print freelance writing work. We have friends who have ebay businesses, others with multiple websites, some who consult, others who teach, some who own rental homes for income, many who have simply converted their “old careers” into more location independent versions.

The key is, not to put all of your eggs in one basket!

If you’ve got one goose laying all the golden eggs (whether you live a static life or one on the road) then you’re in a precarious position. What happens when that job, that contract, or that income stream dries up?

Develop new income streams, now, before you go, and as you travel as well!



There is more than one form of currency, and I’m not talking dollars versus euros!

Money is one way to get things done and the more you have the easier it is, to be sure, but it isn’t the only way! You can significantly reduce your reliance on green backs by entering into barter relationships that allow both parties to benefit and save you both a bucket of money.

Some examples:

  • Trade web development or promotion for lodging
  • Teach a new skill in trade for the website overhaul you need
  • Take photos for promotional purposes in trade for goods or services
  • Write product reviews in trade for the gear you need
  • Play a music gig in trade for your dinner

Make an inventory of what you know how to do, the services you could provide and match that against what you need to keep moving forward. Don’t be afraid to accept, or offer a barter!


Leverage Technology

The absolute truth is that if it were not for the advances of technology, we could not be doing what we are doing.

It’s the internet and the ubiquitous accessibility of it that allows us to live and work anywhere for years on end, pursuing our passions.

You can leverage that technology too:

  • Convert your career to something location independent
  • Do freelance work on a contract basis online
  • Teach art or music via Skype
  • Do consulting on the web
  • Teach a language class online
  • Become a freelance writer in your niche market
  • Create websites

Some of the most creative uses of technology for career transformation that we’ve seen include a psychologist we met in Antigua who does his counseling sessions online, Latin, Burmese and English lessons via Skype, Ebay empires that fund big families on the move, and the lady who teaches our kids art by Skype on Wednesday mornings, from wherever she happens to be traveling, to wherever we happen to be traveling!

Think outside the box. Even things that don’t seem related to technology can be reinvented using it. 


What can you do today to fund your dream? 

Posted by | Comments (2)  | October 7, 2014
Category: Money Management, Vagabonding Life

Why We Buy Dumb Souvenirs

souvenirmasksHere’s a curious trivia tidbit from U.S. history: In 1786, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams took leave from their Europe-based diplomatic duties and traveled to Stratford-upon-Avon to visit the home of William Shakespeare. Not much was recorded of the occasion, but one fact of their pilgrimage to the Bard’s birthplace stands out: At some point during the tour, the two American statesmen brandished pocketknives, carved a few slivers from a wooden chair alleged to have been Shakespeare’s, and spirited them home as souvenirs.

In retrospect, it’s easy to look back on this incident and conclude that — in terms of travel protocol, at least — Jefferson and Adams were complete knuckleheads. The thing is, I haven’t seen any evidence to prove that, as world-wandering travelers, our quest for souvenirs has become any more logical or dignified in the ensuing 220 years.

I mention this because I recently traveled to Key West, where a popular section of Duval Street is crowded with souvenir boutiques. In a certain sense, this stretch of Duval felt a tad anachronistic, since — in the age of eBay and similar online shopping venues — you don’t have to travel to a place like Key West to load up on painted seashells and exotic cigars. What struck me more, however, was not the items typically associated with Florida, but the bizarre overabundance of souvenir t-shirts, which said things like “Tell your boobs to stop staring at my eyes,” or “Farting is my way of saying I (heart) you.”

In one sense, it seems ridiculous that anyone would travel to Key West and buy a t-shirt that has nothing whatsoever to do with south Florida (“I’m not a bitch, I’m ‘Miss Bitch’ to you”). Still, bringing home a tacky keepsake from Key West can serve as a sort of travel credential — an existential referent that proves you went to south Florida and got drunk enough to exercise bad judgment. Similarly, for Jefferson and Adams, those Stratfordian wood-shavings were tangible proof that they had journeyed across England and touched a chair that had, presumably, once cradled Shakespeare’s butt.

Indeed, in most cases it would appear that souvenir hunting is not a meaningful examination of place so much as it is a litmus test of our own whims and preconceptions as travelers. In Egypt, for example, generations of tourists have obsessively sought relics that remind them of the Pharaonic landscape they’ve seen in books and movies. Hence, all the major Egyptian tourist sites do a steady trade in fake papyrus, Great Pyramid paperweights, and alabaster Nefertiti statues — none of which would be found in the home of any self-respecting Egyptian. Similarly, in Calcutta’s New Market, an unspoken caste system exists between Indian shoppers and souvenir-seeking tourists. The travelers instinctively gravitate into boutiques that sell carved elephant figurines and decorative jars of saffron, while the Indians shop for rubber bathmats, stainless steel pans, and digital calculators. The implication here, of course, is that buying an electric blender might be more representative of day-to-day Calcutta life than buying Kashmiri silk (though, admittedly, a blender would not look as good in your living room).

Although it may be tempting to blame this discrepancy on modern misconceptions, the tourist quest for souvenirs has always been somewhat skewed. In ancient Anatolia, locals hawked supposed Trojan War relics to credulous Greek travelers, and excavations in Italy have suggested that ancient Romans had a penchant for cheap glass vials painted with pictures of contemporary tourist attractions (none of these have been proven to be snow-globes, to my knowledge, but it’s easy to draw a parallel). In medieval times, Christian pilgrims wandering the Holy Land proved to be among the most gullible relic-hunters in human history, as they carted home enough crowns of thorns, Holy Grails, and apostle-femurs to stock a macabre, New Testament-themed WalMart.

If any world culture deserves mention for its souvenir idiosyncrasies, however, it is the Japanese, who have long considered the giving of gifts to be an essential social ritual. Since taking a leisured journey carries a cultural sense of shame at leaving one’s home duties, Japanese travelers reflexively seek out omiyage — small gifts that will be presented as an act of respect to the family members and coworkers they left behind. So common is this practice that some Japanese airports stock souvenirs from around the world in an effort to save travelers the hassle of finding them in their actual destinations. Hence, a given Japanese girl’s bedroom might feature a Mickey Mouse clock, a miniature Eiffel Tower, and a carved Balinese frog mask — each of which represent her father’s past trips to Florida, Paris, and Indonesia, and all which were purchased at Narita Airport.

In pointing out the global-historical foibles of souvenir-seekers, I don’t mean to position myself above the madness. Like so many tourists before me, I, too, have been known to display weakness in the face of Peruvian weavings, Latvian amber, and Korean lacquer-ware.

I’ve found, however, that bringing these items home and putting them on display has taught me an interesting lesson. Whenever I stroll into my office and gaze at my Mongolian masks and Syrian worry-beads, I find that they don’t evoke my Asian travel memories quite so effectively as the beat-up, navy-blue “Bruin Track & Field” t-shirt I wore in both countries.

Strange as this may seem, it makes perfect sense: When I bought the masks and the worry-beads, I was shopping — but when I wore the t-shirt I was hiking across the steppes beyond Ulan Bator, or exploring the mountaintop monasteries outside of Damascus.

Indeed, as novelist Anatole France once noted, I’d wager that “it is good to collect things, but it is better to go on walks.”

In Stratford-upon-Avon, at least, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams might have done well to heed this advice.

Tip sheet: Souvenir strategies that can reduce the knucklehead factor
1) Don’t confine the notion of what a souvenir is.

Souvenir boutiques will be found in abundance in any major tourist area, but that doesn’t mean you must confine your souvenir-hunt to specialty shops. Any token of your trip — from restaurant placemats, to pressed leaves, to local candy — can serve as a personal keepsake. If seeking gifts for loved ones at home, check department stores and supermarkets before you hit the souvenir shop — odds are you’ll find something cheaper (and just as authentic) in these types of places.

2) Save souvenir shopping until the end of the journey.

Let a souvenir be a souvenir — a keepsake of experience — and don’t go off shopping for knickknacks before you’ve had some real travel adventures. Not only will this give you a social context for your destination before you start commemorating it with collectables, but it will also save you the hassle of dragging this newfound loot around with you as your journey progresses. An added bonus is that, as a shopper, you will have a better sense for the price and quality of your souvenirs once you’ve traveled and made some comparisons.

3) The experience is more important than the keepsake.

In the end, shopping anywhere is still just shopping. Don’t let the hunt for souvenirs get in the way of amazing travel experiences.

[This Rolf Potts article originally appeared in Yahoo! News on May 9, 2006. All rights reserved.]

Posted by | Comments (1)  | August 30, 2014
Category: Money Management, Travel Bargains, Travel Writing, Vagabonding Advice

How bank points can be the best for free flights.

Most people are somewhat familiar with the concept of collecting frequent flier miles. My husband and I have built our whole travel strategy around frequent flier miles in fact, but there’s another travel reward currency with huge benefits once you understand how it works.

Bank points.  Specifically I’m referring to “American Express Membership Rewards” and “Chase Ultimate Rewards.”

First lets go over what these points are and how to earn them.  Then, we’ll take a look at why they’re beneficial to have around.


What are Amex points and Chase points?

When you see an airline card that earns miles, you know that the airline has partnered with a bank to have a credit card that earns towards their own frequent flier program. However, the banks ant in on the loyalty program system too. So, like many other banks, American Express and Chase bank have both developed their own rewards system with credit cards that earn points towards that system.

These points are extremely versatile. You can redeem them for cash if you’d like, or surf through the list of other options, including both travel that can be booked directly with points, or travel that can be booked by transferring directly into a frequent flier or hotel program. The latter is greatly recommended over booking travel directly with your points, but we’ll discuss that in a bit.

How do you earn these points?

These points can be earned with American Express cards or Chase cards that aren’t partnered with some other program as mentioned above. For instance, American Express has partnered with the hotel group “Starwood” to create a credit card for their loyalty program. That card will not earn you Amex points, it will earn Starwood Preferred Guest Points. But the American Express Gold card and the American Express Gold card are both cards that are not partnered with a different program and will earn you Amex points.

Similarly, the Chase Freedom card, Chase Sapphire Preferred, and Chase Ink Bold or Ink Plus are all cards that will earn you Chase points rather than the points of a program they’ve partnered with.

Why these points are beneficial?

These points are beneficial purely for their ability to transfer to a variety of airline or hotel programs. Find a list of Chase transfer partners here. Also find a list of American Express transfer partners here. I’m going to emphasize that again: the benefit is in transferring. This is not to be confused with booking travel directly with your points, as you’ll get much less travel for your points that way. Think of it like purchasing something through a retailer versus wholesale.

Think about it. If you have American Airline miles, that means you can use those miles to fly with American Airlines or any of their alliance partners. That gives you quite a few options, yes, but if you have bank points, you can transfer your points to an array of airlines representing any alliance, or transfer them into a hotel program. This allows you to be very flexible based on your needs. For instance sometimes we’ll be arriving someplace with no plan for accommodations and no hotel points at our exposure. In that kind of situation, we could always transfer Amex points to Hilton points.

Or, as we approach our travel plans, we can compare prices between the different mileage programs and transfer our points only once we’ve decided whose mileage program offers the cheapest options to our travel destination. If we compare prices in points and see that United has the cheapest reward flight to Asia, then we can transfer our Chase points to United.

Transferring points.

The main thing to remember is that your points need to be transferred into the mileage program (or hotel program) of your choice for you to get the best value, (rather than keeping them as Amex or Chase points and booking travel directly that way.) I know I’ve already said this, but it’s one of the easiest ways to get more value out of your earnings.

The steps for transferring are fairly simple.

American Express Membership Rewards Points transfer process:

1.) First sign into your American Express online account here.

2.) Click on “Rewards” at the top and then select “Use Points” on the drop-down.

3.) Click on the “Travel” tab.

4.) Select the “Transfer Points” option.

5.) There, you will see a “Hotels” tab and an “Airlines” tab.  Select the one which applies and click on the icon of your transfer choice. From there, you will be prompted for the rest of the transfer.

Chase Ultimate Rewards Points transfer process:

1.) Sign into your Chase Ultimate Rewards account here.

Now…here’s where it gets a little complicated, so I strongly recommend reading my post on the intricacies of Chase.  The basic thing to note here is that only certain Chase cards allow points-transfer as a benefit of the card.  This means that even if you have a card that earns Chase points, you won’t be able to transfer them until you have one of the following cards: Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Ink Bold, or Chase Ink Plus.

2.) Provided you have one of the cards listed above, the transfer process is very simple.  At the top of your account page you will see a “Point Transfer” tab.

3.) You will see two options, one for hotels and one for airlines. Just as with Amex points, you will see a display of icons.  Select the one you want and follow the prompts.


So what are the recommended transfers?

With Amex pints we will usually transfer to one of the following: Air Canada, British Airways or ANA.  We base this decision on availability as well as whose flights seem to produce the least amount of fuel surcharges.

With Chase points we almost always transfer to United miles.  This is because United miles have pretty much no fuel surcharges.  This means that your “free flight” won’t have a surprise $200 fee tacked onto it. Not to mention United’s mileage program offers fairly good award prices for economy and also allows one free stopover for any roundtrip, international award flight. We love United and thus, we love Chase points too.

Let’s recap the basic points:

1.) The bank points especially worth noting are American Express Membership Rewards points (Amex points) and Chase Ultimate Rewards points (Chase points.)

2.) Bank points are useful for allowing flexibility.  You can earn knowing that you’ll later be able to transfer based on your travel needs.

3.) Transferring points will give you a better value than booking directly with your points, though your online account allows you to do either.


Again, for a more in-depth look at Chase points specifically (our favorite) I recommend checking out this post on getting to know Chase.

Posted by | Comments (0)  | May 22, 2014
Category: Air Travel, Money Management, Travel Bargains

Have you ever run out of money while travelling?

Recently, I had my first experience, and it was a humbling, scary experience that challenged my fortitude and my creativity on a new level. We could have given up, defeated, but we held strong, kept the struggle to ourselves (because my Grandma would have been worried sick!), and we pushed through it.

I have only been broke once- right after my divorce. I made it out of that rut pretty quickly because A) My new business took off, and B) I had family and friends nearby who occasionally brought food or baked goods.

I am cautious with my money, especially while being out of the country. I have always had enough in my savings to fly the kids and I home on a moment’s notice in case of emergency, or in case I just got sick of being away. I never want to feel “stuck” somewhere, so I manage finances responsibly.

However, the end of the year poses extra challenges because my clients get too busy to pay me on time, and holidays are always expensive. This year, though we spent next to nothing during Christmas, while we celebrated in Costa Rica, I had other unexpected challenges. I had to pay lawyer fees in regards to my ex-husband trying to sabotage our travels, and we had a LOT of travel expenses that needed to be paid for immediately. I completely wiped out my entire savings, paying for airline tickets to go home for a visit and to make a court appearance, leaving a few Colones in change to pay for food.

As a mother, I felt like a complete failure. We already live on a strict budget, and I make good money, so how did this happen? This was my #1 fear by far before I left the states, and here it was, a reality. A very scary reality. Survival mode kicked in, and I had to quickly turn my thoughts towards abundance- imagining a full pantry and refrigerator, and a re-plenished bank account.

The first few days were the roughest, but a neighbor (who did not know our situation) brought us a bunch of homemade tamales. I cried out of gratefulness.

A couple of days later, Jonathan got paid for a job he has been doing here, so we paid our final month of rent here, and bought 2 days worth of food. I just kept hoping something more would come through, someone would pay their invoice, or I would find a hundred dollars on the street. I tried to remain hopeful, but I was also feeling desperate.

One night last week, we all shared a meal of cabbage, eggs and rice, and I cried through the whole meal. I get emotional even thinking about it. The kids didn’t know our struggle. They always had 3 meals a day, and knew nothing of the couple of meals I skipped so they could have enough. This, to me, is not even close to ideal. I was so angry with myself, but felt helpless to do anything about it but wait.

Finally, someone paid an invoice, so we were able to buy more food, and another large chunk of money I was expecting will be available in less than 24 hours.

I learned a lot during these couple of weeks.

Situations are temporary. A lot of people live paycheck to paycheck, and it is perfectly normal to skimp on even essentials sometimes. Here, families make the best of it. I have been incredibly fortunate that this has only happened to me one time in 2 years. Not only that, but for me, I knew it was only a temporary situation, as I knew I had plenty of money on its way to me within a few days or weeks.

Money comes, and money goes. People even here in Monteverde spend their last Colones every pay period on food, and know that more money is coming. They don’t worry. They don’t live their life around money and how much or how little they have. As long as they are working hard and enjoying their lives, they know money will find its way to them when they need it. And it always does.

Karma seeds sprout when needed. One of us must have done something good for someone because we were given a bunch of tamales that fed all of us for 2 meals. People here have friends, family, and neighbors here for them, and with such a small community, everyone pitches in to help. Had we expressed even the slightest need, people here would have delivered food by the tray- I just know it. Their hearts are pure, and they feel responsible for each other in their small community- even to us as visitors. They also know that when they are in need, their community is here for them.

We will always make it. It was terrifying. I felt like a complete failure, and I had no other options except to ask someone to borrow money (which, had we gone any longer, I may have). But we used the resources we had, and we made it. Jonathan is very creative with the most off-the-wall ingredients, and when I had just about given up trying to make it all work, he stepped in, and made a meal out of very little. He encouraged me, and reminded me that I was not a failure, and we would be more than ok. He was right.

I am not immune to hard times. Just because I feel like Super Travel Mom on my best days, I don’t always have it all together, and I can’t make everything work perfectly. Things happen. Money needs to be spent. Invoices are paid late. Lawyers demand payments. Kids get sick. I think what made this situation more difficult for me is the fact that I am not home, surrounded by friends and loved ones. I have my little family with me, but no one outside of the situation was here to provide support or encouragement. I felt all alone in a foreign country with nothing left, and it was a humbling experience to say the least.

It is all part of the journey. Last night when I whipped out my calculator to make sure we really were ok, Jonathan gently grabbed my hand and told me that this was part of the experience. We could have stayed home and had plenty of money, friends, and extra support. But we gave it up for something-not necessarily better- but different. We chose another path full of different experiences, and there are ups and downs, just as there were ups and downs when we were in the safety of our home towns.

Living without increases awareness. I was intently focused on money or the lack of it during the last couple of weeks. Once I had literally worried myself sick about it, I realized that I needed to use the resources I had and to maintain a healthy atmosphere for my family. I had to ground myself in the present circumstances- all the positive and the negative- and be acutely aware of my body, my mind, and my emotions. I was creating more turbulence by walking around with a frown on my face, complaining about an empty bank account, worrying about tomorrow, and crying. One night, I chose to focus on the good, the present, and the meals we were fortunate enough to eat that day. The next morning, I woke up with money in the bank.

Has this ever happened to you while you were away from home? What resources did you use to get past it? How long did your predicament last? How creative were you in solving your dilemma?

“He is richest who is content with the least, for content is the wealth of nature.” –Socrates


Posted by | Comments (2)  | January 6, 2014
Category: Money Management

Cash & Carry: What do you do about money on the road?


Dealing with money on the road can be a real pain in the ass. 

You want to have enough on hand at all times, but not too much, because then you worry about it being stolen out of your bag or back pocket. If your journey is taking you along the trail well traveled, from city to city, and not far off of the hostel row, then the odds are good that you’ll have no problems. ATMs are plentiful and as long as you’ve got that ubiquitous four digit numeric code for your PIN, you’ll have constant access to your money.

But what happens when you “go local,” or the machines breakdown, or your card gets stolen, or the numbers skimmed at a bugged ATM? Then what?

It’s important to have contingency plans in place and access to your money in more than one way. Instead of keeping all of your eggs in one basket, consider dividing your money between several accounts, even several banks. We have ours split between a local, brick and mortar bank, a completely online bank, E-trade & Paypal in about seven different accounts. We have debit cards on four of those, so there’s never a crisis. When our numbers were skimmed in Guatemala and our account locked down while they figured it out, we carried on with the others. No drama.

Because we have a family, and our worst nightmare is being stuck somewhere with no money and no options, we have layers of contingency that might seem like overkill to some people:

  • Multiple accounts, with multiple debit cards
  • USD cash reserves
  • Traveler’s cheques

We’ve been laughed at by fellow travelers, but we’ve also been reduced to just the traveler’s cheques when banks have been haywire and ATMs have been jacked. USD is never a bad idea (in some parts of the world, it’s the best way to go!) Having too much money is hardly ever a problem!

Of course storing the spare change in a low key manner is the next issue.

  • Don’t keep it all in one place
  • Don’t carry tons of excess around in your money belt
  • Consider the incognito type travel safes, like “batteries” that screw apart and are actually a little capsule.
  • A “wet wipe” bottle is a good option. Pull out most of the wipes, jam your money (in a ziploc bag so it stays dry) down into the bottom, and leave the remainder of the wipes on top, still ready to be pulled out.
  • Sew the money into the lining of your jacket, or your backpack, or the tongue of your boots.

What do you do about money when you travel? Have any great tricks or “secrets” to share?


Posted by | Comments (3)  | June 25, 2013
Category: Money Management, On The Road, Vagabonding Life

How I travelled 3000 km in India on 110 US $


I sat down and tried to calculate how much money I spent visiting India last year, my way: the balance is ridiculously low. India is a cheap country, yes, but this would not have been possible without a few tricks.

Here is a lowdown on how I managed to spend 110$ for 6 weeks travelling from Kolkata to Delhi in North India, taking it slow, and doing a  lot side trips. Hopefully the following suggestions may be useful for someone else!

You are in India, PAY like and Indian
This is a basic rule that applies to all of my trips: I do not want to pay more. If my skin is white, it does not mean I am rich, or stupid. If an Indian pays 10, why do I have to pay 100? A tourist in India has to bear enough of this double-tier pricing when visiting all Indian main sites (more on this next), but seriously, why should I pay 20 rupees when the guy next to me pays 5 for the same auto-rickshaw ride? It is a game, and a damn funny one. Learn the local lingo: pach rupee is five, das is ten. Surprise them. Talk to them in other languages than English as they keep on talking to a clueless you in Hindi. See how much fun it is. Send five, ten, twenty drivers away before you find a honest man, because they do exist, although very rare.

Avoid the inflated tourist attractions’ entry fees
India is the most unfair country in the world when it comes to double tier pricing. A Taj Mahal ticket which costs you a whooping 750 rupees, costs an Indian 20. Yes, 20 only. It is just a little over 300% more. Because they think we are rich, and we deserve to pay. Fine, let’s pay more. But do not pay for everything, be wise. The Sun Temple in Konark, Orissa, for example: just walk around it. It will not give you the perfect visual, but it would save the 200 rupees entry fee. And you will see it even better from the outer enclosure. And whenever they ask you to pay to be able to take pictures, please hide your camera and snatch away as much as you can. (more…)

Posted by | Comments (6)  | April 25, 2013
Category: Asia, Destinations, Money Management, On The Road, Simplicity, Vagabonding Life

It’s all about priorities

In the back of your mind you’re thinking you’d love to drop out of everything and take off to travel with your family for an extended period of time. C’mon – admit it.

Maybe you aren’t interested in doing it on bicycles, but in a boat? Or on horseback? Or RV? Walking? Running maybe?  Or perhaps you’d prefer using public transport of every conceivable variety?

You’d love to tell your boss you’re taking off – and actually do it.

But then you come back to reality. You’ve got a house you need to pay for.  Car payments to make… Pay off those credit cards… Buy new furniture for your living room… And you need to save for retirement. Maybe that trip of a lifetime will never happen after all.

I would venture to guess that most people can take that trip of their dreams if they simply put their mind to it. It’s all a matter of priorities.

Now before you jump all over my back, I want to point out that little word “most” in the previous sentence. I do understand there are people out there who simply can’t take off for one reason or another, but for most, it’s doable. It comes down to priorities.

So how do you do it? How do you manage to save the money for a trip like this? Easy – you make it a priority. I’m not talking about giving the journey lip service – I’m saying you have to decide it really, honestly, truly is your priority. If it’s not, there will be a million other things to spend your money on.

Trim the Fat

I know, I know – you’ve heard this before: eliminate all expenses that aren’t necessary. Maybe you could stop buying that $5 coffee from Starbucks every morning, or carry your lunch rather than going out with the boys. You’ve read all that before.

But I think it comes down to something a bit different. I’m not necessarily saying to cut all that out, but to simply make conscious decisions. Remember – it’s all about priorities and making conscious decisions. Is that $5 coffee more important than your trip? Then, by all means, buy it. Lunch with the boys higher on the priority list than the journey? Then go for it. Just remember to make conscious decisions. Come back again and again to what is truly important in your life and make decisions based on that. (more…)

Posted by | Comments (1)  | April 9, 2013
Category: Money Management

Bargaining in Asia: tips and tricks

A fabric vendor and traveler at a market in Luang Prabang, Laos.

A fabric vendor and traveler at a market in Luang Prabang, Laos. Photo: Joaquin Uy / Flickr

It’s a well-worn practice the world over: customers and vendors talking price. CNNGo tackled this issue in a post titled How to bargain: the ultimate guide to scoring a deal in the markets of Asia.

Many of the tips will be familiar to experienced vagabonders: shop around, be polite, and be ready to walk away. What makes the article special is the little details about particular destinations. Some examples:

  • The superstition over the first sale of the day and how it’s phrased in Cantonese and Thai.
  • The term that Indians for overcharging travelers is called the “Skin Tax.”
  • When to get discounts in the non-haggling culture of Japan.

Have you negotiated over a purchase at a market? Please share your stories in the comments.

Posted by | Comments (0)  | November 19, 2012
Category: Money Management, Notes from the collective travel mind, Travel Bargains

Don’t wait for luck; make the decision and change your life

I recently got an email from Jen and Ted, a pair of Canadian Vagabonding readers who perfectly sum up how, sometimes, the most important thing one must do in order to travel the world long-term is to simply realize that it is possible. Here’s their story, in Jen’s words:

I have been unsure for the past few months how to word this, as this is basically the biggest thank you of my life. Our story is as follows: My husband & I have been married just over 2 years and were (unknowingly) stuck going about the typical life pattern of going to university, working away our young years at professional jobs, and making good money to go on expensive, rushed 2-week vacations a couple of times per year. We both were happy in our positions with good pay, benefits, and pleasant coworkers that made work enjoyable. I am a Emergency Room nurse at a well-reknowned paediatric hospital in Toronto; it is a stressful but rewarding job and I love it immensely. My husband has a great job in programming & software development working on cutting-edge projects and he too enjoys his role. Both are well-paying jobs in the fields we studied in university & we are grateful for these positions.

However…each time we travelled on vacation, it opened up that incredible thirst to see new cultures, to experience life in a different part of the world. It was such a tease. We would jealously meet people in our travels around the world who would be backpacking for a few months or indefinitely. We never considered ourselves capable of being in that category – we assumed those people were special, they had no-strings-attached & we had plenty of strings. They must have had different jobs, different circumstances than us. We thought they were “lucky”. Reading your book opened an entire way of thinking for my husband and I, one that we were both too afraid to even fully believe/feel. It made us realize that luck did not find these people and transport them around the globe. A conscious decision was made to change the course of their life, and they went out and achieved it. They were not just dreamers, but passionate achievers.

So we began to toy with the idea of dropping everything & exploring all of the places we so desperately want to see. Not just see on a crammed, over-priced vacation – see in a way that we experience and live in different places, something more long-term. Initially there was a lot of fear. What will happen if we leave? What about our jobs, our families, our friends? In the end the realization was that the answer was this: nothing. Nothing will happen. Our jobs will carry on without us – we will be swiftly replaced and our absence will soon be forgotten about by the presence of the next employee. The opportunity to return will likely be there and if not we will seek other jobs if need be. Our families? They will continue their day-to-day activities, jobs, and responsibilities. We will miss them immensely but we will continue to keep in touch like we currently do living out of town from them. Our friends? They will also continue with their routines of work, social activities, some maybe commenting that they wish they could do what we were doing. But I know when we return nothing will have changed. But we will have changed. And that is the motivating factor behind all this.

Your book put us in a position where we realized that our life could have passed us by. We could have continued, under societal pressures, working indefinitely, banking in money, saving up for things like a house and a baby – things that would just ground us even more here. I feel like I almost missed the most important thing that could have ever happened to me. And truly, as ridiculous as it may sound, I may have missed that opportunity had I not read your book.

So thanks so much, for giving us the push that we need to seek out our dreams. It’s honestly changed our mentality and way of living. As of today, we have literally sold everything we own. We are moving into a furnished place in 4 days to pay literally half the rent we currently pay for the next 3 months. We are quitting our jobs and have a non-cancellable one-way flight booked for Cartagena, Colombia on January 3, 2013. We are travelling for 6 months, possibly more/indefinitely.

Thank you for writing your book and giving people the courage to live their life in a meaningful way & to pursue their dreams of seeing the big and beautiful world that is at our fingertips.


Jen & Ted

Posted by | Comments (7)  | September 26, 2012
Category: Feedback, Money Management