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Are you not glad I have suffered misfortunes, bad service, insects and other hazards? Now I know what to do and what not to do, how to do it and where to do it, and on this page I want to tell you all about it.


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Yay Travel

Travellers' Cheques Update

Some time ago, I recommended that some, not all, of the funds one takes abroad be in the form of travellers cheques. The main reason for this is that if they are lost or stolen, they can be replaced free of charge. It is not like losing cash.

 

Since writing that, the world has become even smaller than it was before for travellers cheques and, if you are lucky, you will find an agency close to where you are staying and that does not charge much commission.

 

Two years ago, the AECT locator website referred me to offices that cashed travellers’ cheques inSantiago,Chile. Not one of those places cashed them. I wrote to American Express to explain the situation and they were so unhelpful, they asked me to make all sorts of phone calls to tell them what I had told them in my e-mail. I did not bother.

 

In my most recent trip, I did not touch travellers’ cheques and took cash and a credit card with me. My companion, against my advice, took travellers cheques. Well, inParisshe was charged $45 commission by a company called Change Group. Talk about a rip off. She waited until we were inBrusselsbefore changing some more – at least there they were more reasonable. She changed her last travellers’ cheques inMadrid. We ended up travelling from the centre ofMadridall the way to the airport to change the travellers’ cheques. The twisted joke is that we changed these at an American Express office that proceeded to charge commission on the very cheques it had issued.

 

I came to the conclusion a while ago that American Express does not really care about customer service to buyers of travellers cheques. I could probably have lived with that to a point but it seems that there are now almost no offices in most places accepting these and, if they do, you often need to travel a long way to cash the cheques or you need to pay hefty commissions.

 

My revised advice is, therefore, to take cash, credit cards and debit cards, and no travellers cheques. Make sure, however, you keep all these items safe, and check with your bank if they will reverse fraudulent charges to a credit card or ATM card. My bank does that for me and that is one of the reasons I still have my credit card with them.

Category: Money Issues

14 Jan 2013 | 10:04 AM | Posted by: Yay Travel

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Yay Travel

Flea Market Tips

It's fun to go to flea markets and bazaars when you travel. What flea market tips can we offer when you're in some exotic country? Everyone thinks they know the best way to approach the vendors and haggle. You can probably just go with what you think is best on that score, but there are some practical tips we can offer.

The most important flea market tip is to watch for pickpockets and practice all your travel safety skills. Flea markets all over the world attract large crowds of locals and tourists alike. Everyone is bumping and jostling, and you're probably distracted by just looking at everything. Can you think of a better place for pickpockets?

Then we get into the practical tips. Wear comfortable shoes. You're apt to be walking miles, literally. Bring umbrellas and rain gear. Some markets are under large rooves, some are outdoors. Those outdoor ones won't usually be cancelled for rain; the vendors are often under tents and awnings, so they're dry. You might as well try to stay dry as well.

Check opening hours. Some flea markets open at dawn. Serious collectors and buyers get there early for the "real finds". You don't have to shake yourself out of your hotel bed that early if all you want to do is browse. Remember though that some markets close by early afternoon, so don't laze in bed for too long.

Bring along cash. Some flea markets have gone a bit upscale, and you may be able to use credit cards, but don't count on it. If it's really a flea market, the vendors will want cash. Bring small bills that are easy to get change for. You don't want to be haggling over that last dollar then hand them the equivalent of a hundred dollar bill. (A note for responsible travel: Haggle, but don't go for the last dime. Remember that in poor countries they need the money more than you do.)

Take along a pen and paper. If you don't speak the local language, and the vendor doesn't know any English, you can bargain with them by writing the numbers on the paper instead of scratching them on the palm of your hand. Also, if you think you might want to go back for an item, write down the stall number or location so you can find it again but don’t count on that great find being there when you return. If it really is a find it may well have been snapped up by someone else. If you see something you just can't live without, buy it right then and there. Just remember that, in most cases, these are the types of places where you won't be able to return it if you change your mind. Decisions, decisions.

Here's a flea market tip that could save you money: don't get caught up in the excitement of the moment. It's easy to get into looking and haggling for something you don't really need or want. Remember this especially if you're looking at a large item. If it doesn't fit "under the seat in front of you or in the overhead rack" of your plane, you're going to have to check it or ship it or trust the vendor to ship it. You may not save any money at all if you have to ship it. (We've had no problems when we had merchants send us rugs, but we've heard horror stories about goods not being sent, broken in shipping or even switched from what you bought, so beware.)

Take time to eat and drink. Many flea markets have food stalls, which are a good way to try some local fare and keep your strength and spirits up.

One last flea market tip: if you've haggled and found something that you really, really want, go for it. It'll make for a great travel story and a "priceless" souvenir.

Category: Shopping

28 Oct 2012 | 11:42 AM | Posted by: Yay Travel

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Yay Travel

Paris Passes

If you're going to Paris, you may have heard of the Paris Pass, the Paris Visite Pass and the Paris Museum Pass. These have the potential both to save you and to cost you money. Let me explain the concept.

 

Paris has lots of museums and other attractions. To get into each of these involves standing in long queues, sometimes for two hours. In addition, an entrance fee is paid for each attraction. How great would it be if you could get into many or most of the attractions for a reduced fee without even having to queue? Sounds great, right?

 

At first glance it is a really good idea, hence something like the Paris Museum Pass. That said, bear in mind the adage: “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is”. I am not saying you should not get a Paris Museum Pass or one of the other cards; I am, however, saying you should think about whether it is right for you.

 

Obviously, if one looks at it purely from the point of view of not standing in a queue for two hours, then, subject to pricing, it is well worth it. It is on the pricing side thought that the issues arise. First, while you could save money by visiting museums at reduced rates using the Paris Museum Pass, you would need to visit a lot, really a lot. You also have a limited time in which to visit these. So, for example, you might buy a pass for two days. You then have only two days to see several museums. You can buy a pass for up to six days but then the price also increases. After working out the logistics of getting to different museums, you will see that you will probably need to visit at least two museums a day for it Paris Museum Pass to be worth your while on the financial front. That might sound okay, one museum before lunch and one after, except that some museums are massive, such as the Louvre, which would require two days on its own. Also, museums usually only open at 10AM, leaving two to three hours to do a sprint through one. After lunch, you will be left with about four hours to do a sprint through a different museum if that museum is big. Do you really want to rush through some of these museums just so that you can say you saved a few Euros?

 

Bear in mind too that many museums are closed on a Monday and public holiday. This means, for example, that if you started using a six day Paris Museum Pass on a Sunday, then, at a minimum, you will forfeit any benefit on the Monday. In other words, you will have paid not to see any museums on the Monday because the pass is for six consecutive days, not six days of your choosing. If the Tuesday is a public holiday, which will be the case on25 December 2012, you will have paid for two days of not seeing any museums. As a general rule, therefore, you should only activate a Paris Museum pass on or after a Wednesday but before a Monday. You should also work out how many days holiday you will have in Paris. There is, for example, no sense in buying a four day pass if you will be in Paris on 24 and25 December 2012and if you leave on27 December 2012.

 

My advice regarding the Paris Museum Pass would therefore be to buy only if you are determined to spend several days doing nothing but visiting various museums, so that you can hopefully derive some kind of financial benefit. The main benefit for most of us would simply be not having to stand in long queues.

 

Then there is the Paris Visite Pass. This also sounds good in theory – you can go up and down with the Metro and other public transport, depending on the zones you paid for, as much as you want for a predetermined number of days. In many cities I might have thought that was a great deal but when it comes to Paris I have my doubts. Many attractions in Paris are within walking distance of one another, often anywhere from 500 metres to 3km apart. Even if the attraction is relatively far away, that is 3km away, you could meander through the streets, taking in the sights and sounds and stopping off here and there to enjoy coffee, baguette or shopping. Of course, the attractions will only be reasonably close if you stay closer to the centre of Paris. If you do think you will need to use the Metro a number of times during your trip, it is probably better value for money to buy a booklet of ten tickets from one of the Paris Metro stations.

 

That brings me to the Paris Pass. This consists of the Paris Museum Pass, the Paris Visite Pass for the Metro, a pass for a few additional attractions, a ride on the Paris Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus as well as a Paris guidebook. To me, this pass is not worth it. I would rather get just the Paris Museum Pass on its own for the required number of days. As for a guidebook, you can get those in the bookshops and online. Why should you be forced to buy a guidebook when all you really want is access to different attractions and maybe even the use of public transport?

 

Ultimately, the decision is yours but, based on the current pricing structure and terms of use as well as the benefits offered, I would buy only the Paris Museum Pass if I was willing to dedicate at least two entire days to visiting just some of the museums.

Category: Money Saving Tips

7 Oct 2012 | 06:53 AM | Posted by: Yay Travel

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Yay Travel

Schengen Visas

If you're planning a visit to several European countries and if you're thinking about applying for a Schengen visa, my advice at the moment is not to do so but rather to apply to individual countries. I would also advise you to first look into all the individual user costs as this can have a huge negative impact on how many European countries you can afford to visit.

 

Part of the reason I am currently advising against applying for a Schengen visa is the lack of trust that sometimes exists between members of the Schengen zone. There is also the possibility that some of the countries in the zone might pull out, leaving you with a worthless visa and having to reapply anyway to specific countries for visas issued by them.

 

For more information regarding the challenges presented by Schengen visas, please see this article.

Category: Visas

30 Apr 2012 | 10:21 AM | Posted by: Yay Travel

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Yay Travel

Eating on the Cheap

Part of the adventure of travelling is food. Unfortunately, food costs money. Some people are happy to splurge on very expensive restaurants every day of their trip, some like to mix the cheap and the expensive and some people want to go dirt cheap the whole trip. If you like to sometimes save money on food, here are some ways you can do it:

 

Buffets

 

Visit buffets as the prices are often lower than what you would pay for something a la carte. They also have the advantage that you can choose exactly what you want and get a good variety of vegetables and nutrients, depending on the quality of the buffet, of course. Some buffets like those in Brazil are really great in that they charge you according to the weight of the food you take. That means that if you eat a little, you do not end up subsidising those people who eat a lot. The fixed price buffets do, however, have the advantage that if you really are very hungry, you can eat as much as you want.

 

Street Food

 

I am most definitely not a fan of street food because the hygiene standards practised by a lot of vendors are less than great. Some people, however, love these vendors because they can get food very cheaply. You need to decide what your comfort levels are in terms of hygiene. Be warned: if you pick the wrong street vendor, you will be spending some of your cash on doctors and medicine.

 

Fast Food

 

Fast food is often cheaper than a lot of restaurants and there have been times where fast food has saved my life, figuratively speaking, because all the food at other places was truly very bad. This happened only once or twice with me, and I far prefer eating decent meals. There are times, however, when the price of decent food is just a little more than what you might pay for fast food and then it is definitely worth it to go eat a better tasting, more nutritious meal. If you do travel and if you really are able to afford only fast food, I would encourage you to mix it up and go to places that serve at least some quality vegetables with their food. Eating fast food all the time is bad for your health and can start to take away some of your enjoyment from your trip purely because your body is not getting what it needs.

 

Locals and Food Courts

 

Go eat where the locals go rather than where the tourists go. Often the locals will go to food courts, which many shopping malls have, including some of the exclusive ones. Some food courts are not great but then there are those, especially in Asia, where there is a good variety of healthy, affordable food.

 

Specials

 

Be on the lookout for specials advertised outside restaurants. If you do not see any, you can always ask the staff before deciding if you should go in. If a restaurant does not have any specials on that day, find out if they have any on another day. Then go visit them when they do have the special. Restaurants also sometimes find it more difficult to attract customers for lunch than for dinner, so consider having your main meal lunch time and then get something small from a supermarket for dinner.

 

Sometimes you will get a tourist card for a specific city and sometimes these tourist cards can lead to discounts in restaurants. Do your research but do not rush out and get a tourist card unless you are certain it will yield other savings for you besides on a few meals. Some cards might cost you more money than they are worth. Also, do not go half way across a city for a discounted meal. By the time you arrive, the discount would have been negated by all the transport costs.

 

Do research too about the airlines that you are thinking of using to get to your destination. Some airlines like Singapore Airlines do from time to time give visitors discounts on restaurants, transport and other services. Sometimes these specials are well hidden on a website and you might have to find them using Google. Otherwise, simply phone the airline and ask.

 

Local Markets and Supermarkets

 

Buying food from a local market or supermarket saves a lot of money because you are not paying the salaries of restaurant staff or other overheads. You also have a lot more choice in terms of what you want to eat. Although supermarkets are often cheaper nowadays than local markets because of their buying power, there are still local markets that are cheaper, especially in developing countries.

 

Stop Eating When You’re Full

 

Even if you’re really enjoying the food at a particular restaurant, if you are full, stop eating. In addition to the health benefits of not overeating, you will be able to take away what you did not eat, and that can then be your dinner. Two meals for the price of one is really not a bad thing, especially if the restaurant you visited was a cheap one.

 

Book Accommodation with a Fridge

 

When you book a place to stay, go for one that has a fridge. A lot of food that can last long, that is affordable and that is nutritious needs to be kept cold. I know from experience that not having a fridge can really put a dent in one’s budget because either you have to keep going to restaurants or you have to keep paying transport costs to get food from the supermarket each day as you cannot store a lot for more than one or two days without it going off.

 

It is also a good idea to have a kettle in the room. Think about packets of soup, instant noodles and more. If you cannot get a room with a kettle, take an immersion heater with you. That way you will at least be able to boil some water.

 

Avoid the Touristy Areas

 

Stay away from restaurants near major tourist attractions or where a lot of tourists stay. This is a general guideline only as there are exceptions. For example, Bukit Bintang is very popular with tourists in Kuala Lumpur and there are a lot of hotels in this street. However, it is also very popular with locals, so you will be able to find everything from affordably to insanely expensive. In fact, one of my favourite restaurants is in Bukit Bintang.

 

Save on Drinks

 

At many restaurants the real price of the meal comes from the drinks, be these alcoholic or non-alcoholic. If you can, buy no more than one non-alcoholic drink to go with your meal and then go buy something else to drink from a shop once you have finished. If you do drink alcohol, then definitely do not buy any at a restaurant. It will add considerably to the cost of a meal. I confess I am a hypocrite when it comes to buying something to drink in a restaurant: if I am thirsty, I will buy more than one drink. In fact, I usually have at least two things to drink in a restaurant although they are always non-alcoholic. In terms of drinks, it depends on how budget conscious you are. I do not hold back on buy something to drink if I want it except at those hotels where you could buy five of the same drink for less at a shop.

 

As I said, food is part of the adventure and for most of us there is a budget limit. It’s just the severity that varies. Use the tips as you need them to stay within your budget but try too not to lose the fun element.

Category: Food

7 Apr 2012 | 03:25 AM | Posted by: Yay Travel