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Travel Money

A life on the road (without a single foreign transaction charge)

Why do we travel? It’s a simple enough question which yields myriad answers. But whether a trip is for adventure or a fly-and-flop, we travel for pretty much the same thing – for freedom. It is to cast off home routines, to make spontaneous plans, to live fleetingly in the moment. I’d argue it is travel’s greatest luxury.

In journalism such freedom matters. It’s the unstructured trip for a freelance writer like me which often winkles out the key interviewee or lead that nails a story. I also find them the most enjoyable right up until the moment I return and see a bank statement. Three per cent charged on every payment abroad? Plus a £1.50 currency conversion charge? Never mind the injustice of the thing, those charges tot up.

One solution is to prepay for everything before you go – hotels, transport, even restaurants where possible. That’s potentially cheaper but, honestly, who wants to do it? It’s penny-pinching at the expense of fulfilling travel. The other option is to do what I once did and use an online bank that waives foreign transaction charges.

Problem solved, right? Actually, that depends on the bank.

Mine required me to transfer funds into the new travel account from my current account before each trip. While away, I’d often lose track of the balance – many was the time the debit card was refused because I’d run out of loot in the account. Cue more transfers. Equally annoying was that funds often lay dormant in the travel account afterwards when I required them back in my current account. In short, the card was a hassle – exactly what you don’t want with money abroad.

So, Currensea was a revelation.

I first switched while researching a story on Oslo as a model, post-pandemic city. Over five days, I bought meals and coffees for interviewees, and took impromptu trips to surrounding neighbourhoods after tip-offs from local contacts. Bear in mind that Oslo is one of Europe’s most expensive cities, so my old card would’ve demanded endless juggling between accounts.

With Currensea it was so easy. Funds were debited direct from my home current account charge-free. Even better, an email confirmed exactly how much I had spent and where providing a handy log of expenses.

Impressed, I loosened things up in Spain for a story on a post-pandemic boom in pilgrimage. Accommodation along the Camino became a spur-of-the-moment choice according to my day’s walking. That was how I met Joao in a pilgrim albergue (hostel). He told me how he was walking for solace after the death of his father. In another stay, Californian Sarah explained how she was completing a pilgrimage she had been forced to abandon in March 2020. Both were the sort of deeply personal stories which make a piece of journalism sing.

So a fun, successful trip. Also one without a single foreign transaction charge. Now that really is a successful trip