Managing Your Money On The Move – Tips For Keeping Solvent While Traveling

January 28, 2014 by  
Filed under Lodging, Money, Security

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money smiley face

The key to not worrying about money is making sure you don’t run out of it. That holds true whether you’re traveling or not; but when you are on the go and converting currencies with a variable income there is a tendency to balance your budget on the fly. That’s where most travelers get into financial trouble because our brains have evolved to focus on large expenditures (called “efficient selection“) and ignore the details of those things that don’t excite us emotionally.

Fortunately for us, computers don’t have to care to care about keeping track of our money and what does excite us – travel – is just the incentive we can use to fill in the gaps from there.

You Suck At Estimating – Science Says So

The worst thing you can try to do is keep track of a budget without assistance. We consistently overestimate our memories and concentration – a good reason to come up with an automated, efficient, and completely digital travel budget. To avoid having that “oh, where did all my money go” moment you need a backup plan. Leaving everything behind to head out on an adventure is romantic but nobody ever writes about the traveler who ends up broke and living with mom. You don’t want to be that nomad, here’s how to avoid it.

Use A 3-Month Plan Rent Strategy

Your largest expenditure most anywhere in the world is typically rent and the most important. To survive in the travel wild you need to secure shelter and this 3-month buffer plan can help you identify problems before you’re living in the streets.

sanaa yemen streets

In case your income becomes thin:

  • Month 1: Helps you identify a problem in your budget
  • Month 2: Gives you time to find a solution and save
  • Month 3: In case you don’t find a solution to your budget woes

This strategy can be adapted to your particular situation (6 month plan or something similar) but you need a buffer. Aside from keeping a roof over your head, this buffer – as you add on to it – will give you an idea of how much extra (read: travel) money you’ll have to enjoy. More buffer, more travel.

Find Banks That Don’t Charge You Fees

Depending on where you live and where you’re going this can vary but two of the best banks in the world (that don’t charge fees for withdrawals from global ATMs) are Charles Schwab and HSBC. They can be found in 85 countries and have over 7,200 branches; chances are there’s one somewhere where you’ll be visiting.

  • Transfer Money Wisely – High-interest savings accounts like INGDirect or Ally can earn you a few cents and dollars each month but are also useful as fee-free money movers between bank accounts. (They also let you send and receive money from some accounts to avoid Paypal fees.)

Aside from avoiding fees, choosing the right bank for international travel can help you earn frequent flyer miles keep your assets liquid as latinum.

Withdraw Big, Carry Small

Withdrawal and currency conversion fees add up (use Latte Factor to calculate how much) so limit how many times you go to the bank. As a general rule, each day you shouldn’t carry more than you’re willing to have stolen (as a precaution) but you don’t want to withdraw too often.

  • Have Multiple Accounts – A main, a backup, and one for emergencies. Avoid carrying all 3 cards on you in case of pick pocketing.

Track Fees And See Where Your Money Goes

My personal favorite Mint is an online budgeting tool that connects to most bank and credit card accounts to closely track where your money goes. Mint is especially useful in tracking fees and sends weekly email updates.

  • Don’t Get Stuck With The Bill – The free iOS/Android/Web app Splitwise lets you track expenses so everyone puts in their fair share during group trips.

Notify Your Bank And Protect Your Financial Flank

Now that you’re tracking your money, trick your mind into spending less by adding the right symbols to your bar tabs. Also, make sure you have access to all your funds by notifying your banks of any international travel before your trip. Many financial institutions will place temporary blocks on accounts accessed from international locations as a precaution. (Another good reason to have multiple accounts.) A quick call to let them know you’ll be headed to the beaches of Boracay for two weeks will help keep your account accessible, make the person on the phone a bit jealous, and have you even more excited to travel.

This is the updated and refreshed version of a guest post I originally wrote for Travelllll.com, which closed its digital doors last year.

Why I Rarely Go To The Top Of Tall Buildings When Traveling

January 23, 2014 by  
Filed under Lodging, Travel Journal

This post is kindly brought to you by Bupa Travel Insurance who make getting online quotes easy so you’re covered no matter where or how you travel. [What is this?]

tokyo skytree cloudy

Unwittingly I’ve visited some of the tallest buildings in the world, casually looking up to glimpse where they meet the heavens, but leaving without ever taking a ride to the top. People will ask me, “what was the view from the Burj Khalifa like?” and I’ll tell them that the lobby was very nice. The fountain in front was great but I can’t vouch for the view since climbing to the top of tall buildings is something I almost never do.

That’s not to pass judgement on those who say, I want to go up there but first wait in line all day.

Modern Mountain Climbing

Skyscrapers have become the urban equivalent of mountains for many travelers today and something of a tourism pissing contest for the places that build them. There can come a sense of accomplishment in making your way to one of the highest human-made points on Earth, sharing in the architectural accomplishment of our species as a whole. Yet the tallest view isn’t always the best.

view from galata tower

For example, the Galata Tower hasn’t been close to Istanbul’s tallest building for over 45 years but the view of Levent from Istanbul Sapphire isn’t the one people are crowding to see. (Here are the landmarks to look out for when flying in.) Location is the key and the older the city, the further outside of town mega-structures tend to be.

Funding The Soaring Heights

Of course unlike mountains, whose entrance fees are usually limited to a set of solid lungs and genetically enhanced sherpas, skyscrapers are built first – funded later. A ride at 36kph (~22mph) on the world’s third fastest elevator to the top of Dubai’s Burj Khalifa runs about $35, the Tokyo Skytree is $20, and Kuala Lumpur’s Petronas Towers $25. Not at all unreasonable prices mind you but adding that the average reservation needs to be made 5 days in advance, for non-planners like myself, there’s a better chance of me climbing the these buildings like French Spiderman than booking ahead of time.

 

Embrace The Cat’s Eye View

Seeing is truly believing for our Paleolithic minds, so looking at photos from atop Singapore’s Gardens By The Bay isn’t the same as actually riding the long escalators up yourself. While the views from above can be beautiful, it’s below we’re focusing on from the dizzying heights. Altitude is good for perspective and literally expanding our horizons; the interesting stuff is overwhelmingly hovering at quaint eye level.

A few meters off the ground is where anything tangible on Earth constructed by human beings began. Our brains are terrible at comprehending large scales so zoom up to the top of enough tall buildings and they’ll begin to blend into one big “wow” in your memory.

But the food not sushi in Japan, including the takoyaki at Mokuchi next door to the Skytree, I can still taste. The one-slip-from-death climb up the Quito’s La Basilica Church and grip on every ladder step it induced is like yesterday. The views from above, or lack there of, were only pleasant side effects to the sights still in my mind’s eye.

What To See, Eat, And Do In Sibiu, Romania

January 14, 2014 by  
Filed under Culture, Food, Lodging, Money

sibiu piata mica

Small towns like Sibiu tend to get overlooked as mere hopping off points that can be skipped over entirely. A statistically unassuming city literally in the middle of Romania, Sibiu is a fortress city that holds its own for travelers heading to mountainous border of Transylvania. Voted by you as The Best City to Visit in 2013, here are the best parts of Sibiu not to be missed.

Where To Stay

Visiting in the middle of winter I had my pick of hotels, hostels, and guesthouses. The one that eventually caught my eye however was Pension Zanzi, a close 5 minute walk from the historic city center. Inside, Zanzi has the cozy feel of a cottage with large wooden beams featuring prominently holding the structure together. The staff also went out of their way to be helpful – in one instance locating a gym for me when I asked and then driving me there on the first day to make sure I would find it.

pension zanzi sibiu romania

The rooms tend to vary in quality, but for the rates around 112 Romanian lei ($35 USD) a night, Pension Zanzi’s a bargain for a single room with a more local feeling than the larger hotels across town. Alternatively, if Zanzi is booked up, take a look at the newly opened Welt Kultur Hostel which came highly recommended from knowledgeable locals.

Crossing From Big Square To Little

Sibiu is a small city travelers can mentally organize around the Big Square (Piata Mare) and Small Square (Piata Mica) adjacent to it. Basically everywhere to see is within a 3.5 kilometer radius; aside from the outdoor ASTRA Museum of Traditional Folk Civilization, you can get everywhere on foot. Inside town there’s the Brukenthal Museum – containing paintings by Romanian artists with additional fees to access the second wing of the museum featuring a larger collection of European art.

astra outdoor museum sibiu romania

Though you’ll really have to love portrait paintings or museums to enjoy the Brukenthal, the ASTRA is worth the 20 minute, 1.5 lei ($0.50) ride to the last stop on bus 13. The model homes aren’t anything special – especially if you’ve ever seen one of the countless villages in eastern Europe – it’s the 10 acre backdrop of the lake and forest that will capture your senses.

Entrance is 15 lei ($4.50) to the ASTRA which, doubles as one hell of a jogging trail if there’s no ice on the ground.

  • Budget Breakfast – Although its touristy nature doesn’t make it a popular choice for locals, if you’re like me and need lots of fairly-tasty calories in the morning, head to Casa Frieda. For around 45 Romanian lei ($13.50) you can get an omelet, salad, soup, bread, drink, and side dish. Then watch your waitress’ shocked look as you consume it all.

sibiu christmas market romania

Afterward you might want a dose of caffeine or shot of lung cancer as Sibiu has a glorious cafe culture in a country where 26% of the population smokes. To go along with the sultry fog of carbon monoxide in the air are refreshing waves of free wireless, some of the world’s fastest, available pretty much anywhere.

  • Pardon Cafe & Bistro – Quickly became one of my favorite cafes in the world for its ambiance, food, coffee, and wine. Often the managers or owners will be walking around to show you around Pardon, if they do, tell them hello from me.
  • Baroc Cafe – Less than a quarter of the size of the smallest cafe in Sweden, I almost walked out because I was confused when I first entered. Baroc holds about 8 people, including the server, comfortably, ensuring you’ll never have to wait for your espresso.
  • Bistro Salut – Although the decor is distinct, you’ll notice the similarities to its larger cousin Pardon Cafe right next door.
  • Mustache Caffe – A good mix of liveliness, fast Internet, and size for a short coffee break or few hours of working for you digital nomad and business traveler types.

 

Assuming you’ve still got some wind let, climb to the top of Council Tower (Turnul Sfatului; entrance 5 lei) to get the best views of Sibiu. Your camera however, will have to content with the annoying panes of glass between you and amazing shots.

Church Hop To Liar’s Bridge

Much like cafes, there are no shortage of churches in Sibiu to visit. Since it’s not quite as fun to indulge in church-visiting burnout as it to drunk drink your way around town, you can narrow your selection to these holy buildings.

Holy Trinity Cathedral sibiu romania

  • Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Cathedral – Despite being one of the largest churches in Sibiu that sits right in Piata Mare, once you’re inside you’ll wonder how such a building can hide in plain sight.
  • Holy Trinity Cathedral – Designed after the 1,477 year old Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, if the interior artwork doesn’t grab you, the solemn prayer might draw you in to contemplate more than physical brick and stone.

Unfortunately the impressive Evangelic Chruch in Piata Mica has been closed for renovations for over a year. Rather, wander a bit to find Biscerica Azilului as you cross The Bridge Of Lies. According to local legend, Liar’s Bridge will collapse if a fib is told on it. Given that it’s been standing since 1859, it would seem the residents (or at least, boyfriends) of Sibiu are tactfully trustworthy.

crama ileana sibiu romaniaWhere To Eat In Sibiu

Visually, Sibiu is a difficult place to discern good, local food. Not that there isn’t any but a casual walk along the pedestrian Strada Nicolae Balcescu showcases overpriced eateries whose clientele don’t know any better than to keep looking. Right beyond the old fort walls of The Citadel of Sibiu is, in my opinion, one of the best places to eat in town.

  • Crama Ileana – Authentic Romanian cuisine in a welcoming environment floating just below street level, if you’re in Sibiu, you need to eat in this restaurant that looks more expensive than it is. A large meal, sides, soup, plus glass of wine will run you about 60 lei ($18).
  • Tango Grill – A good mix of Romania and Western dishes done very well, its location in Piata Mica – or reputation make – it a bit more expensive than it should be.

Going back to a favorite of mine, Pardon Cafe also has a noteworthy kitchen and pizza oven.

Tiny To Its Advantage

Many said, “Sibiu’s too small” or “you’re visiting at a bad time of year” when I arrived early December in Romania’s 18th largest city. Honestly though, those were two of the aspects I enjoyed most about Sibiu. The Christmas market in the middle of Piata Mare brought the frigged evenings to life. Strolling through the warm lights scented with spiced wines, my surroundings were devoid of other tourists, who generally prefer to visit during the warmer months for festivals, giving the sense I had Sibiu all to myself -  which was an honor to have of The Best City to Visit in 2013.

An Insider’s Guide To Saving Money, Meeting Celebrities, And Otherwise Hacking The Las Vegas Star Trek Convention

August 20, 2013 by  
Filed under Advice, Culture, Lodging, Money

This post is a part of Geek Takeover Week 2013.

star trek original series poster

When I first attended the world’s largest Star Trek Convention at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino in 2011, I had a great time but did it all wrong. Over the past three years however, I’ve learned how to save 50% on tickets, catch my favorite Star Trek actors without paying fees, and not miss the rest of Las Vegas in the process. In this post, I’m going to teach you how to do the same and hack the Creation Star Trek Convention in Las Vegas, whether it’s your first or fourteenth time trekking out Starfleet style.

Stay At The Rio

During my first Las Vegas Star Trek Convention (STLV), I made the terrible choice to stay at a hotel near the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino, where the Star Trek Convention is held, rather than in the Rio. The money I was trying to save evaporated into taxi fare – not to mention precious gambling time gone to trips back and forth. The Star Trek Con is an all-day event – there are few breaks between the talks, vendor room, shows, late-night boozing with 15,000 Trekkies.

rio all suite hotel and casino las vegas samba suite

  • Book Rooms With Creation’s Discount Code – Creation Entertainment, the company that organizes STLV advertises reduced rates at the Rio, usually around the end of the preceding year. Remember to book early as the discounted rooms tend to sell out quickly.

rio all suite hotel and casino las vegasI personally would recommend arriving in Las Vegas on the Tuesday the week of the convention. That gives you all of Wednesday to rent a car and explore nearby sites like the Hoover Dam (1 hour), Grand Canyon (4 hours), or blackmail box (2.5 hours) if you’re a UFO enthusiast. The Rio also has a 26-hour complimentary shuttle to the Las Vegas Strip that leaves every 20 minutes or so.

  • Save $12 Getting To The Hotel From The Airport – Those of you flying in to Las Vegas’ McCarran International Airport should call the Rio (866 746-7671) one day prior to arrival to arrange an airport shuttle. Instead of paying $20 for a cab, the ride will cost you $8.50, and only take about 10 minutes longer.

For a better look at the rooms, casino, and buffets check out my full review of Rio All Suites Hotel And Casino In Las Vegas, Nevada.

Where To Find Discounts On Convention Tickets

Las Vegas is truly a city of deals and discounts, making any trip there considerably less expensive if you can find them. The Las Vegas Star Trek Convention is no exception with half-off entrance tickets popping up on Goldstar and Groupon in late spring.

ferengi rio last vegas star trek convention 2013

Don’t ever buy secondhand tickets or overpay on the listed door prices online. Since the Convention Center capacity is huge, you shouldn’t have any trouble purchasing tickets at the door on Thursday or Friday for the entire weekend. If will be getting your convention tickets at the door, I recommend doing so anytime on Thursday morning so you don’t have to deal with the growing lines as the weekend approaches.

How To Meet The Celebrities For Free

…I should say the caffeine-addicted, calorie-burning, hungry Star Trek actors and writers running around the Rio Convention Center. Start off early in the mornings, before the convention hours around 7 or 8am. That’s when you have got a good chance to find a number of Trek actors who follow continue their workout routines on the road.

deep space nine reunion las vegas 2013

terry farrell jadzia dax las vegasAnother great place to run into a number of Star Trek stars is the Starbucks along Convention Hall – but timing is key, especially if you want to chat with any given actor. The afternoon and early evening hours of the first convention day (Thursday) are ideal, as is Saturday and Sunday after 7:30pm. That’s when many of the celebrities are in town and have finished their talks. It’s in the late evening they tend to hang out with the family and friends accompanying them to Las Vegas, often past the Starbucks’ closing time.

These are some of the people I’ve come across in this Goldilocks zone:

  • StarbucksMarc Alaimo (Gul Dukat), Ira Stephen Behr (writer; producer), Brannon Braga (writer; producer), John Chow (Sulu in the new movies), Nana Visitor (Naris Kira)
  • Google This Conversation Starter – I’ve met a few people who use a simple tactic to get the attention of any of the actors, no matter how busy they happen to be in the moment: Search on IMDB for some obscure appearance on a TV show or movie they were in and shout it out. They’ll be thrilled (or shocked) you’ve “seen” that low budget horror movie they were in and probably be happy to talk a bit more about it.

Also later in the evenings, the restaurants inside the Rio are ideal for chance encounters and meals to fuel your time at the convention. I met George Takei (Sulu from Star Trek the original series) at the Buzio’s Seafood Restaurant and have heard from others that several Starfleet captains like to dine there as well.

rio all suite hotel and casino las vegas masquerade bar

Finally, to see the drunk version of your favorite starship crew member, drink your way past 3am at the Masquerade Bar (on Friday night in particular) and you may just get your wish.

See All But Buy Nothing… Until The Last Day

The vendor’s room is paradise for any shopping sci-fi fan, where you can pick up a bat’leth to defend your honor or a Star Trek shot glass to shoot Andorian Ale. The vendors are all looking to move as much merchandise as possible but remember the third Rule of Acquisition – never pay more for a transaction than you have to.

cool as kirk tshirt

Bargain with the vendors during the closing hours of the convention on Sunday when they’re eager to sell off what they can before the next sci-fi event in another city. Creation-specific items with dates, like Star Trek 2013 shirts, are the easiest to negotiate on. It can’t hurt and is effective more often than you might think.

Get Into The Costume Contest The Easy Way

Visually, the costume parade and contest is my favorite event of the entire weekend, with detailed costumes made by hand and aliens of all sorts walking around. Unfortunately the auditorium for the annual costume contest is restricted to those who are dressed up (or members of the press) in order to meet the requirements for the Guinness World Record that is broken every year (for the most Trekkies dressed up in one place).

You can walk past the line to catch a glimpse of the best outfits but a better alternative is to buy a Starfleet t-shirt, wear matching black pants, and pin on a communicator or some Vulcan ears. Instant costume and easy access to the costume contest. Plus, you’ll be helping add to the record which has been going back and forth from STLV and FedCon in Germany.

Use The Mic

star trek las vegas main stage

You’ve saved your gold-press latium while sighting Captain Kirk and if you want the best picture of him, walk up to the microphones set up for questions during the talks. From there you can get a great view of the stage for photos plus ask the dorkiest episode question on your mind. Now you’re set to immerse yourself in 96 hours of Star Trek in infinite diversity and combinations of fun.

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