Tag Archives: traveling

Travel Trips on Money

money, travel, euros, moneybelt

Creative Commons: Roby on Flickr

I’m planning a trip to Europe in September and thought I would get some of the preparation out-of-the-way. When I went to Ireland in 2007 I took some cash and traveler’s  checks and my sister took cash. But travelers’ checks, they’re kind of passé, aren’t they? A friend had pointed out that I could have used my bank card and I thought, well, duh. But then, could I?

moneybelt, traveling, travelers checks, passport holder, travel safety

Creative Commons from http://www.travelingcow.com

So I’ve started checking out a few factors. I thought the easiest thing to do would be to put a deposit of cash onto my credit card and then I could just charge items to the card and only pay the exchange rate. But guess what, because the credit card companies (Visa, MasterCard, and I presume American Express) don’t feel they’re gouging us enough with anywhere from 10 to 19% interest on our charges, they tack on a 2.5% charge for any transaction out of the country. For me, being Canadian, that means even a trip to the States will cost me extra on my card. I might be able to pay off my bill before the interest charge comes into effect but not for the 2.5%. Remember, on $1000 that would be an extra $25 for nothing.

Next I called my bank to ask about my debit card, which now has a chip. They said it probably would not work for point of sale transactions as each store in Europe would have to buy into a system and there is no reason they would be part of a North American system. I could use it at a bank machine that is part of the same network as mine (Cirrus in this case) but I would be most likely subjected to a fee from my bank (depends which network) as well as from the European bank machine, which could be as high as $6 per transaction. Well, that’s cheaper than Visa/MasterCard but still could add up and I’m stuck with withdrawing a daily limit. It’s best to check what that limit is.

It looks like I’ll be using a combination of bringing some Euros in cash that I can get from my bank (It’s best to warn them ahead of time so they have enough on hand) and travelers’ checks. Because I will most likely not do US travelers checks but Euros the bank might need three days to order them in. Travelers checks have about a 1% service charge so they’re cheaper than the credit cards. I’ll be getting them about two weeks before I go, just to make sure there are no glitches.

travel pouch, passport holder, money pouch, travel,

Creative Commons: Eagle Creek also has leg pouches http://www.amazon.com/Eagle-Creek/e/2210072011/ref=dp_apparel_byline_ety

I’ll arrive in Europe with Euros in cash, travelers’ checks that I can cash at a bank if nowhere else will take them (if you’re going to out-of-the-way places, make sure you cash these at a bank as many shops won’t take them anymore), and a credit card. I have a passport pouch that will hold my money and that I can wear around my neck. Some people favor money belts but I feel more secure with the neck pouch. It’s a matter of preference with these but they’re also an essential for travel when you’re bringing a fair amount of cash and to keep all your important information safe.

The other precaution I take beforehand is to write down all numbers into a booklet that is separate from my money. Should my credit card be stolen how do I call the number on the back of the card when I don’t have the card? I have it written down elsewhere with my credit card number. Emergency contacts, camera serial codes, passport number, travel insurance, etc. are all good things to record elsewhere. You can also send yourself an email that you could access on the internet with all the information. I did this with Ireland, in case my camera was stolen (unfortunately it was stolen from my home shortly after the Irish trip). You can also record your travelers check information, serial numbers and the company contact in case you lose them or run out of money.

No matter where one travels, it’s always good to keep alert and stay cautious. Don’t let your guard down and don’t flaunt all your cash. Take out what you need for the day and hide the rest. I’ll see how the other trip preparations go after this.

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Filed under crime, Culture, security, travel

Traveling in India: Transportation Travails

I think there are many great tales that often take place around transportation: planes, cars, trains, buses, elephants, camels, bikes, rickshaws, etc. Especially if you’re traveling (obviously) there are more tales than the everyday commute, but even living in one’s own city will afford you adventures.

India was probably the most diverse in terms of transportation and terror. I already wrote about flying in “Frightful Flights” but the rest was its own adventure. I never did ride an elephant and though I saw one being ridden it was definitely not the most common form of transportation in India. That would be feet, as most people are too poor to afford more.

I took a few buses from town to town. Many of these were Greyhound size buses and usually without incident But a few trips were driven by kamikaze drivers on winding hills through treacherous roadways. These buses tended to be more like school buses with a picture of one or several Hindu deities up from as well as bright color trims or other decoration. The bus could be one where everyone had a seat and was a mixture of tourists and locals, or one that was a reservation only, air-conditioned, elite tourist only bus. Reservations certainly didn’t guarantee the type of bus or a seat.

On one supposedly reserved bus it was jam-packed full of locals with live chickens and other produce. We knew that we’d paid extra for the privilege of riding locally. It was a bumpy, dusty and long ride and we were packed close enough to examine the weave of each other’s clothes. After someone managed to puke on the bus, the answer being to put paper over the acrid mess and continue onward, several of us opted to ride on the roof of the bus. The tourist luggage was up there anyways and this was a good way to keep an eye on our goods and get some fresh nonvomit-ridden air. Of course this is illegal and had we been stopped some baksheesh would have changed hands, probably from tourist hands to police hands.

As it was, it was a fun way to see the country, and not experience the claustrophobia of the overcrowded bus. I had a couple of bus rides in Nepal too but they were calmer and cleaner. Busing to the next town wasn’t that far but the seats were narrow and metal. Metal is fine in a warm climate but at 5’4″ I was nearly too tall to sit in the seats. I would have stood but I was hit so badly with dysentery I nearly fainted and had to sit, thanks to the Nepalese who noticed my state and motioned for me to sit. Three of them can fit on a bench but I could barely jam my knees down and they were pressed against the seat in front of me. I also took up the room of 1.5 Nepalis. And anyone taller than me had to stand because they just wouldn’t fit. Imagine a 6’2″ man standing next to a tiny Nepalese woman.

Perhaps the most terrifying ride of my life took place in a jeep. The Himalayan hill tribes in the state of Meghalaya tended to drive mostly jeeps, which makes a lot of sense when you see the winding, curving roads with nothing but the foothills of the Himalayas framing them (those foothills equal some of our mountain ranges). One day we went out to Cherapunjee with Hanocia’s brother driving us in the jeep. I had tried to the drive the jeeps there but with the handling of a jeep which is somehow different and tippier, and the right-hand steering, left-hand gear shifting, I just couldn’t get it to work. (Oddly in Ireland with the same type of driving but a car instead, I had no problem.)

So we drove up and took the day looking around. We were there in Oct./Nov. and the days get shorter sooner. We ended up driving back in full darkness. There is no light pollution from distant cities in the foothills of Meghalaya. And the roads are narrow hairpins. As we found common and strange in India, cars would drive with their lights off and only turn them on when they encountered another vehicle. Imagine how terrifying this is as we wind through a hairpin, get to the outside curve and then there is a truck barreling at us, and they both turn their lights on to blind each other.

Hanocia’s brother swore he had to do this to save his lights and that the battery was going. Usually driving regenerates the battery but needless to say we were nearly breathless with fright. After a few encounters with oncoming trucks on the narrow roads we insisted he turn the lights on or we were going to get out and walk. We were miles and miles from Shillong but a long walk in the dark was preferable to dying in the dark.

Since this post has gone long enough I’ll leave off the train rides for a another time, but I can say this: after all these years I still vividly remember the transportation and the tales attached with traveling in India.

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Losing it in India

In1989 I travelled through India for two months. The first month I spent in a tribal state with a friend and the second I travelled through northern India and Nepal. There are many tales from that trip but this one takes place in the last two weeks.

I was in Delhi and sick as a dog with dysentery. I was puking, had diarrhea and generally could not eat. But I tried to see a couple of things and finally dragged myself out one day. I can’t remember but I think I went to the Red Fort. I bargained with a rickshaw driver for a price. This was one of the motorized rickshaws and when we finally agreed on a price, I said to the driver, that’s for both directions, there and back? And he agreed.

So off we went. When we arrived, he asked how long I would be, and I said an hour or two. I had no idea because it was a large site and I was still pretty sick and lethargic. So I wandered around and took pictures and then came out about an hour and a half later. The driver started berating me, standing with about eight other drivers, saying I’d taken too long and that it would cost more, etc. After some arguing, with the other drivers giving their opinions in his support, I couldn’t take it and felt ganged up on so I took out half the money for half the trip and gave it to him and then went and got a bicycle rickshaw.

By this point I was completely distraught and depressed and didn’t even pay attention to anything. I just let the driver take me back to the hostel. Except the hostel was off of Connaught Circle (can you see British influence in that name?), a gigantic traffic circle with radial roads. Far too much traffic zooms through there so bicycle rickshaws must stop at stands at the edge of the circle so as not to interrupt traffic flow.

We arrived at the stop, I paid the rickshaw driver and started to walk when I heard “memseeb, memseeb.” I turned and there was the motorized rickshaw driver with two cops. At that point I completely freaked out. I started crying and shouting at them, holding my wrists together to them saying things like, “Just lock me up. Your country is trying to destroy me. Go ahead and take me away.”

The cops were so flabbergasted I don’t think they said two words to me and in truth I never even tried to argue reasonably. I’d already seen how the baksheesh (bribe) system worked. I continued crying and took all the money from my wallet and threw it at them. Then I went and sat on a wall and bawled my eyes out. I don’t know how long I was there crying but the police made the rickshaw driver give me back any money above what he’d asked (I presume–I never counted it.) He gingerly placed it at my feet when I yelled at him and asked why he didn’t just take everything. Then they went away.

I stayed and cried and cried. I had been ill for three weeks at this point and was in fact my sickest in Delhi and Varanasi. Eventually I noticed about six men standing around me in concern as I cried, asking, “Memsahib, what is wrong?” To which I wailed, “Nothing. Your country is just trying to keep me here.” I wasn’t exactly in my right mind.

I eventually got up and walked disconsolately back to my hostel. At one point a beggar came up to me and touched me. I already knew that in India people don’t touch each other unless they think you don’t know the culture. It’s a sign of disrespect. The beggar touching me was just another injurious straw. At that point I was so distressed with the day that I said, “Oh just go die. It’s easier.” To a beggar. A child. Because I wanted to. It was not one of my more stellar moments.

India was the hardest place I ever travelled to, where nothing ran on time, bribes were expected, and no one would say they didn’t know something so you could end up with six directions to get somewhere and none of them would be right. The culture was different enough and the concept of time was hard to grasp. With trying to fathom these things, on top of trying to find signs, which were few, and if they were there they were in Urdu or Hindu, as well as being severely sick and carrying an overburdened pack, it was too much.

I learned something about myself in India. I found my melting point and my darker side. But I came back from my trip and was forever changed. This of course wasn’t my only adventure in India but it was my hardest.

We wear a lot of masks in our society. There are ones for work, for friends, for dates, for family. Sometimes there are layers and layers of masks. I had them when I went to India but I had way fewer when I came back. India stripped me down to an essential aspect of myself. I truly was just surviving the experience by the end of the trip and was sick for another month after I returned. To this day, I have fewer masks. India made me integrate myself and my different aspects.

Everyone gets much more a blend of me these days. I remember one friend telling me I was more accessible after going to India.The barriers had been stripped away and I built new ones, but not as high nor as thick.

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