Monday, December 28, 2009

Credit Cards and Banking for Canadian Travellers

I've been doing a lot of research on this topic for the last week, thought I would share my findings.

1.  When you pay with a credit card overseas there is a hidden fee called the foreign transaction fee or currency exchange fee.  This is charged on top of what ever exchange rate your card issuing bank gives you.  The fee used to be completely hidden but now credit card providers have to be more transparent with it.

The fees vary depending on what card and bank you deal with.  Visa/MC takes 1 %, and your bank may tack on another 2%.  Amex is roughly the same from what I've read.  So.... each time you charge something, you are paying an extra 2-3 % on average.  When you travel for a long time these costs can add up, so don't forget to add it to your calculations/bookkeeping.  

In the US Capital One is the only credit card I know of that has 0% currency exchange fee.  In Canada they charge 2.5%.  All other card providers charge something similar.  My RBC Visa charges 2.5% btw.  

2.  Sometimes when I travel the merchant will take the total I owe them, convert it into USD, and then charge my card.  What happens is the merchant will tack on an extra 1% to the total, then you get hit with the USD exchange rate, then you get hit with the currency exchange fee.  I've read that the merchants aren't actually allowed to this as per their agreement with Visa/MC.  I didn't look into it deeper though, I got tired of doing the research to be honest and tried to cut right to a potential solution.  

So then I tried looking for a Canadian bank who was willing to issue a USD credit card with no annual fees.  The annual fees for that type of card range between $40-60 a year.  -No luck and RBC Visa is not willing to waive the annual fee even though I've had my Platinum Avion card with them for a while.  

3.  Debit card transactions.  I hate travellers cheques.  To me there's something about cheques that's just not very sexy :)  And I'd imagine it's too much hassle these days to go around cashing travellers cheques, most merchants prefer cash.  So for me I usually withdraw money from ATM's, however, that too carries a significant cost depending on your habits.  For my bank, TD Canada Trust, there is a $5 fee each time I withdraw money internationally.  Depending on how much money I need each trip to the ATM can cost a lot.  For example in Indonesia the inflation is soooo bad that cash withdrawals go up to the millions of Rupiahs.  The volume of paper is so thick that the bank machines don't have big enough spouts to pour out your money.  Some machines only spit in denominations of 50,000 and others in 100,000.  So that's a maximum withdrawal of 1,250,000 Rp or 2,500,000 Rp at a time.  I end up having to make multiple withdrawals if I need a large sum of money, at $5 per withdrawal.  Over a few months of travel that will add up. 

BTW if you live sensibly or like a local, 2.5million in Rupiah should last you a few weeks to possibly a month in variable expenses.  But if you like to party like you would in Miami, 2.5mill will evaporate in a few short hours.

If anything changes I'll update this post.  If anyone has any tips please leave a comment.  For now, if you're Canadian, you're SOL.

Cheers!  From frosty Vancouver.

[update: Jan 26th] Turns out my bank has a chequing account which waives the $5 ATM fees for international withdrawals.  The monthly cost of this account is $25, which is worth it considering I'll need to make at least 6 trips to an ATM a month.  A few weeks from my next trip I will transfer my account over and also ask them to increase my daily withdrawal limits.  I plan on renting a house/villa for a few months in Asia.  Some places will ask for a damage deposit and/or a lump sum for the 3-6 month rental agreement.  I'll need quick, easy, safe access to my money in order to make this happen.  Unlike some people I'm not a big fan of carrying thousands of dollars on me... it's way too easy to spend it on partying.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Aloksak Bags + Wrinkle Test

Yesterday I got myself some Aloksak zip lock bags for travelling.  The idea is to compact my clothes airtight to save some room in my bag while at the same time keeping them dry.  They worked great, everything was a little bit more compact than usual.  These things are miraculous -supposedly waterproof for down to 60m below water.  I’m going to use the small one as my wallet (they come in a variety pack of 4 sizes, $10).  I’ve been looking for a waterproof wallet to store my cash and car remotes for when I go play on the beach or diving.

I wanted to test whether or not my clothes would wrinkle in these saks, as if I was on an extended leg of transit.  I’ve seen a few old articles about packing on the merit of rolling your clothes when you pack.  So I rolled my clothes put them in the saks and left them for 24 hours.

Did they wrinkle?  Yeah.  What a horrible piece of advice... Shouldn't blame the advice actually, cotton wrinkles easily no matter what.  If you don't want wrinkles you'll have to move to synthetic or wool blends.

Clothes used for the test are in my usual wardrobe list for long trips:
2 cotton t-shirts
1 synthetic t-shirt
3 pairs of cotton underwear
1 swim trunk
2 pairs of socks

Monday, December 14, 2009

KK Malaysia 09

KK Malaysia 09 from Rollan Budi on Vimeo.

Ahh memories. Every time I need a quick pick me up I check out photos and vids from my last trip. This one always does the trick. I'll work on producing better vids next time. This one was mashed up with random clips, I wasn't even thinking of documenting with video.

Music: Phoenix - Lisztomania
Shot with my D90 slr and Allen's G10 pocket cam. No film direction, rogue cameramen, all b roll :)
Cut from 90 clips.
3rd time editing with iMovie. 2 hrs? Fun.
The tacos were delicious.

Packing Light for Travel

This photo was my set up in January 2009: 3 countries, 23 days: 4 undies, 2 socks, 5 shirts, 1 backpack.

I'm getting lighter and lighter each time I travel. The next time I take off will be around April 2010. I plan to travel for a few months while carrying a laptop for work and a bunch of photo gear for my personal pursuits. I've been doing some research and consideration of the clothes I'm going to take. I'll be mostly in hot climates.

I find my cotton t-shirts ruin after about 1 month of travel. Washing in the sink and wringing dry inside a towel destroys them in no time. Next time I'm only going to carry 3. I'll buy new ones as they ruin. Cotton is by far the nicest feeling fabric. Hangs nicely. But slow to dry and prone to wrinkles. Synthetic shirts dry faster but hang terribly on the body. Most travel or sport dry-fit shirts are horribly designed. Some synthetic blends will harbour sweat odours too, which is what they are not supposed to do. Why can't someone design travel gear that's actually stylish? Gstar? Diesel? Energie? Dsquared? Call me.

As far as undies go I'm going to go with 3; all merino wool. 1 one me, 1 on standby, and 1 drying from the last wash. That should cover it. I can't believe I used to bring 10+ pairs.

Next time 2 socks.  All synthetic technical socks. They will dry/wash faster while doing a better job of managing moisture.

Pants: still can't find a versatile pair of pants that are light. Much like t-shirts, travel designed pants are horrible for style/fashion. I'm sticking with a pair of Diesel jeans. I'll keep them dry and clean. If needed I'll launder them at a hotel. Denim will take forever to dry if I hand wash them and I wouldn't want them to get smelly or start growing bacteria while drying.

Shorts: 1 pair of cargos and 1 swim trunk. Style wise, same problem as noted above. I'm sticking with a stylish pair made of heavy grade cotton.  Travelling light doesn't mean you should look like a bum or a "backpacker".  For the record, I'm a flashpacker :)

1 lightweight breathable jacket made by North Face. I've been caught in monsoons before. This will come in handy and will look much nicer than the bicycle sport-specific jacket I usually take. This new jacket looks nice zipped up too, can wear it to dinners and will also replace my heavy cotton hoodie.

Footwear: most crucial pieces. My feet do most of the work during travels so I've learned to never skimp on $$$ taking care of them. I'm going to invest in some ergo anatomically perfect sandals from Sole. Time to trash my Crocs (they served me well, wore them straight for 10 months!). I usually bring a pair of runners and loafers for nights out. I'm undecided about the runners for the next trip because I usually don't end up wearing them much. Next time I'll bring my custom orthotics as well.

That's pretty much it. I'll be using my 50L Asolo pack with a detachable day bag.  The rest of the gear will be electronics and support equipment (cables, adapters, etc.). Electronics usually take up the most space and weight. They are a necessary evil though depending on what you intend to do for work while you are on the road.

March 10, 2011 update: Soles aren't the best or simple looking sandals.  They were hard to find too.  I decided to skip on them and ended up buying a simple looking pair of Crocs again.  I bought them in May 2010 in Jakarta and they're working great.