Travel Blogging: Skeptics Unite

Ive already expressed my skepticism of the “Blogger Dream” – and gone a little ways to describing some of the pitfalls and pittances it can earn.  However I still enjoy reading about the dream and occasionally have fantasies about getting rich quick.

Travel Blogging is hard?

I suppose it is, in fact like most creative pursuits it takes time and effort to plan, write and post content that will attract and maintain an audience that’s also willing to follow up with Facebook Likes or Retweets.  Although the best perspective I’ve seen thrown on it comes from Theodora at

It’s not subsistence farming in a drought. It’s not child protection or first response. It’s not labouring in the sewers, in a sweatshop, or on zero-hours contracts at the minimum wage. Nor is it rocket science, the SAS or brain surgery.

She then goes on to point out the low barrier to entry, hey I meet all of that, well except maybe the high-spec photographic equipment and I’m only partially convinced of my own delusions of grandeur.

Really there’s more, lots more, but you should really pop over to her nicely detailed post on “Why I’ll Never be a Professional Travel Blogger” and then think about what you’re reading when Zite, News360 or Flipboard throws you yet another tantalising story of how some witty hipster has travelled the world for free.

Yes my friends, they may not have spent much money to get around the world but their credibility is traded the moment they don’t declare the true financial link to what they’re reviewing.

Bargain Travel: Budgeting vs Bargains

Reproduced (and tidied) from my TripAdvisor Post.  In this post I take a quick look at how to snare bargain to let you travel within a budget.

Budget vs Bargain

I budget my travel, that is, I define how much things are expected to cost, then compare that to what the actual costs are. No different to household budgeting or basic accounting. It all starts with research.

Research helps you identify “bargains” and in turn knowing what’s a bargain and what’s the normal prices will help you build a “Budget”!

Say I get promo e-mails from 2-3 flight cost trackers/aggregators and they repeated (week on week etc) tell me that tickets to Asia are available from $500. I know it costs me around $250 more to get to one of the airports these tickets would depart from. So the total of $750 becomes my initial “budget” for flights.

I may do some research on Trivago or HotelsCombined to find what accommodation prices are like in my destination country. Generally I would say that I nominate a budget for this based on guesses and experience. So for Malaysia I know (with appropriate advance booking) I can stay in a comfortable room with ensuite for $50-$100/night right in the heart of KL. If I’m challenging myself I’ll set the budget low, it makes me work harder to find the deal.

Finally I get a quote on proper travel insurance so I know most of my pre-departure costs.

This goes into a spreadsheet (Google Docs is handy for this) and I’ll enter in the actual costs as I book things. If new costs comes up (like side-trips) I add them in.

F1 Trip 2015
Description Estimate Actual
Flights (CBR-KUL) Return $ 750.00 $626.11
Flights (KUL-JHB) Return $100.00 $56.00
Flights (KUL-PNG) Return $100.00 $44.00
F1 Ticket $250.00 $99.00
Accommodation (**-** Mar) KL $ 200.00 $123.98
Accommodation (**-** Mar) JB $200.00 $153.73
Accommodation (**-** Mar) KL $200.00 $275.20
Accommodation (**-** Apr) PN $200.00 $72.36
Travel Insurance $100.00 TBA
Totals $2100 $1450.38

As you can see it’s primitive. But it lets me add up things along the way. That’s how I know I’ve got my 14 days away covered for AUD1500.


When arriving at the destination there’s other things to pay for too. A transit card (if available), a local SIM card, any destination specific packages. For example I may buy a transit package to/from an event I’m attending. For stuff like the F1 (which I’m attending) there’s usually a deal available locally that is much cheaper than sourcing in advance.

Most of these things can be researched pretty well too. You can find information on Local SIMs through the destination forums on TripAdvisor, or Google.

Don’t expect people on the forums to tell you everything, just ask about providers and experiences with providers. Then check out their website, can you recharge online using an international credit card? What data packs are available? etc etc. Know roughly what to ask for when you arrive at the Kiosk at the airport to buy the thing. Know roughly what it should cost.

So further down my spreadsheet I have a section for these costs.

Then there food and living expenses – I don’t budget these but there’s no reason you can’t. I expect to have around $100/day in costs – some days more some days less, it’s a holiday after all 🙂

Bargain Travel: Cash is King

Reproduced (and tidied) from my TripAdvisor Post.  Here I talk about the merits of using local cash-less solutions for public transport.

Cash is King!

Except when it’s not. As I’ve outlined previously I don’t like carrying heaps of cash, I hate coins even more. So those machines that convert coins and notes into train or bus tickets, well I really really dislike those.

Public transport is a conundrum of  you can save heaps by using the local rail and bus services, compared to taxis or Uber.  If, like me, you’re always converting notes into coins which then stay in a pile in the hotel until it gets way to out-of-control and then I’m forced into counting out tiny coins at the Starbucks when I’ve not had enough caffeine to count effectively and well it just gets out-of-hand. I once left all my loose change in a hotel room upon checking out just because it was too much effort to deal with. I was even more surprised when I got a call from the hotel telling me I’d left a considerable amount of cash in the room. The coins had exceeded a decent two handful and counted out exceeded one nights (cheap) accommodation. So yes I hate coins.

The best way to get around if only for the convenience factor of unfamiliar coins, getting off at the wrong stop or not knowing what the wrong stop is ends up being using some kind of Touch’n’Go wavy card type system. In Hong Kong its an Octopus Card, In Malaysia a MyPass card will work throughout Kuala Lumper, in Sweden there’s something else. My point is they exist and there’s always a tourist friendly version available.

The Malaysian “MyPass” comes with a few discount vouchers, and a SIM Card for a local telco. I whacked 100RM on mine when I got it at the airport and touch’n’go’d my way around for 10 days last trip, Monorail from the central railway station, train to another suburb, train to an attraction, no worries. No pesky coins, no “oops wrong token moments”. In Hong Kong I’ve used my Octopus card to buy coffee, train trips, hotdogs and well just about anything, I love Hong Kong if only because coins are optional!

I met up with fellow Aussies last trip, parents of a friend of mine actually, they’re cash travellers, they bring over Aussie $$, exchange for local $$ and don’t use cards. Yeah, in a simple day of sightseeing I spent about no time counting money, queuing for the ticket machine or wandering if I had enough cash to enjoy a beer with lunch. Yeah if you can swing it, get on the cash-free transit option.

Sometimes the bargain isn’t in the price it’s in the time saving, or not breaking notes before you want to buy something more than an 3RM bus-ride. We all know a broken note is as good as gone!

Bargain Travel: The Money Problem

Reproduced (and tidied) from my TripAdvisor Post

Here I’ll try to explain my approach to Bargain travel at the destination. It’s not my strong point and I’d say I’m still finding my mojo with it.

The Money Problem:

Reality is once I step off the plane in Malaysia (or any other destination) my Australian dollars are worthless except at currency exchanges, and airports have some of the worst exchange rates because you’re stuck needing a local currency and a bathroom and a coffee and usual a good nights sleep.

My money Tips:

Know and understand your exchange rate for your destination country. Use an app on your smartphone, understand the cycles of exchange rates, know what your should get, roughly, on any currency exchange. If you don’t arm yourself with this knowledge you will lose money.

If you are going to exchange your normal currency into the local currency of your destination don’t do it at the airport. Utilise the experience of hundreds of Tripadvisor members and ask about currency exchange in the appropriate destination forum. At the Airport only exchange enough more for some food, a taxi or transport ticket to your hotel and not much else. It’s pretty much a certainty the exchange rate will be worst at the airport, and worse still at the arrivals area.

My preference is to carry as little Aussie cash as possible and upon arrival head for the nearest group of ATMs. I use a Citibank Plus VISA Debit card (not a credit card) specifically because it has no international currency fees, NONE, no fee for using it, no percentage fee on the amount withdrawn or spent, and it’s spending my money not borrowing money. At this first ATM I’ll withdraw enough cash for a day or so, in Malaysia this may be 500RM, it’s enough to by some food, get a local SIM card set up, pay for a taxi to the city, handle incidentals the following morning and yet not so much that I’m walking around the airport half asleep dropping a fortune everywhere. Thanks to the Citibank Plus VISA debit card I pay basically spot on the market rate shown on

I’m making a big deal of the fee-free international transactions and cash advances because these fees add together really really fast.

Imagine using a card where there was a 3% surcharge on the currency exchange, and perhaps a AUD5.00 on every foreign cash withdrawal (excluding any local ATM fee). It adds up. If you’re on a long trip or spending bigger amounts you could be giving your bank hundreds!

Lets face it, the less cash you carry, the less you’ll lose if you’re the victim of crime OR just get careless and lose your wallet.

Local ATM fees can suck, but not all banks charge the same fee. My Citibank Plus VISA Debit card attracted a fee in some ATMs, when I was told of the fee I’d cancel the transaction and try another banks ATM. Turns out if I avoided ATMs from one bank only I was completely fee free! So yes it can look silly but don’t just accept fees as a fait accompli. Test out the competition.

The more you rush, the more you spend

I’m also a big fan of avoiding cash altogether. It’s amazing how easy it is to buy Starbucks when you want one and don’t have to run around trying to exchange another lump of Aussie $$ in Ringgits and probably pay less in the process! In short if you can use your fee-free card for “every day” transactions do it. Your bank statements will become another part of your travel memorabilia!

For me my happy medium of cash withdrawals is around AUD200 chunks. Seems to be enough money to get by anywhere for a day or two without overstuffing your wallet. Naturally if you’re anticipating needing to pay for long taxi trips or theme park food pack a bit more….