I’ve been a consumer rights journalist and broadcaster for two decades now. But when it comes to practicing what I preach, I can sometimes be a bit slow to follow my own advice.
Despite advising readers, listeners and viewers about all of the options when paying for things abroad, along with the traps and pitfalls to watch out for, I remained stubbornly stuck to paying for things with cash when on holiday. I guess this is because it helped me keep on top of my budget. Plus I worried about not being able to pay for excursions, little restaurants in the middle of nowhere and of course, hiring a sun lounger.
I love my job, but the downside of being a consumer rights campaigner is I tend to only hear about people’s misadventures when traveling abroad. I’m usually the one who is dispatched to sort things out when they go wrong. So I’d been put off prepaid cards after endless complaints about people losing their holiday money if the card got nicked. Or not realising that the money they’d left on their cards – half a billion according to Currensea – was slowly being whittled away. As for debit cards… well, the high street banks are notorious for their endless fees and charges, along with some pretty rubbish exchange rates.
Of course, I was being foolish. As I realised a few years ago when exploring Eastern Europe. I got in a taxi from the airport that felt a bit dodgy, then I realised I had to extract €20 from my wodge of notes - €1,000 in total to get me through three weeks. I ended up creating a dramatic diversion by pretending I’d spilt my water bottle in my suitcase. No-one was fooled. To be frank, you wouldn’t wander around the UK for three weeks with one grand in your rucksack. So why on earth do we take such a risk when traveling in a foreign country?
Four weeks in Europe
I had the perfect opportunity to switch from my stubborn attachment to foreign currency and join the 21st century this year for my first major break in ages.
Despite loving a random adventure, I’m boringly cautious when it comes to the nuts and bolts of travel. So after a bit of research where it became apparent that the Currensea card was by far the best option for purchasing things abroad, I signed up then… stared at the card in my wallet for bit.
Then - in a revelation that will surprise precisely no one - I realised that I could test out the card in the UK before I went abroad! Shocker.
If you’re naturally a worrier like me, then giving your card a test run in the UK is a must. Not only can you check the PIN is working and you’re correctly linked to the right bank accounts, you can discover more about all of the additional benefits that come along with the Currensea account.
Suitably reassured, I headed off to holiday for a jaunt around Andalusia in southern Spain, to see friends in Malaga and Marbella, then a final week in Torremolinos for the now legendary (and raucous) Pride celebrations.
Unlike many tourists, I’m lucky because my friends who live abroad take me to lots of places off the beaten track. In the past, many of these tiny restaurants, festivals and excursions have been cash only. So I took 10% of my budgeted holiday money in Euros. I needn’t have bothered. In Spain, my Currensea card worked for:
In fact, I was so thrilled to be actually back on holiday in another country, that I took my eye off the ball a bit in terms of what I was spending. And this is where Currensea’s other innovations became essential.
Every time I used my card, I got a real time alert telling me what I’d spent in both Euros and pounds, which allowed me to keep on top of my spending. More importantly, I was able to understand more about whether what I was paying was worth the money or not. It’s easy to not think of money in real terms when you are having a good time. But when you notice you’ve just spent £12 on coffee and a small glass of orange juice, you know to find a better deal in the future.
No-one likes being confronted with the reality of their spending when abroad, but over a glass of wine every night I’d check out my Currensea report detailing my spending on the app. This led to a harsh intake of breath every now and then, but it reminded me to moderate my spending and stick to my budget for the rest of the trip.
And here’s the thing. I actually spent less money than I had budgeted for through the simple medium of keeping on top of my spending (and saving a fortune in exchange rates and conversion fees).
So as a consequence, I treated myself a few times to the best seafood restaurants on the Andalucian coast. After all, I was in credit!
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