Managing money on the road

One of the biggest challenges travellers face when planning a trip is budgeting. With travel styles endlessly varying, it can be difficult to determine how much money you’ll need for your trip. In order to shed some light on what a budget multi-country european trip looks like financially, I put together this guide outlining what my expenses have been, how much I spend in the different categories and how I track and make sure I won’t run out of money on the road.

For my trip I saved $10,000 Canadian, this was to take me through three months of travel and breaks down to roughly $100 a day. Initially I had budgeted $60 per day, but this turned out to be a bit unrealistic where the exchange rates were 1.5 to 2x my Canadian dollar (I’m looking at you London.) I didn’t just magically know to budget $100, I used this handy tool: Budgetyourtrip. A great site where you can enter your destination city your style of travel and it will give you a rough estimate of how much you need per day.

In order to keep track of my spending on the road I downloaded the Trail wallet app. This has proven to be absolutely invaluable, I don’t know where I would be without it! Every time I spend money, book a hostel or buy a pack of gum, I input the expense in the app and it automatically converts it to canadian currency using the exchange rates of that day. Then I place it into one of the 6 categories: transport, accommodation, food, entertainment, miscellaneous, you can even write notes to help you remember what you spent money on. This takes only 30 seconds to do and immediately appraises me of my daily spending and my overall trip expenses. Having this accurate breakdown of the numbers helps keep me on budget and prevent overspending. Plus, the avatar gets a bit cheeky if you go over budget.

20160630080208 (1)Days on road: 50

Countries: 4

Cities: 10

Money spent: $5,776.55

Daily Average: $115.33

As you can see, I am actually over my daily average by $15.33. I’m not seriously concerned by this, as the number jumps up when I input a large expense such as $350 for 10 days upcoming accommodation and it slowly reduces as those days pass. The lion’s share of expenses always fall into these three categories: food, accommodation, and transportation. Bearing this in mind, I can keep costs down if I am careful and minimize spending on non-essentials like souvenirs, eating out, entertainment, and my daily luxury (which I am not willing to give up,) coffee.

So, 50 days into my 90 day trip and I have spent:

Accommodation: $1,529.12

Food: $1,659.71

Transport: $1,674.10

I also downloaded the Mint: Money manager app. I had really high hopes for this app! I’ve heard so much about it from other travellers and my most money savvy friends, but I experienced too much difficulty in connecting it to my accounts and later discovered this was because my bank doesn’t play nice with third party applications. Despite this, I don’t feel I am missing out by not having it, with Trail Wallet keeping track of all expenses including cash purchases I am able to cross reference the spending with my bank app for my phone for credit transactions.

So how do I actually access my money? Do I carry cards, travellers cheques, cash? The answer always is, a bit of both (except for travellers cheques, that’s almost obsolete.) I had to do a fair bit of research, according to most Canadian Banks, Foreign Transaction Fees are all the rage. I can see why, with all the spending a traveller does on their credit card can easily add up to $400 a year in Bank fees. Why would I give them all my hard earned pennies when $400 is a lot of lattes in my hand. Of course they know this, so I had to dig deep to find a credit card that wouldn’t charge me for using my card overseas. For you lucky Americans, there is quite a few options available to you, that even come with other incentives and benefits. For us Canadians, there are two. JP Morgan Chase Marriott Card, which build points towards hotel stays, and a new contender on the block, the Rogers Bank Mastercard. New to the scene, the Rogers Bank boasted no foreign transaction fees, welcome bonuses, a limit of $4000, and cash back incentives including 4% on foreign transactions! I can even use the cash back to pay my rogers bills. There are travel hackers out there with crazy credit card skills, racking up points, cancelling cards getting free hotel stays, but that’s a level of travel expertise that frankly astounds me. Check out how they do it here. The cherry on top, is that I can take out cash at any ATM and not be charged additional fees.

I’m actually a little proud of myself, I’m not the most money savvy individual, I barely make it through tax season without crying. But I did the research, found a credit card that would suit my needs, earn a little cash back, have access to cash when needed, but not have to carry around a Pirate’s booty of euros and pounds in cash just to avoid fees. I use my banking app to pay off my credit card on time to avoid interest. It’s all very neat and tidy and I wouldn’t have been able to do all this without my phone, I love my phone. I don’t know what I would do if it went missing, this little rectangle is my life line. Please Universe, never take it from me.

So there we go! Forty Days of travel left, so far on budget. Let’s see how the next month turns out, before I go back to the land of take all my money (still looking at you London.)

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What’s in the bag! Packing for Europe.

Packing for this trip has probably been the most challenging part of planning so far. I’ve never backpacked before, I’m more of a suitcase on wheels and wear sweat pants all the time kind of traveller. I’m not just packing for a quick tour of England, I am travelling Europe and then moving to London. How are you supposed to pack for the frequently cold English weather, dry heat of the mediterranean, party clothes for nights at the disco, and professional clothes for the inevitable job interview, all while fitting it in my 60L MEC backpack? I kept praying for the angel of packing to take care of it for me, but to no avail.

I started taking a serious look at my wardrobe. Would I really need three different party dresses? Do I even wear those shirts anymore? I had to really be willing to part with of a lot of my clothes. I donated 5 garbage bags full of clothes I just don’t need anymore. I packed and repacked my bag 6 times before I was satisfied. Space is precious in my bag and every item I bring had to really be worth it.

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Space is precious but seven pairs of shoes are absolutely necessary.

Seven pairs of shoes. Yes, seven.

  • 1 pair of flip flops for the hostel showers
  • 1 pair of runners because I like to stay active when I can
  • 1 pair converse sneakers for street wear
  • 1 pair of Blundestone boots which I love so much. They’re super comfy and waterproof and I wear them when I travel from place to place.
  • 1 pair of black heels for the dancing times
  • 1 pair of ridiculously cute ballet flats because I love them and I refuse to leave them behind.

IMG_33195 Dresses 4 light and summery for hot weather and 1 fancy one for going out dancing.

  • 7 T-shirts
  • 6 tank tops
  • 4 button up shirts I’m Canadian, of course I have plaid.
  • 4 pairs of pants, 1 for going out and 3 for day wear.
  • 4 pairs of shorts 2 for day wear and 2 swim shorts
  • 2 swim suits
  • 1 denim jacket. This is my favorite piece ever. I wear it with everything
  • 1 wool coat I should have ditched this before leaving the UK for south Europe. I’m glad I had it in Hampshire but now I’m questioning just how attached I am to it.

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My eagle creek compression cubes are the best decision I have ever made for travelling. I can keep my clothes organized and sorted instead of pulling everything out of my bag to find something, it’s there in neat little cubes. They’re like drawers for my backpack!

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This is it. This is all the toiletries I need for my trip. You’ll notice there’s no bottle of shampoo or conditioner. I have really long, super fine and thick poker straight hair, making it do anything nice is a challenge. So for me my shower ritual is sacrosanct, but I didn’t want to deal with the weight of liquid shampoo and conditioner. I needed an alternative. On the recommendation of a fellow traveller I decided to try Lush’s bar shampoo. That tiny little round tin holds the power of 200 washes and I love it! It lathers up and makes my hair feel so soft and clean.  I’m not sold on the conditioner. It’s ok. It leaves my hair soft and fluffy, but I think my high maintenance locks require a little more conditioning than the Lush bar can provide.  Instead of a loofah, I use the exfoliating glove. It’s small and dries fast after use and takes up little space. So far I only use the disposable razors. My favorite are gillette, which are geared towards men, work exactly the same as a woman’s and cost less.

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I keep my makeup bag pretty simple. Back home I had all the different brushes, eye shadow, blush, setting spray, the whole shebang, but even at home I rarely use any of it. These are my essentials and the ones I cannot live without. A primer, a cover up, foundation and powder. I don’t usually wear eyeliner or mascara because I don’t like cleaning the mascara off the delicate skin around my eyes every day. I feel I can get enough vavavoom by just brushing and curling my eyelashes but on those special occasions it is nice to have, so I brought them with me. IMG_3303

Looking at other travel bloggers my electronic set up is pretty sparse! I have my Canon EOS DSLR, which I got on craigslist for $300. I did splurge and bought myself a macbook and I am so glad I did! It’s light and it’s made it so easy for me to make these blogs and post them online. Originally I intended to use my iPad with to blog from, but since I bought my computer it has largely laid unused in my bag. Now I think I’ll only use it when I finally get an apartment and I would gladly have left it behind. I brought my iPhone since I would be working the in the UK and wanted to have something reliable with me.  Travellers frequently pick up a cheap pay as you go phone for making local calls and texts. This hasn’t been necessary in my travels. I have met with little difficulty in using my iPhone, which I leave on airplane mode and connect to wifi either on the streets or in coffee shops. I can use the map even when not connected (I downloaded google maps) and I frequently use my phone to translate when I am struggling with the language. Not only that, but my phone takes pretty awesome photos. It is my life line on the road. It has my calendar which I share with travel companions and my mother (who is doing a great job at being supportive despite her concern.) All of these life line items are kept really close to my chest. Literally. When I’m on the road they live in my Herschel backpack which I wear in the front.

There are professional bloggers that have awesome underwater camera cases, go pros, and lenses and filters. If you have the good fortune to come across Alex in Wanderland’s fabulous blog, check out her What’s in my bag? Series where she covers her essentials in great detail for a variety of destinations.

Some travel essentials not pictured but included:

  • 2 Locks, both combination, one for my locker the other my backpack
  • Power adapters
  • Headphones and the various chargers and cables that keep my electronics going
  • Wallet and passport. These I keep really close to me. My wallet has a loop that goes over my wrist and helps me feel more secure about having it out when I’m in public
  • Eagle Creek bra clip money pack. This is a low profile way to keep a backup stash of money when travelling through major tourist centers.
  • My sketchbook which also contains my travel documents in the back pocket
  • Journal…yes I write about my adventures in two places.

I think I have included everything! I know I’ll pick up a few things on the road, I already have my eye on a laundry bag and a better travel towel and face cloth.

So what about you, what things do you find impossible to leave behind when on the road?

 

 

Applying for the UK Tier 5 working Visa

 

The countdown to our departure has officially begun! Our flight takes off in less than a week and yet, things are quiet and settled. A complete contrast to the whirlwind of preparations undergone only a week ago -this being a mad scramble to pack up my life in a neat little box, culminating in a stress detox at the homestead before hopping on a plane set for London. It’s all ready, however! Now, with the cat in jealous proximity (as I am in her favourite arm-chair) I wanted to write about my experience applying for the Tier 5 Youth in Mobility Visa.

As a Canadian under 31, I qualify for the tier 5 visa. This allows me to live and work in the UK  for two years with access to health care and most amenities of a UK citizen. This visa is supposed to be very simple to attain as it is designed to enable young people to travel between the Commonwealth countries with relative ease, and this turned out to pretty much be the case for me.

In order to apply for the Visa you have to meet a few qualifications. Which, at the time of this post are fairly straightforward:

  • Be 18-30
  • Have £1890 in your bank account, this can be in the form of cash savings or a line of credit.
  • Be from a qualifying country.
  • Have a valid passport with blank pages for the visa

We completed the online application after setting up an account here. this took approximately 60 minutes to go through and included questions such as: Are you/have you been associated with a Terrorist Organization? Which made me wonder, would someone of malintent actually answer yes to that?

We paid the user fee of $78 USD, then paid the visa application fee of $338 USD. After THAT was done, we were required to pay the UK health care surcharge. The cost of which varies based on the time you anticipate spending in the country. We paid for the two-year plan which cost us each  £300. This allows us to access the National Health Services while in the UK. We then had thirty minutes after paying this fee to return to our application. No dilly-dallying!
Once we finished the application, and the fees were paid, we were asked to book an appointment for the BRP data collection. This is the appointment where we get our fingerprints taken and someone reviews the application and supporting documents before sending it off to be approved. No problem…unless you’re like me and you book your appointment for Tuesday morning after applying online the Sunday evening before and you realize you have only one day to get ALL of the paperwork and photos together. Don’t be me, don’t do this.

The appointment ready checklist! What we brought to our application:

  • Passport sized colour photo. London Drugs took and printed mine fast and easy with no waiting.
  • A letter of verification from my bank certifying that I had the £1890 I claimed in my bank account. It turns out this wasn’t really necessary.  Most banks charge a fee for this service, but you can just print a bank statement from your online account and that worked just fine for me.
  • The application printed out.
  • Appointment confirmation printed out.
  • Visa application fee receipt
  • VAC receipt
  • Points form printed out. Even though some places on their website said they don’t use it anymore, I included it and it was sent as part of my application.

At the Visa Application Centre we arrived on time for our appointment and they showed us in together. Our security guard was helpful, but for a professional space that has probably done this countless times, I was surprised to find that I was expected to fill out the forms on my lap as no hard surface was provided. We filled out the last minute details under his guidance and he showed us one at a time into a separate office where our photo and hand prints were taken. We were asked to review the application once more before all our passports and documents and the biometric information was sent off in an overnight express to New York for processing.

Hurray! All done! I didn’t anticipate having any difficulties with the approval process, but I did not expect the amazingly fast turnaround I experienced. My application was sent out Tuesday morning, on Wednesday afternoon I received an emailing saying they had received it. Friday morning I had received the approval email and my passport was back on its way to me and was in my hands on Saturday afternoon.
I wish I could say Beverly had the same experience. Hers took an additional week to process, though we filled them out and sent them together. Then, once it had arrived, it was misprinted! They had filled out her departure date as March 11 not May 11! She had to get it changed and fast, otherwise she would have to refile (a very costly option) or leave within 30 days of March 11. She is going to detail her process on cleaning this mess up on her blog http://beeavixen.tumblr.com/
Now all the bits and pieces are together, me, my passport, my little bar code sticker -DO NOT LOSE THIS. Bring it with you when you go to pick up your Visa at the prearranged site. We are ready to go! Next up, packing.