You, rookie traveller, may be able to skate by carefree and unburdened by the hassles of “organisation” and “responsibility” in your natural environment.
However, once you step foot off that plane, it’s a whole new ball game. Follow my handy guide to keeping a clear distinction between “traveller” and “itinerant, dishevelled individual last spotted wandering train tracks in rural Denmark, waving colourful, seemingly plastic money at passers-by, ranting about the need to find a spare power point”.
1. No way to phone home
International dialling charges have always been a pitfall for the hard-up traveller.
Calling cards and international charges to hotel phones have been left in the dirt by the wonder that is internet calling. All you need to internet call is a smart phone or computer (with a microphone) and an internet connection. Apps such as Skype and Google Voice allow cheap calls to land lines and mobile phones (from 2.5 cents per minute), while Viber and WhatsApp allow you to chat to your friends for free once they download the program too.
Even if you are planning on getting a local number, downloading an app which you can use wherever there is free wifi will save you hundreds of dollars, and allow you to make that obligatory phone call to mum and dad, setting their fears of international kidnapping, murder and robbery at rest.
2. The classic cab-from-the-airport rip-off
It’s a well known fact cabbies love picking up tourists from the airport. Why? Because unsuspecting foreigners usually have absolutely no idea how far they are from their desired destination.
It’s only when you get a cab back to the airport to fly out, or you talk to a local who cracks a mocking grin, you sheepishly realise you wasted $50 and an hour circling the greater limits of Los Angeles, when your accommodation was less than three miles away.
You may even be aware of the time-honoured airport cabbie scam, and resolve not become a victim by simply tracking your location on your smartphone, only to realise you don’t have access to mobile data in your landing-place. Ensuing altercations with cabbies and self-flagellation can easily be avoided by simply looking up the estimated cost of your fare on an online fare calculator. If you can’t find a calculator for the starting point of your remote trek in search of rare moth larvae and stingless jellyfish in the unchartered heart of Borneo, get your local travel agent to find out how much your fare should set you back, and whether you should pay at the start or end of your journey.
3. Err… where am I?
You may be one of the increasing number of people who struggle to walk down the street to grab yourself an icy pole at the corner store without needing to check your precise location on Google Maps.
If this is the case, Piece Out highly recommends you check with your phone service provider whether or not your phone will be able to connect to your destination’s 3G and 4G networks before you step on the plane. Overseas data coverage is ultra-pricey (we’re talking one to three bucks per megabyte). However, so is getting off the bus too soon and finding yourself wandering the ghettos of St Petersburg with a growing urge to call any cab that will take you to a place that is not characterised by crime-infested crack dens and rabid dogs.
A cheaper option is always getting a local sim with data included, but be sure to check whether the coverage includes the areas you are travelling.
Handy hint: if you opt to go without overseas data coverage, simply type your day’s destination into the Google Maps app whilst still in the range of your accommodation’s wifi. You’ll then be able to access the route’s map even when not connected to the internet – just don’t close the program.
4. The cash freeze fiasco
Banks often tell you to let them know when you are going on holiday. The typical response to which is, “why you all up in my business, Big Brother?”
However, despite your reservations about your bank’s seemingly stalkerish tendencies, there is a good reason banks want to know if you’re overseas. If international transactions start showing up in your accounts, you may wake to find said accounts frozen and your cash inaccessible. If you don’t have Skype to call and give the bank the 411, you may have to resort to relying on the generosity of your fellow travellers who do have Skype. If you need to transfer money from another account into your holiday account, and haven’t registered the payee with your bank back home, you will probably find you need to type in a security code from a confirmation SMS. The security code will, of course, be sent to your Australian number, which you may or may not be able to access overseas. If you do find a way to set the bank straight, you can still expect a 24 hour delay before your blockage is lifted, during which time you may have starved. It’s a vicious cycle.
Tell your bank everything you think they will need to know, including destinations, overseas phone numbers and expected size of daily transactions.
Handy hint: it’s a good idea to leave a couple of hundred bucks at home with a trusted friend or family member, just in case you need some one to put money into your account in person at the bank so it clears on the same day.
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