The Wonder of Google Maps

Everyone knows I’m a planner by now.  So it’ll come as no surprise to you that before I go on a trip, I get on Google Maps and scope out the destination I’m travelling too.  Part of it is just excitement building up, and the other part is that I can see what is going to be around me – like supermarkets, cafes and restaurants.  But the new reason for doing it, is just because sometimes when you use Google Maps, you can find things that you missed in travel brochures and books.

Like the other day, I was having a search around the area of Kensington, where my hotel in London is situated.  I was mapping my way along the Chelsea Embankment (so that’s where Cheska and Binkie from Made in Chelsea go running!) and past Sloane Square and I noticed embankments of blue bicycles everywhere.  I wonder what they are, I thought.  I zoomed in enough to read the signage on the bicycle wheels and could make out ‘Barclays Bikes’.  Hmmmm, I wonder what they are doing there?

A bit of googling and I find out that these bicycles are available for hire by anyone and you can use them 24 hours a day.  These bikes are locked into docking stations, you use your debit/credit card to pay for their release (an access fee of £2 for 24 hours and a usage fee of £1 for an hour with the first half hour free) and you can drop them back wherever you find the next docking station.  Further searching revealed these docking stations are all over the place!  And there’s even one pretty much right outside my hotel.

These bikes were something I had missed noticing in any of my research.  So thank you Google Maps!

Music to my Ears

Living in Perth, Western Australia, it’s always a bug bear of ours that no bands ever come to Perth.  It’s too far away from the more exciting Eastern States and most bands miss us out.  And given it’s more expensive for us in Perth to travel to the eastern states of Australia than it is to a lot of parts of the world, but in particular Asia, it’s not like it’s really an option to just jump on a plane to go to the gig.  It’s simply out of our league.  So unless you are a HUGE fan, you just deal with it and miss out.

Therefore, it’s in our opinion that everywhere else in the world has far better chance to see awesome bands than we do.  So it’s only natural that when you travel to other parts of the world you expect that there will be at least one awesome gig you could attend anywhere in the world at any given time.

That’s not been my experience though.  OK I know my travel has been only throughout Asia at this time, but still there are Asian bands and artists I love too (c’mon – y’all know what a fan of PopAsia I am!!!)  that I never manage to find playing a gig when I’m in town (in particular Headphones President or Shiina Ringo from Japan!).  And as a diehard music fan, it’s really disappointing!  Of all the travels I’ve undertaken there’s only ever been one gig that I’ve wanted to attend – and let me say it was definitely an ABSOLUTELY AWESOME one if that was to be the only overseas gig I ever see in my life – Motley Crue at Fort Canning in Singapore (insert funny/embarrassing story – this was an amazing gig and I was soooo excited to see Motley Crue, and more specifically at the prospect of seeing Nikki Sixx in the flesh, that I totally forgot I was in meltingly humid Singapore while getting ready, with a full face of makeup, just like I would have done if I was at home.  Long story short, on the train on the way back to my hotel after the gig, I was wondering why everyone was staring at me – thinking it was simply because I was the only white girl on the train at this time of night, I shrugged it off.  Until I returned to my hotel and the staff were extra smiley as well.  Just my night?  No, when I got in the lift it was quite clear they had all been staring at me because after a night of moshing to the Crue, all my makeup had run down my face! Bahahahha…….anyway…)

This is the only gig I have managed to catch overseas.  So with my upcoming trip, which includes London and the US – surely there’s going to be a major gig that I’ll be incredibly excited about getting tix to…..or will there?  I haven’t found anything yet….Seattle I’m holding out soooo much hope for you…..

Money, money, money

My big trip is coming up extremely quickly.  It’s only a matter of weeks now before I jet off to experience the other side of the world.  And it’s going to be a trip full of firsts – including using a travel money card.  So, what are travel money cards and how do they work?

What are Travel Money Cards?

Travel money cards are a type of bank card that act like a debit card.  They provide an easy way to access your money in foreign currency while you are overseas so you can avoid carrying large amounts of cash with you.

It’s much safer and much more convenient.  And best of all, travel cards use your own money, so you won’t come back from your trip with a huge debt to pay off.

How Do Travel Cards Work?

Before you head off on your trip, you load your money onto the card and select how much you want to put against each currency.  The exchange rate is locked in so you can avoid unexpected currency fluctuations while away and it makes budgeting for your trip easy.

There are a range of currencies available on each card – the currency type and number of available currencies varies depending on the card you select.  This makes the card convenient when visiting more than one country.

Just like when you change cash at a foreign exchange outlet, you will be charged a foreign exchange rate for changing your money from one currency to another.  There’s also usually a load fee when you load each currency, so you will need to consider this.

Your money goes into different currency ‘purses’ of money.  You can usually choose a ‘default’ currency which is important when you are reloading funds, because the default currency determines the purse that your funds will be allocated to, usually in AUD to begin with.  You may be able to change this so that you can load the currency of the country you are traveling to and avoid a currency conversion fee though.

You can keep track of and top up the card while you are away, usually by just logging onto your account online and transferring the funds via BPAY.  This is something else to check because it might not be the same login as your regular online banking.

You can make Point of Sale (POS) purchases (ie. EFTPOS) or access your money at overseas ATMs, in the local currency of the country you are visiting.  As long as you have the currency you want to use loaded onto your card, you shouldn’t pay a currency conversion fee for each withdrawal.  To avoid conversion fees (if your card charges them), you will need to make sure you set your default currency to Euro beforehand so you can load more Euro onto your card.  If you don’t change your default currency, it may load in another currency, AUD for example.  While you are able to move your money between currency purses on your card, it will expose you to an additional exchange rate.  So before you get a travel card, check out how this works.

Where do you get a travel card?

Travel cards can be obtained from most banks, some travel agencies (such as Flight Centre) and foreign exchange outlets.

Help!  I’ve run out of money!

If there aren’t enough funds left on the card, the card will use the other currencies on the card if available and this will cost you a currency conversion fee.  Some cards will decline the transaction, others will let the transaction go through but will charge you an over limit or negative balance fee.

You can prevent these fees by reloading your card while you’re travelling, usually via BPAY.  The order of the currencies that can be used is pre-set on some cards and doesn’t allow you to change it, but others will allow you to set your own.  Of course you should check how to load your card before you leave, as well as the default order of currencies, loading fees and any currency conversion fees that might apply.

Help!  I’ve lost my travel money card?

A travel card isn’t linked to your personal details or bank account which is great because if it gets stolen, it means your other accounts are safe.  You usually receive a second travel money card, so make sure you keep it separate and in a safe place in case you lose or have the original one stolen.

Some card providers can supply you with emergency cash, so you should check and see if your provider does so.

What other Fees should I watch out for?

There could be a range of other fees associated with a travel money card.  The amount and type of fees can vary so make sure you look into the available cards before you go to get the best deal  Fees to check for may include:

  • Replacement card fees should you lose your travel money card
  • ATM withdrawal fees
  • Fees for not using your travel card for a period of time, say 6 or 12 months.  Whilst you can use the card over and over, if you aren’t planning on travelling frequently, you may want to change any unused currency as soon as you get home to avoid any fees.
  • Travel cards usually have an expiry date.  If your card expires, you may forfeit any unused funds.
  • Exchange rate fees for cashing out any unused currency upon your return home.

So all I have to do now is make a choice!  Wish there was a website for that….

License to Sightsee

I’m going to be on Grand Cayman Island for two weeks and I really have no plans for what I’m going to do.  But I thought, who knows if I might want to hire a rental car and take a drive around the Island to do some sightseeing.  And that would require an international drivers license.

So how do I go about that?

Well, quite easily apparently.  A quick Google search led me to the Royal Automobile Club (RAC) of Australia.  All you had to do it appears, was complete a short form and post it along with a copy of your current drivers license, a passport photo and your processing fee.

And voila, about a week later, I am now the proud holder of an international drivers license!

I wish I had more to tell you, but it was really that easy.  Of course, actually driving in another country will obviously be a different kettle of fish…