Smart banking while on the road doesn’t just mean looking over your shoulder at the ATM. There are a number of other concerns and problems that may occur when you aren’t within the safe borders of your home country.
Inform your Bank before leaving.
Card fraud is more common than ever these days and, as a result, banks are getting more and more paranoid. If suddenly, out of the blue, your debit card is used to draw £500 from an ATM in Vladivostok, alarm bells are going to ring. More often than not, if your bank doesn’t know why this is happening, they’ll instantly block your card.
Always let your bank know where you are going, and for how long.
Make a note of your details
Use an online program like Google Drive, or a secure password app on your phone, to keep a note of your sort code, account number AND the three-digit security code on the back of your card. This way if you lose your card, at least you can still book accommodation online (or if worse comes to worst, a flight home!)
Personally, I memorise these details, but a secure online backup isn’t a bad idea.
Ask for a backup Debit Card
Losing a debit card while travelling can mean the difference between eating or not. If you’ve done point two above, you should still be able to book accommodation, but there are few places where food can be bought with anything other than cash.
Most banks will give you a second debit card that you can keep securely at your hostel. This means that if you lose your card while abroad, you won’t need to wait for a new card to arrive at Barbados Hostel in Vladivostok (a real place), especially after it inevitably ends up at Vladivostok Hostel in Barbados (hopefully not a real place.)
Enquire with your bank about getting a second card.
Get a Card with No Fees
New online UK bank Starling is offering new accounts with NO FEES on any transactions or withdrawals while abroad, in any country. Another good travel card option includes Travelex Cash Passport, a card that can be pre-loaded with foreign currency. Monzo seemed promising when they came out last year, but now have a huge waiting list and don’t appear to offer anything better than the Starling Card.
A no-fees travel card can save you tons of cash!
Register with Online Banking
With no access to a bank branch, often online banking can be your only connection to your bank while overseas. Sometimes setting up online banking requires a text notification, so if your local phone number is not working while abroad, you may have trouble setting it up.
Ensure this is all done and working before you leave.
Starling bank is a new ‘online only’ UK bank offering debit cards that charge NO FEES for withdrawals or transactions, anywhere in the world!
They work with all ATM’s just the same as any other debit card, but don’t charge the usual 3-5% per transaction that most other banks do!*
It’s the perfect card for frequent travellers.
NO MORE ATM WOES
I know when I travel, drawing cash is one of the most annoying things. Mainly because you need to plan ahead – if you are out one night and run out of money, you can’t just go and grab £10 out of the ATM. Even though it’s advertised as only charging you a percentage, there is usually minimum charge of £2 – £3.
So when drawing cash, you have to draw enough for at least a few weeks to make it worthwhile – the more the better. But then you have a huge wad of cash on you, so you need to immediately head back to your hotel or hostel and put it in a safe place.
The Starling online app is also far more intuitive than most banking apps, providing you with accurate descriptions of purchases, correct retailer details, currency conversions and even spending patterns.
Furthermore, if your card gets lost or stolen, you can instantly disable it from the app – no need to call your bank! The app is secured with a PIN or fingerprint security, so if you lose your phone it’s still secure. The only issue is you will need to get another phone and download the app before you can do any online banking, but your debit card will still work.
JUST LIKE ANY OTHER BANK
Every account comes with the standard sort code and account number, so they can be used for online purchases, direct debits and EFT payments just like any other bank – but with no extra charges!
Currently, they are only issuing Mastercard debit cards, but I would imagine they will start doing Visa soon. Either way, this shouldn’t be an issue, as in my experience Mastercard and Visa are equally prevalent around the world.
Budget Icelandic airline Wow Air is looking for someone to hire as a ‘travel guide’ who is willing to move to Iceland for 3 months this year and work for them.
In addition to living and working in Reykjavik, Iceland, you will also be sent on eight trips to international destinations!
The job runs from 1 June to 15 August 2018 and requires you to vlog and make videos for the airline.
The job offers an incredible $4000 a month salary, plus transportation, travel and living expenses!
Not only this – the lucky winner will also get to bring a co-worker, friend or partner of their choice!
The majority of the work will involve creating tourism content for Instagram about the city you’re visiting. Basically, if you’re a big Instagram vlogger you’ll be doing what you do anyway, but getting paid for it!
Applicants must be 18 years of age, have a Facebook account and create a two-minute video of their hometown in order to enter.
I’d imagine the competition is pretty stiff though, so if you apply you better pull out all the stops!
“And so you cower and cast your gaze upon the setting sun, it’s scarlet menace melting into the horizon like blood. Slowly your eyes are drawn skyward to the star-scarred heavens and you know, right there in that moment, that no God can save you now. This is Africa.”
I knock gently on the wooden beam beside me. This is not a knock for luck – that ship has sailed – this is a knock to gauge structural integrity. What had once seemed so strong and stable, now strikes me as particularly weak and flimsy. We appear to be trapped in a prison of matchsticks.
Outside, six wild African elephants lumber about noisily, snapping twigs and occasionally emitting a low grumble. For the most part, they appear not to notice us, but the ever-encroaching darkness provides only false hope. Our guides have informed us, in no uncertain terms, that they can smell us. They know we are here.
Much earlier, before the sun began to set, we watched in awe as two of these giant pachyderms drank from the waterhole, occasionally stopping to fight playfully. From the safety of the bird-hide, we felt no danger – our safari vehicle a mere thirty-metres or so behind us. We drank and chatted jovially, unaware of a larger group of elephants approaching from behind.
Shortly before dark, the guides stepped inside the bird-hide to join the rest of us, their calm composure waning slightly. Two more elephants had appeared from our left and begun their slow stroll down to the water directly in front of us. Their lazy, laborious movements should not be misconstrued – these animals can reach a pace of 45 km per hour in an exceptionally short space of time.
However, we still felt relatively safe in our wooden cage, and good-spirited chatter continued while we appreciated the spectacle of their bathing routine, amazed at how they managed to disappear completely under water. But soon all voices would be hushed.
As the guides quietly conversed among themselves in their local tongue, we began to realise it was time to leave. The mood grew tense. We were informed that two more elephants had settled within metres of our vehicle. In normal daylight, a single elephant is not usually a concern. Unless provoked, they will generally remain calm. After dark, it’s a different story – they can’t see well and are on high alert for predators. A single snapped twig could ignite a stampede.
In such a situation, ego takes a back seat. In the imposing shadow of mother nature, there is no place for pride or bravado. To feel anything less than utter respect and humility would be ignorant. Earth becomes no longer the domain of humans – we are but inconsequential upon its vast surface.
As the reality of our situation became apparent, the bird hide fell deathly silent.
And so here we find ourselves – surrounded, trapped, in our matchstick prison. My knock echoes in the silence. Nobody speaks. Occasionally, someone checks for mobile phone reception, always with the same result. After what seems like hours, our guides reach a decision. We will attempt to approach the vehicle three at a time, emphasis placed on the necessity to remain calm and walk slowly. In these situations, there is no greater danger than the smell of fear. Even a slight change in vibration of a panicked footstep is perceptible to a wild animal.
As I reach the vehicle in the second group of three, my heart lodges itself firmly in my throat and I gaze upon the huge black shape only a few metres behind me. It remains eerily still until the last few of our group climb safely into their seats, and then suddenly begins to amble ponderously off, giving me a mild heart attack in the process.
The old Landrover sputters to life, but even its noisy diesel engine can’t drown out the sighs of relief as we escape quickly into the darkness.
African Elephants are the largest land mammals on Earth and amongst the world’s most intelligent species, having a brain structure similar to that of humans. They are viciously protective of their young, and many people underestimate the danger they pose.
This is quite a new hostel and when I was there the rooftop communal area was still being built, but it looks very promising! The dorms are modern and clean with bathrooms in each one and occasionally even hot water. Downstairs they have a restaurant and chill area where they offer free breakfast and bottomless tea and coffee. It’s not as close to the beach as some Mirissa accommodation, but still, only a five minute walk away. Out the back, there is a river where you can watch monkeys and Komodo dragons fight over scraps of food.
Hangover Hostel is a more upper-class hostel with a perfect location directly over the road from the beach. It has dorms and privates (£30) with hot water, AC, secure card access and offers an excellent restaurant downstairs with fast wifi, a bar and occasional live entertainment. It’s quite a bit pricier than most Sri Lankan hostels, but if you want to treat yourself it’s worth the extra cash.
Like Hangover Hostel in Mirissa, Hangtime is perfectly located on the beachfront, with an excellent rooftop chill area overlooking the ocean. They don’t serve alcohol but have a great selection of coffee and juices. Rooms are clean and include A/C, wifi and, occasionally, hot water. It’s a great place to meet other travellers and rooftop parties usually continue into the night.
The Classic is a new budget guesthouse in Weligama offering private rooms for as little as £5 a night. Bathroom facilities are shared but since they currently only have three rooms this is not much of an issue. The rooms are basic but very clean and modern, and the beach is about a ten-minute walk away. They do have wifi but it’s based in the owner’s house across the street so it’s a bit weak. Rooms have a fan but no A/C. Despite its simplicity, the Classic was one of my favourite places to stay in Sri Lanka.
If you are a large group of ten looking for somewhere private and peaceful with an enormous swimming pool, BBQ facilities and a small but empty beach, Casa Hakka Villa is the place for you. It’s a private home a short bus or tuk-tuk ride outside of Hikkaduwa with five bedrooms that can sleep up to ten people (all double beds). Two staff live permanently in the house and attend to cleaning and changing bedding, but remain almost invisible the entire time. Just ensure to bring supplies when you come, as it’s a bit far from any shops!
Hansa Surf is a nice budget hotel on the beach front which spectacular views and an excellent location that makes up for the sub-par conditions. Rooms are pretty basic, with the usual lack of warm water and no A/C, just a fan. However, they are comfortable and include mosquito nets.
Hikkaduwa doesn’t have the same large number of hostels that most tourist spots in Sri Lanka do but fortunately offers up this one gem right next to the railway station. This does, however, mean it’s a bit further from Hikkaduwa’s best beaches… but closer to the wine shop! So swings and roundabouts. And what a name, right? What could possibly go wrong…
Ella is, in my opinion, the best place in Sri Lanka. It’s a secluded mountain hideaway with outstanding beauty, an exceptionally chilled out environment, and just the right amount of party atmosphere.
Tomorrowland Hostel (£6)
Tomorrowland is a fabulous piece of backpacker tradition that is rare to find these days. A truly travel orientated hostel focused purely on helping the customer. They provide free sleeping space for those temporarily without accommodation and offer the option of volunteer work for those who need other means to pay. It has a very hippie, psychedelic, theme which can be quite addictive, making it difficult to leave. Most of the accommodation is in tents, and you are welcome to pitch your own. The only problem is, it’s a bit far from town – so bring supplies!
Sigiriya is where you will find Sri Lanka’s most famous tourist attraction – Sigiriya ‘Lion’ Rock. The rock has been considered sacred by locals for centuries and features ancient temples below and up upon it. Entrance is a rather pricey Rs5000 each.
Boralukanda is one of very few affordable accommodation options in Sigiriya and is within walking distance of the famous Sigiriya Lion Rock. It’s very basic but decent enough for a few nights sleep, which is really all you need in Sigiriya. Wifi is questionable and it offers little to no facilities, but at least it has mosquito nets!
If you’re a couple and want to splash out on something a bit posher while in Sigiriya, you can’t beat Flower Garden Eco-Village. If for nothing else, it’s huge, bizarrely decorated swimming pool alone is reason enough to stay here. The rooms are fabulous – with modern facilities, satellite TV, tea and coffee machines, A/C and hot water. Breakfast is included, but dinner is pricey.
Unawatuna is a great place for surfing and snorkelling with sea turtles. It’s one of the best beach towns in Sri Lanka and is easily accessible from the nearby city of Galle.
Camp Kush is one of the best places to stay on the Sri Lankan South Coast. On first arrival it’s location may be a bit off-putting, as it’s quite far inland away from the beach. However, your fears will quickly be availed by the warm generosity of the host Buchi and the welcoming vibe of the camp. It features private rooms and dorm beds in beautiful grass tipis around a central campfire. Each tipi has electricity and a fan. Transport to the beach and town is quick and easy to arrange with the host, and breakfast is included.
Agra, also known as ‘that place where the Taj Mahal is’ is, quite literally, that place where the Taj Mahal is. It also features the incredible Agra Fort which I didn’t go to because, like everyone else, I only went to Agra for the Taj.
I must say, though, that unlike most tourist traps, the Taj Mahal is actually worth the time and money (Rs1000 entrance – about £11). It is a well pimped-out palace of note, made almost entirely of white marble. Imagine the number of kitchen counters they could have made with all that marble? Every Indian shanty from Kolkata to Kochi could be decked out with blinding white, glittering surfaces ready to smash any piece of crockery placed down too heavily. But no, instead, the good old Shah Jahan built the world’s grandest gravestone, because that’s really all it is – a big-ass tomb for the Shah and his wife. Nobody ever even lived there.
Room with a View
Another great thing about Agra is that property conglomerates haven’t bought all the surrounding land and built 5-star hotels, so you can still get a £5 hotel room with a view of the Taj! Imagine you could get a hotel in Paris with a view of the Eiffel tower for £5? Imagine how terrible that hotel would have to be? Can you imagine it? Well, that’s how the cheap hotels in Agra are. But hey, for one or two nights, who cares? It’s just somewhere to sleep. And get bedbugs.
No Unicorns at the Taj Mahal
The security at the Taj is pretty damn tight, to say the least. They didn’t even let me take in my latex unicorn mask. I mean, seriously? I know it’s terrifying and mildly disturbing that a 35-year-old man carries around a latex unicorn mask, but what am I going to do with it? It’s not even flammable, it would just melt into an even more terrifying blob of bubbling goo. Books too, they don’t like you taking in books. Or food. Basically, just take your phone and wallet. If, however, you do decide to take your latex animal mask or a dog-eared copy of ‘50 Shades of Grey’, they do have locker facilities to leave your illegals in.
Once inside you will not be disappointed. The Taj Mahal is one of the few places I’ve visited that somehow makes good photo opportunities possible, despite a massive throng of tourists. We managed to take the prerequisite seven thousand photos of the palace from every different angle, and one or two didn’t even have a single other tourist in! It truly is an Instagram junkie’s heaven.
Super Secret Photo Hack!
If you do go to the Taj, make sure to visit one of the relatively deserted side temples so you can get an awesome arch-framed photo like the one below.
I mean, come on, how pro does that look?
Any More to Agra?
As I mentioned above, other than the Taj and Agra Fort, there isn’t much more to Agra. We did, however, have a day to kill before our night bus the following day so we went to explore the ‘Taj Nature Walk’. This I do not recommend. It’s not so much a nature walk as a dry, run down park that made me think of the Pripyat amusement park in Chernobyl. Bonus points for finding the terrifying ‘zoo’ full of plastic animals that I can only imagine were placed there after all the real animals died of boredom from having to live in this park.
Ok, so I know Vang Vieng got a lot of bad press a few years ago because of some deaths, but the local government has actually sorted it out a lot, and it’s (relatively) safe now. This means that when tubing down the river you can no longer do 20-meter high, unsecured ziplines after five shots of tequila, or triple backflips off the crazy slide into the one-meter deep water. So if you do still manage to die, it would be entirely your own, idiotic, fault.
With that said, let’s see if we can still find some fun ways to off-yourself in the party capital of Laos!
Back in 2010 before young travellers started treating Vang Vieng like a euthanasia clinic, all the bars tried to outdo each other by having an hour of free drinks at the same time. Realizing this simply split the clientele up and didn’t really supply anyone with enough decent business, they agreed to each have an individual one-hour time slot. This tradition lives on today and as a result, you can drink for four straight hours, every night, completely free – if you know in which order to visit the bars! This becomes considerably more difficult after bar number two, but I think I managed it once. Or not. Who knows? Not me.
Get lost in a cave.
Up by Blue Lagoon 3 (or whichever number they’ve decided to call it today), deep in the jungle you’ll find a tiny hole that leads into a huge, pitch black cave that is entirely unguided, unlit and unmanaged in any way. It’s just a big, long, black hole in the mountain – old school vibes.
Within this ‘Indiana Jones’ style death trap you can enjoy getting completely and utterly lost by forgetting a twist or turn on the way back out and running out of battery on your shitty iPhone 5. I do not recommend this. I hyperventilated a lot.
Personally, of course, I would never touch drugs because they’re bad mmmkay, but I’ve heard from a friend of a friend that apparently there may be one or two things and thangs floating about old V-V. I’m not sure how true this is but it was strange that the items on the back of my restaurant menu read like a Nirvana b-sides album.
Maybe ‘opium’ is just a type of pizza. Who knows?? (I do. It’s not).
Break your neck playing basketball
The only remaining danger along the tubing route is an awesome wooden basketball court, which in practice would be entirely safe if it weren’t for an overhead sprinkler system which rains down on the court all day. Admittedly, this keeps you nice and cool in the 40-degree Celsius weather, but also keeps the court as slippery as a naughty nuns noony – resulting in, at best whiplash, and at worst, a fatal head injury.
Dying of starvation while trying to find “Blue Lagoon 2”
Just give up, it doesn’t exist, and the first free drinks hour is starting soon!
Disclaimer 2: The information in this article is satirical and the writer takes no responsibility for injury or death resulting from partaking in or re-enacting any activities described. Like, seriously guys, sort your lives out.