Travelling cash




Packing for your big RTW trip…? Lay out all your clothes and your money on the bed then, as the saying goes, take half the clothes and double the money. But then you have to look after your hard-earned road money – here are a few pointers that could save you having to come home early.


  1. Don’t get ripped off on the exchange rate before you’ve even properly set foot in your destination. Know the exchange rate before you arrive - is best and the XE app is a great one to travel with.
  2. You rarely need travellers’ cheques these days since there are few places in the world where you can’t find an ATM. An online database of worldwide machine locations will reassure you that there are ATMs in all the countries you’re visiting.
  3. Try to get some local currency before you arrive at your destination. You don’t want to find yourself late at night in an airport without cash machines and no way to get to your hotel.
  4. After that first withdrawal from the ATM find a quiet corner – a restroom perhaps – to familiarise yourself with the bills as soon as you can. (Over-paying a taxi-driver with a bill for 1000 rather than 100 on that first ride from the airport is a classic slip-up.) Read this on your first 40 minutes in a country
  5. Carry at least two credit-cards, working from separate accounts, and keep the cards hidden separately. If your bank blocks the account for security reasons or if a card gets ‘eaten’ by the machine you’ll always have a fallback.
  6. Carry a secret wedge of cash. Euros can work best in some regions but, in general, dollars are still the most reliable form of cash worldwide. Make sure the bank gives you US dollars that are not older than 2006. Have at least a few smaller denominations: US$50 bills are sometimes not accepted – and in remote third-world villages can be rendered virtually worthless by the complete absence of change.
  7. Traditional nylon or cotton money-belts under the shirt are known to all hustlers and bandits but folds of cash in a belt with a zip works well. (A condom provides good water-proofing). Another secret pocket can easily be devised by safety-pinning a simple cloth purse in the leg of your trousers.
  8. As long as you’re going to be wearing your boots/shoes most of the time (rather than carrying them in your pack) then secret stashes, folded into paper and sealed with duct-tape, can be hidden under your in-soles. (Works best in SE Asia where your size-10s are not going to appeal to the average thief).
  9. If you have several secret stashes hidden in various places keep a note of how much money you have hidden so that you don’t have to keep checking the belt/insoles/secret pocket.
  10. In places where armed robbery (on buses for example) is a possibility carry a ‘decoy’ wallet – with an expired credit card and a few small local notes either side of a stack of old rupees or whatever from past trips. (Mine also has a 100 million dollar note from Zimbabwe…worth just a few cents but guaranteed to get the heart-rate of any thief cruelly hammering).

Check out the my post on the ‘deadliest sins’ - ten of the world's most imaginative travel scams here 






Luther Vandross and Janet Jackson may have reckoned that the best things in life are free, but that’s because they’re famous and generally don’t have to pay for stuff. Unfortunately, on a round the world adventure, you will have to shell out some money to experience a lot of what will become the highlights. However, that’s not to say that the budget-conscious can’t enjoy some of the key RTW destinations on the cheap. Most major cities have a host of attractions you can enjoy without spending a penny/ cent/ baht – and these are just some of them...



Sydney for free


The simplest free activity in Sydney is to head down to the beach (take your pick which one – there’s not exactly a shortage). Bodysurfing in the waves is the best free entertainment you can get. Otherwise, Sydney has some classic walks that can be turned into day-long affairs – the Bondi to Coogee and Spit Bridge to Manly walks are the best known. For free entertainment, Darling Harbour is the spot – there are often free concerts and festivals going on there – while anywhere around Sydney Harbour is prime position for the events on Australia Day or New Year’s Eve. For a dose of culture, there’s no entrance fee for the Art Gallery of New South Wales or the Australian National Maritime Museum.


New York City for free


A number of New York’s museums work on a ‘suggested donation’ policy, which you can mercilessly take advantage of if you’re shamelessly tight. Of these, the Metropolitan Museum of Art offers no-strings-attached free entry between 4pm and 8pm on a Friday. Other museums – such as the Ellis Island Immigration Museum, the Harbor Defense Museum and the Onassis Cultural Collection – have permanent free entry. It also costs nothing to get on the ferry to Staten Island. For simpler pleasures, head for a stroll around Central Park or – during summer – pitch up there for one of the numerous free concerts that are put on in Manhattan’s green lung.


Singapore for free


Singapore is brimming with free stuff – you’ll not have to pay to enter the temples or the war cemeteries, while some of the city’s biggest attractions don’t charge an entry fee either. These include the fantastically bonkers Haw Par Villa, with its 3D interpretations of what hell is like, and the sobering Changi Chapel and Museum. The latter details the experiences of Prisoners of War in World II, and is an essential history lesson. If by some minor miracle it’s not raining, you may prefer to head into the great outdoors. In which case, the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and the Botanic Gardens are good sanctuaries from the urban frenzy.


Hong Kong for free


Wednesday is something for nothing day in Honkers. Both the Hong Kong Museum of Art and the Hong Kong Space Museum waive entrance charges then. Some rather more niche collections – such as the Museum of Tea Ware, Hong Kong Racing Museum and the Correctional Services Museum – don’t charge for entry at any time. Hong Kong’s big secret, however, is that it’s an excellent place for hiking. Beyond Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, before the border with China proper, you get the New Territories. The high rises are replaced by hills here and there’s some great walking to be done at no cost. The brave/ masochistic can try and take on the 50km Hong Kong Trail in a day. The sensible can just pick a section of it.


Tokyo for free


The classic in freebie in Tokyo is to head up to the viewing galleries on the 45th floor of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. There are some top notch views out over Mount Fuji available from here. There’s no entrance fee for most shrines and temples, while you can visit the East Gardens of the Imperial Palace or walk around the moat without shedding any yen either. If you like your entertainment of rampantly varying quality, and don’t want to have to pay for it, head to Yoyogi Park on a Sunday – there are usually live performers and bands fighting for your attention.

And, in terms of free cultural attractions, who could possibly resist gratis entry to the Sumo Wrestling Museum?


Bangkok for free


Bangkok is a cheap place to visit anyway – most entry fees hardly make a scratch on the wallet and a lot of the street food costs barely anything. But if you insist on paying nothing, then there is no charge to enter either the Bangkok Art and Cultural Centre or the rather gory Corrections Museum. Wandering around the markets is the usual free catch-all in Bangkok, but many of the temples – such as Wat Indraviharn, Wat Patum Wanaran and Wat Mangkorn Kamalawat don’t require entry fees. Meanwhile, Lumphini Park is the best place to stretch the legs and escape the chaos.


Los Angeles for free


The best free entertainment in LA is heading to the beach and indulging in some serious people watching – Malibu and Santa Monica are the best bets, while Venice Beach is a little quirkier. Then of course, you can stroll along the Hollywood Walk of Fame trying to spot the all important Chuck Norris star. Otherwise, there is a wealth of attractions without an entrance fee. The best of these are the Griffith Park Observatory, Getty Center, California African American Museum and California Science Center. There’s also lots of cool architecture in LA – you can easily spend a day sauntering around Downtown Los Angeles, cooing at impressive buildings.


Auckland for free


The best freebies in New Zealand’s biggest city are unquestionably outdoors. There are a series of decent beaches along Auckland’s North Shore – Devonport has the most charm. If it’s a good day, however, it’s hard to beat the 16km Coast to Coast walk, which takes you from Waitemata Harbour to Manukau Harbour. On the way, it passes most of Auckland’s premier green hotspots, including Mt Eden and The Domain. The latter plays host to the Auckland Museum, which works on a suggested donation system. It contains some great displays on volcanoes and Maori culture. The Domain is also the home of the Wintergarden – a pretty spot for those who like their exotic plants.




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3. The Classic RTW from the UK from £1599 - Details here


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Unfortunately, your flight ticket isn’t the only thing you’re going to have to fork out for if you are planning a round the world adventure. You’d better make room in your budget for the sort of this little lot, too... 



Getting to and from the airport

Your adventure starts at the airport, but you’ve got to get to the airport first. And given the delightful state of the British public transport system, that can be rather expensive. If you’re going for a long time, driving there and leaving the car in the long term car park is prohibitively expensive, whilst train tickets bought on the day can be ludicrously overpriced. The best bet is to either cajole someone into giving you a lift, taking the tube (if you live in London) or buying your train tickets at least three weeks in advance (if you live elsewhere). Also bear in mind that if your flight leaves in the morning, you may need to get an airport hotel the night before.



Ground transport

The travelling part doesn’t miraculously stop as soon as you get off the plane. Even if you’re staying in one city, then buses, trains, trams and taxis start to seriously add up (not to mention the fact that many places sting you for getting to and from the airport). In a big city, it’s usually not practical to walk everywhere, so expect to pay to get around. And as for getting around a country, well that can seriously add up. Australia, for example, is enormous. If you’re planning to travel around it, then a bit of pre-trip research into bus passes, car hire and domestic flight options is advisable.




Let’s not beat around the bush here. Most people on round the world tickets are probably going away to have a good time. For many, ‘a good time’ tends to involve drinking and travellers never seem to adequately budget for their booze intake. Unless you’re teetotal or unsociable, a formidable percentage of your ready cash will end up going to the barman. You can minimise the outlay by pre-game warm-ups where you’re staying (ie. case of beers from the supermarket between six of you in the hostel) and going native wherever possible. The local beer is almost always cheaper than the comforting brand you’ve heard of before.



Soft drinks

It’s not just alcoholic drinks that rack up. You’re not sat in the office next to a watercooler or at home next to a tap most of the time – when you’re travelling you tend to spend a lot more time outdoors. And, particularly in a hot climate, all that walking around can be thirsty work. This generally ends up with you buying lots of bottles of water and soft drinks to slake your thirst – and that ends up getting surprisingly expensive. Try and keep the costs (and your environmental impact) down by refilling bottles from a tap wherever possible.



Spurious taxes

Some countries don’t get the whole inclusive pricing thing. Our friends in America are particularly bad for it, and you’ll often end up paying around 15% more than originally quoted once hotel, state, sales, resort and city taxes are added on. It sucks, and there’s no way of avoiding it – just make sure you know whether the price is inclusive of tax from the outset, and then budget for being stiffed over afterwards. Some countries also apply a departure tax for everyone leaving. Usually this is factored into the cost of the plane ticket, but when it isn’t it can be hugely annoying. The usual story is that you cleverly spend the last of your currency on Toblerone and stuffed monkeys, then realise you’re going to have to make another bank charge-ridden trip to the cash machine in order to pay the tax.



Mobile phone

Once you leave Europe, mobile phone companies feel they have a carte blanche to charge whatever the hell they like for texts and calls. If you’re the sort that likes to keep in touch, then you could be in for a brutal shock once you get back and look through the bills. The obvious way to cut your costs down is to use your mobile strictly when absolutely necessary – switch to the likes of Skype and e-mail to stay in touch instead. But if you plan on using it with any degree of regularity, buy a pre-paid SIM card in the country you’re in – the savings can be enormous.




Of course, switching to e-mail as a method of communication isn’t going to save you much money if you insist on spending two hours a day in an internet café, trying to upload photos to Facebook or catching up on your favourite blogs. Web junkies are well advised to try and scale back their habits while travelling –after all, you can sit at a computer all day at home. If you do like to keep your digital umbilical cord, consider bringing your laptop with you and only using it when there’s a free WiFi connection. As for using the net on your phone, don’t go there – the data download charges are disgustingly steep.



Travel insurance

Look, if you don’t get it, you’re an idiot. The cost of getting a policy is a fraction of the potential cost of not getting one. Proper cover won’t bankrupt you, but having to be flown home on an emergency flight attached to a drip after a few weeks in hospital almost certainly will.



Buying work clothes

This one only applies to travellers who are planning to fund their travels by working for a few months (probably in Australia or New Zealand). Often, to get work, you’ll need to look presentable. And I’m afraid that pair of shorts isn’t going to cut it. Instead of making a begrudging trip to a cheap and nasty shop to get a work outfit, it might be worth bringing one pair of black trousers and one collared white shirt with you in the first place. They’ll just have to make do as a tertiary set of going out clothes...




Many countries require you to have a visa in order to enter. Some of these can be got at the airport, some have to be applied for in advance. They’re rarely free though. India, for example, charges £30 plus a £9.05 service fee. For China it’s £60.25 all up, and Vietnam it’s £46. And for those planning to work in Australia, the fee for the popular working holiday visa currently stands at AU$235 (about £146 at the current exchange rate).



Inoculations and tablets

The dreaded jabs are, unfortunately, a necessity if you’re travelling to certain parts of the world. They may be unpleasant and an annoying extra cost, but they’re better than dying in a rainforest. Malaria tablets can also be pricy little accompaniments to the packing list and there are some areas decreed as malarial where you can probably get away without taking them. How much do you want to place your faith in ‘probably’ though?


Money Saving


One thing I say to anyone who is thinking about doing a round the world trip is just do it. Book it, commit to it, pick a date, and make the dream a reality. Worry about the details later. But often the biggest detail is money- just how do you afford to be on the road for so long? 

Below is the first five of ten money saving trips to make your trip last longer. Some you need to work out before you go, some you can use on the road, and some might not apply to your situation, but keep in mind that you can always find ways to stretch out your trip without necessarily having more money.

Cheaper Countries, Smaller Towns 
If you travel to cheaper countries, your cash will go further. It’s fairly simple right? Well, no. Countries where it is cheaper to travel aren’t always cheap- just ask anyone who’s burned through their cash in Rio or Buenos Aires quicker than they thought. 

What to do: A nice little trick is to stay off the beaten path. Head outside of the city centers to smaller, less touristy towns and watch the prices of beds, booze and eats go down. 

2. Currency Conversion 101

Currencies fluctuate up and down each month, and while sometimes this can be in your favor, meaning you’ll get more dollars for your pounds, it can also mean the opposite- that you won’t get as much bang from your buck. A year ago, that naughty Aussie dollar bought you 1.80- nowadays it will get you a 1.65. 

Best to: Keep an eye on fluctuations and change up your cash when the pound is strong 

3. Getting Cash

How you change your money is just as important as when you change it. Change it at the airports and most of the time you’ll get a crap exchange rate, a pay a hefty fee or a nasty commission. Change it on the street and you'll be ripped off. Pull it out of the ATM and you might get a fat ATM charge. One guy I met got charged  £10 each time he used an overseas ATM- a greedy bite out of his funds

Solution: Do some research at home and try to find a bank that has an ATM card that doesn’t charge big fees for overseas withdrawals OR has an agreement with banks based overseas.  

4. Pre-Pay your Holiday... if you can 

On my first RTW I arrived in Africa broke after six months. Luckily, one of the best things I did before I left was booked and paid for a 9 week overlanding safari from Cape Town to Kenya before I left. There was a local payment I had to make in cash to the guide, but I had bought antiquated travellers cheques for this amount before I left that stayed down the bottom of my backpack for the first part of my trip.  This kept my trip going another three months- without it I would have drunk my way through the money instead.

The warning: Expensive volunteer work is the one thing I wouldn’t prepay for. Some volunteer projects are overpriced and you can easily find smaller grassroots projects to work on while on the road with ease in Africa, South America and Asia. 

5. Slave Labour

Volunteer work is a cheap and cheerful way to make your budget go further. A lot of the bigger hostels throughout the world have deals where you work at the hostel in return for accommodation, maybe one meal and occasionally booze. It's not great money, in fact it isn't money at all, but it’s a great way to meet people, save pennies and stretch your trip out. 

But: prepare thy liver. Working in a hostel can mean partying VERY hard- and often what you think you’ll save on accommodation you’ll end up spending on booze