How to have a stress free trip when it comes to money

Whilst travelling is the most wonderful, incredible experience it is pretty dependent on that one, annoying, niggling little thing… money!

After working so so hard to save for our trip we were set on making the most of every penny – we had a time scale and fit out roughy budget (£1000/month) around it.

Little Corn, Nicaragua – worth saving up for

Determined not to be one of those ‘we had to fly home early’ horror stories we got down to work…

…before embarking on our adventure we did hours of research on the best banks, credit and debit cards and  ways to carry cash to make the most of our money whilst away.

After months of account reviews, setting up credit cards and changing current accounts we finally managed to have a great, all-bases-covered kind of wallet for our trip.

must-see places and activities all cost – Chichen Itza, Mexico

Here are the details;

Primary usage

Halifax clarity credit card – totally free to use abroad (with a tiny 1% interest on cash withdrawals), easy to setup (seriously Halifax customer service is great) and paid off by direct debit each month which meant a worry free trip

Nationwide debit card – totally free for all cash withdrawals (did charge to use as a chip and pin though), the account did have a £10/month fee but that more than balanced out what we would have racked up in charges with another account so was great value

US Dollars – ‘the world’s currency’ these were accepted for large payments (e.g. travel and accommodation) all around South and Central America (and they are the currency in Ecuador and El Salvador)

Back-up plan

HSBC debit card – this was my debit card that I use at home, it has terrible international rates for both usage and cash withdrawals but does work virtually everywhere in the world – we only used it once but its key to have a back-up

Nationwide Credit Card – this was free to use abroad but was only a back-up which (very kindly) Robbie’s parents kept an eye on so the bills were paid asap – we used it twice but only in real emergencies (e.g. both out cards getting declined for no reason!)

Overall thoughts

Halifax was great but it was a Mastercard which wasn’t accepted in a few places (Visa is more universal)

With all banks the charge for payments are kept ridiculously hidden and despite all our digging and fact searching we were only aware of the Nationwide charges once the first statement came through

Booze can easily be a budgets downfall though sticking to beer means you can afford more than one


Top tips

  1. Always carry back-up dollars – keep these in a seperate safe place so you always have a back up
  2. Always know the currency and exchange rate when crossing countries borders
  3. Don’t be afraid to swap small change at borders (even if the guys look dodgy) but the exchange rate is rubbish so if you exchange more than £20 worth and your being ripped off!
  4. Double, triple check with your bank for any charges at all when abroad – the banks are trying to sell you their product so it is up to you to be critical and push for the negatives/hidden charges
  5. Always setup a direct debit payment for credit cards (in advance if possible so you can test it before you go)
  6. Keep a budget – the most crucial advice – it sounds dull but by making a note on paper of everything we spent we kept on top of our spending and had no money issues – and it only takes 2 mins!
  7. Make sure your overall budget is realistic – we set about £30/day or £1000/month – this may sound a lot but that is travel, accomodation, food, drink, souvenirs and activities – trust me, it is virtually impossible to do it on less unless you work for accomodation etc.

Markets and souvenirs are a minefield for a cash strapped traveller


How to budget

All over the web on travel blogs there are nightmarish spreadsheet ‘fail safe’ budget techniques, however who wants to be doing a spreadsheet when they could be out discovering thenworld??

The simpler the better was the method we used – though a little shaky at the start we soon perfected our method

Take a notepad (a gazillion other uses too) and record

  1. Every time you spend on card
  2. Every time you spend online (accomodation, flights etc.)
  3. Everyte you take cash out

Put a date with each entry and total eat each time you get to the end of the page!

Divide the total by the number of days you have been away and it should equal £30 (or whatever your daily budget may be)!

We think that is the fool proof way!

Besides accomodation travel was pur next biggest cost

Happy budgeting!

P.s. Don’t be scared of having some days at £50 and others at £15… When changing counties that’s just how it goes – so long as your standard of living doesn’t change your budget should equal itself out between the expensive and cheap days!

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