• Mooooooney, is a crime. But unfortunately I also need it. 
    Couple of housekeeping type things before we get to the nitty gritty of the numbers. For the past half a year I've lived in my overdraft, I'd gradually use a fiver here and tenner there and eventually it amassed into one gargantuan IOU to the bank. I say gargantuan, it was £500 so I am a while off renting off rooms in my flat as a crack den but it still annoyed me that however much I had saved was ultimately minus five hundred. So I paid it off, which is why despite a healthy saving this month the actual saving account balance hasn't gone up all that much.

    Despite the demoralising staticism of the money pile section, I have a lot to say for this living in the black nonsense. When I look at my internet banking all the moolah I can see is mine, there is no ball and chain the the quasi-nationalised arseholes, everything I can see is something I can plan with. The two grand I have definitely saved is enough to get me to the other side of the world and pay for a TEFL course, so I do actually have the money to change my life dramatically. Even if I lost my job and could not save anything more until I graduate, I can still escape the drizzle!

    The Goal

    Current daily budget: £25/day
    Current travel, visa, immunisation budget: £1,000
    Total required budget: £10,125

    The Bank

    Money pile last month: £2,375
    Money pile this month: £2,430

    Where It Came From

    Textbroker earnings: £24.56
    Happened on a few articles for a travel accommodation company which tied in fairly nicely. Want to know why Surabaya is called Surabaya? Because a crocodile had a fight with a shark. That's why. Also netted two articles on the Spanish financial collapse, one on the collapse proper and one on the financial bailout. So yeah...if you ever want to know more about financial institutions engaging in over reliance on speculative sectors, I'm your go to guy!
    Part-time work: £176
    Back working part time at one of my uni's unions. Last year I worked 10 hours/week, this year its about 22 hours every week. Turns out I enjoy having a decent amount of money each week, enough to spend while having some to put away. Proper job.
    Random savings: £73
    Two psychology experiments, one memory one that paid peanuts and one that involved having my brain MRI'ed, which paid pretty damn well. Not good if you're predisposed to fits of claustrophobia but grand if you fancy an afternoon nap in a plastic coffin.

    Read more about how I saved.

    Image courtesy of sxc.hu from mama.

  • If you missed the inaugural Bluesday's Blog of the Week, you missed the part where I explained that BBotW is the entry that I write seemingly at random, be it weekly, fortnightly, bi-annually or once every dog year (56 days for those who are interested), on whatsoever day of the week as effort strikes me (for dear reader, I entreat to you the knowledge that Bluesday is not an actual day but an artificial conception used as a get out clause by lazy bloggers who wish to avoid actual schedules), about a blogger that I find in some way inspirational or interesting. The first one was awesome, we had champagne and a six figure prize cheque to launch the feature. But it's gone now, so, unfortunately, you are stuck with this vague assortment of thoughts, musings, sweeping statements, unfounded generalisations and the odd nugget of praise..

    So, with only one embedded clause of further ado, the second Bluesday's Blog of the Week is awarded to, with another sentence added purely to raise the tension, Lauren Quinn's Lonely Girl Travels.

    I say awarded but being so new to this blogging malarky I feel slightly conceited handing out 'awards' to established and talented writers, so I'm not going to tell her. It shall be a secret between me and my fourteen readers.

    Quinn is another graduate, (seeing a trend appearing here, eh, eh, eh? It's like bloody Parliament!) though this time in Creative Writing. Her annoyingly engrossing writing kicks lumps out of my wanky writers-are-born-not-moulded pretensions, though maybe her wordsmithing skills existed pre-degree. Alas, we shall never know. What you get reading LGT is a mixture of intelligent essays, humorous reflections on travels, and a smattering of free verse. The latter is a particular favourite of mine in our sad current world in which we watch the dying, stigmatised corpse of poetry repeatedly convulsing in the gutter after being repeatedly bastardised by the Myspace generation. As an aside allow me to tell you how hard my life is. It is so extreme it can only really be captured by verse.

    There was a young man from Scotland,
    Who's ideas of the world got too grand.
    It all grew to much,
    And, unfortunately, as such,
    He repeatedly wrote whiny Facebook updates along the lines of, 'Some days are just shit. Sad face.' Well that's just blatant attention seeking. Iceland.

    Also, she fucking swears. I don't want to prepare you for a verbal barrage on the level of Malcolm Tucker, so do not expect, 'Come the fuck in or fuck the fuck off,' to be bandied around every second paragraph. But do expect a natural interspersions of fucks, shits, and asses in a well needed escape from the daytime television-esque clinicism of others in the blogosphere..

    And essays. Essays. Essays. Essays. What a welcome break from the, '5 things to do in Aberdeen,' and 'What NOT to pack,' they are. There's nothing wrong them the standard travel blogger repertoire, I have written such articles, and I love reading a good list as much as the next person, but it is nice to get a different approach, and one so very worthwhile and interesting. Perhaps it's best to describe it as writing regarding travel, rather than travel writing. Orwell's Shooting An Elephant rather than Lonely Planet. I'm not really doing it justice here, so go read it. Also read Shooting An Elephant, but only if you are in an I-fancy-being-depressed sort of mood.
  • Mooooooney, is a crime. But unfortunately I also need it. 
    The Goal

    Current daily budget: £25/day
    Current travel, visa, immunisation budget: £1,000
    Total required budget: £10,125

    The Bank

    Money pile last month: £2,062.72
    Money pile this month: £2,375.72

    Where It Came From

    Textbroker earnings: £15
    I am now a professional writer. Albeit not a very well paid one. TB is a content mill, you sign up as a writer and complete assignments by clients who want unique content. I've written about hyperpigmentation, the Formula One 2012 season and the best budget airlines, it's good fun if a little challenging. I think I averaged out at £6-8 per hour.
    Part-time work: £180
    Did some stockroom work covering for folks on holiday, not overly exciting but it's moolah in the bank.
    Random savings: £100
    I've tried to get into a habit of throwing all my small change into a box, I've no idea where it normally goes, probably into vending machines, or the black holes that are sofa cushions but now it goes into the savings pot.

    Read more about how I saved.

    Image courtesy of sxc.hu from mama.

  • A follow up to part 1 of Finding You The Cheapest Flight based on the comments I got as well as more tips and tricks I've unearthed. If you haven't read part 1, go do it now here, it'll probably save you more money than this one and more money in your pocket is more money for you to buy me a thank you pint with!

    Check Out The Airport

    Flight search websites are good, we established that in part one, but good does not necessarily mean perfect. Skyscanner in particular aims to give you access to all flight information everywhere. Yes, everywhere. Even those of us who are not technically minded can see that this is a logistical nightmare: pulling flights off sites with radically different architectures in a multitude of languages in an expanding market where flight routes prove enormously transient provides one gargantuan challenge. To give them every credit they are due, they do it exceptionally well but the smaller, more niche airlines do occasionally fall through the cracks.

    The good news is that it is easily rectifiable, if you head over to the airport's Wikipedia page you can usually get a fairly comprehensive list of airlines that operate out of it. All you have to do is check the airlines that SkyScanner throws up against the list currently operating and manually check the few that aren't included.

    In the case of my local international airport there were two such airlines: Airtransat that flies to Toronto-Pearson in Canada; and Eastern Airways that flies to Stavanger in Norway. Are either of these airlines cheaper than the flights provided by SkyScanner? Nope, and not by quite some way, but that doesn't mean they can't be. To shamelessly plagiarise an example from elsewhere, TAME, an airline that operates in and around Ecuador, operate at around $100 cheaper than all results on major flight comparison sites but can only be found through word of mouth and good quality snooping work. So break out the deer stalker and save some money for that beach hut.

    Newsletters, Newsletters, Newsletters

    While usually we all hate the unsolicited fiend that is junk mail they do annoyingly come up with the goods every so often. My suggestion would be to open a separate email address and sign up for everything you can find. Then just set aside an hour or so a month to trawl through it and nab all the good deals.

    The Flight Centre, Fare Compare, Airfare Watchdog, Best Flights, Air Asia, Smarter Travel, Vayama, and a mountain of other sites all provide newsletters. If you wait around long enough and put up with the ninety per cent you aren't interested in then you will inevitably come up with the goods eventually. It might be a hundred quid off your main intercontinental flight or a fifteen quid all-in internal diversion to add a little adventure but it all adds up to a much better travelling experience.

    Clean Up Your Cookies

    I am about to break out some truth here. It may shock you and it may disgust you, but it has to be said. Prepare yourself. Prepared? OK let me begin: some businesses do not play fair. I know, I know, your world view has been smashed but I thought you could handle the truth. Airline's websites and flight searching services use cookies to track what you have searched for and alter how prices are displayed to make certain bookings look preferable. If they can make competitors or surrounding dates look slightly more expensive then it'll look like you've chanced upon a deal and you are more likely to snap it up..

    Be Flexible

    This is on every list and despite its stone headed obviousness there are some extra tricks that can save you dough. The basic bit is to not stick to a rigid time frame, at the very least try expanding your leaving date a couple days on either side. Airlines may not run routes every day of the week so spread the net a bit wider to catch all the flights.

    Where you can save sizeable chunks of money is finding the, 'Show whole month' button, it's currently available on SkyScanner and Hipmunk but should crop up on more and more sites as time goes by. What it does is show you, often in pretty graphics, the price distribution for the whole month of your search. I spoke a little in part one about which days of the week are cheapest to fly on, but what part of the month you fly on also has a huge impact..

    Looking at an example flight, Glasgow to Paris in March 2013, flying on the weekend of the 23rd and 24th is 25% cheaper than flying out on the weekend of the 16th and 17th. If you want to leave in the last 9 days of March then prices are at best double and at worst quadruple the lowest price you pay during the month.

    Have a date in mind but don't feel any need to stick to it.

    Cash In As A Student

    There's a few companies that cater to students, STA and Student Universe being a couple of big players. A quick search for 'student flights' will garner you a collection of sites. The newsletter option is often the best as they rarely offer consistently low fares. I actually sent a tweet to the STA UK asking what the lower price they could do was from the UK to Bangkok was and they responded pretty quickly with an as of then unadvertised deal.

    Images curtesy of www.sxc.hu.

  • Since this is the first Bluesday's Blog of the Week I should explain that Bluesday is a stand in word for any day. The problem is that no day has the required Bl- rhyme I need for the title. So instead of putting some hard thought in, brainstorming with whiteboards and coming up with some inspired word play, I panicked and came up with Bluesday. But it's too late to change now, isn't it?

    So, now the bit where I big up someone's blog. And I'm not even being paid! I know, I know, I am a veritable philanthropist. OK fine, the truth may be marginally less selfless than that. One Scot's Meander owes a lot of bloggers. The people that did the hard work establishing and legitimising the writing form, the folk who carved the niche into which I am attempting to squeeze myself and perhaps most importantly, the excellent writers who breathed life back into my travel desires. I owe them all a massive debt of thanks, and this is my way of saying thank you.

    And we get to the important part: who gets the honour (citation needed) of the inaugural Bluesday's Blog of the Week? Drum roll, dramatic pause and tense music. The award goes to Stephanie Yoder's Twenty-Something Travel! There's a lot of reasons why I connected to this blog, some of which I'll go into here, but most importantly it is our respective starting points.

    Twenty-Something Travel began as the brain child twenty five year old Yoder, who a few years earlier had graduated from college. (UK readers and family, please don't blame me for saying college instead of university but it's not my story!) It's a time in my life I am rapidly careering towards and with the looming question of what to do with a non-vocational degree it is not a time I am particularly looking forward to. However, in an interview with Sharing Travel Experiences Stephanie talks about why the benefits that come with achieving this age and with it accidentally answered my graduation quandary. In this transitional period we have fewer obligations, combine that with oodles of time, bags of energy and an excess of motivation and you have a potent mix, which, if you introduce the travel bug can result in you flying around the world for years upon years in a pursuit of new experiences. Somehow I had completely ignored this until now but now that I can see it I can't wait till next year.

    It isn't just the similarities that I relate to though, I hugely admire the style and content of the writing that tactfully side steps the travel writing bear trap of, 'I went there, I saw this,' while all the time still giving the reader a unique and honest impression of the country. What you get as a whole is an eclectic mix of travel advice, travel stories and reflexive analysis. 

    Where else can you read about the trials and tribulations of being a blogger alongside confessions of panda-based jealously?  
  • Ancient Greek mythology as pertinent as ever.
    This summer has been an odd one. An increasingly large portion of my friends are graduating and joining the real world, taking real jobs and maturing into real people; those who are not quite yet out of uni and into the real world are busily dispersing themselves around the globe on a mixture of pleasurable and educational travel; and finally those who are neither are sat at home in an odd sort of lotus eating purgatory waiting for work and lectures to resume, compadres to return and ultimately life to go by.

    I am one of the latter. One of the ones who watched friends pick a compass point, board a pressurised cigar tube and escape the endless drizzle. The quicksand-esque mire of existing purely to wait did beckon at the start when the distractions of summer work dried up and I grew bored of the worthy literature. The cognitively easy slump, rut, bog, whatever you want to call it, the day counting, TV-watching mindless mindset that's only aim is to waste time was very attractive, I had nothing else to do to occupy myself with over the months before people and distractions entered back into my life and as a waiting hater it's much easier to flick the brain into the off position and coast through the weeks not really doing anything at all.

    While I have done this in the past it is something I now consciously reject; this year was different, it represents the cusp of responsibility, the last time that my actions definitely have only personal ramifications and the potential start of legitimate adulthood. It is the border to the next chapter, the start of the rest of my life, and presumably a plethora of other clich├ęs. It is at this responsibility precipice I conclude it is not acceptable to switch one's brain off and resolve to use this time to do something with at least some semblance of purpose and worth. I set to planning. Planning what I would do if it were next year and I stood with a years saving behind me in that responsibility limbo between graduation and employment?

    I would circumnavigate the world. Preferably on a multi-hull with a dedicated beer fridge and a rack of fishing rods. Across the Atlantic, through Panama, up the American coasts, a quick hop across the Pacific, wander down the Eastern Asian borders and then fall off onto Australia and New Zealand. It'd be pretty damn cool. And expensive. Sadly, for this particular escapade I would perhaps need someone else's year long saving behind me. Also I am unsure of how sailing a sixteen foot dinghy translates to sailing a yacht-proper in open water with rollers the size of small houses, but since this idea is financially prohibitive I will ignore the talent deficit.

  • Debit Cards

    The Skinny

    The card linked to your current account. The one sitting in your wallet right now that you most likely use to withdraw money, and occasionally for purchases. It is almost certainly a bad idea to use abroad. Trust me, I've done it. The look of bemusement when your account is 50 quid down on what you reckon it should be, that came across my face will reappear on yours if you don't look at the drawbacks of generic current accounts.

    Debit cards should be subject to the same scrutiny as credit cards. Do they charge you to withdraw money? Do they charge you to pay for things? Do they charge you a, 'handling fee'? Also what is a handling fee? From what I gather it's a fee for the bank doing its job. It doesn't seem exactly fair but oh well, let's get on with it.

    Even average cards can really sting, a bog standard Halifax account charges a minimum of £1.50 to withdraw cash and 2.75% on top of that as a handling fee. That means for every £1000 you take out you lose £29. And that's if you take a grand out at once, which is almost certainly a bad idea, if you take out a week's budget every time you need it you tack on other £4.50 a month, which is just wasted money. The good news is that there are cards with zero fees across the board. If you can get a card that exchanges at a good rate, e.g. either Visa or Mastercard, that doesn't charge you to withdraw money overseas, and doesn't charge you to use your account, then this will be the cheapest way to get cash when you are travelling.

    Debit cards will be my means for managing day-to-day money. Norwich & Peterborough Building Society and Metrobank offer the best deals at the moment with accounts that have no charges for cash withdrawals, transactions or handling fees. They come with some strings: N&P require either 5 transactions a month or £500 paid in each month; and Metrobank only has branches in London and requires you to open in person.

    A lot of the drawbacks of debit cards hinges on the security. It is, after all, a direct line to your current account. If you buy something the money comes out instantly and if it's not you doing the buying the costs are processed on the spot and lost money can be very hard to recover. What I would suggest here is having two accounts. In account A you store all your funds, leave the card for this account at home but have it set up for internet and/or telephone banking. Then open a travel specific current account, we'll call it account B, and bring one or two cards for this account. When you want to withdraw a week or month's budget move money from account A to account B and withdraw it. If the worst happens and your card gets stolen, what have they got? Either an empty account or an account with a weeks budget in it. It's not quite as water tight as traveller's cheques or credit cards but you pay less in fees and get the most money for your money.

    The Important Bits

    Transaction fees – What it costs for you to make purchases. As astounding as it is most banks do actually charge you to buy stuff. Shop around and reward the banks that don't charge you.

    Overseas ATM fees – Get an account that has no charge for cash withdrawals, also, make sure when they say no overseas ATM fees they mean no fees at all ATMs, not just the ones they own or are affiliated to.

    Handling fees – Money they charge seemingly for the hell of it. There are cards that don't charge for this, so don't settle for paying money when you don't have to.

    When you should use them – If you can't get a credit card, or if you don't want a credit card. They can be the worst way to spend money abroad, but can also be one of the best. Go with Santander, N&P or Metrobank for the tripple nil: nil overseas transaction fees; nil cash withdrawal fees; nil handling fees.

    Want to know more?

  • I'm not a money expert, which is annoying considering how much ol' Martin Lewis sold his site for, but I'm still going to try and write this guide based on my experiences of looking at ways to take your money overseas. I've blindly wandered into many of the pitfalls mentioned below so hopefully you can all learn from my mistakes and save some dough.

    Currency Converters

    The Skinny

    You take cash of denomination X wander over to a money changer, they punch a calculator for a while and then they give you a corresponding amount of cash in denomination Y. Simple and straightforward. However, not all money changers are created equal, so there are a few things to watch out for when changing cold hard cash.

    Money changers have to make money somehow, usually this is done through charging a commission. If you take 100 GBP in, get quoted 1 GBP = 1.26 Euro you don't get 126 Euros back. They charge a percentage of the final amount and you get the rest; the commission is often negotiable (practice your haggling skills first, no need to piss off the man with all your money!) but usually hangs around the 5-10% mark.

    It gets trickier here as the commission percentage isn't the only thing you have to think about. Low commissions do not always maximise your returns. Claims of 0% commission are bandied around to get you interest, and while they don't take an obvious cut and label it a commission you don't get a fair exchange rate. You walk in with the same 100 GBP, but get quoted 1 GBP = 1.15 Euros. So you walk out with 115 Euros, where did that other 11 Euros go? The money changer's pocket in what is effectively a commission. The exchange rate, as you will no doubt find out, is also annoyingly dependent on the condition of the money. If you come into possession of crumpled $100 bills in South East Asia they will be very hard to exchange for what they are technically worth. But hey you've got some pretty pimpin' toilet paper!

    Money changers are out to make money, some make less than others and it's your job to decide where gets you the most Rupiah for your Sterling, Dollar, Euro or Yen.

    The Important Bit

    Commission – The percentage they take for providing a service. 0% doesn't necessarily mean good and 10% doesn't necessarily mean bad. Learn to think of it in conjunction with the exchange rate.

    Exchange rate – How much money they give you for your money. Simple, eh? Know what the rate should be, check sites like xe.com and try and get a rate close to that.

    When should you use them – If you have spare cash in the wrong denomination or in remote areas with no ATMs, because it involves a person rather than automated system it is often more expensive but sometimes you won't have a choice.

    Want to know more?

  • Introducing, the Tuk Tuk.

    Tuk Tuk's are strange things: they're loud, usually uncomfortable, perpetually feel as if they are about to topple over and often more than not they're expensive than taxis, but I have had nothing but positive, memorable experiences in them. They retain a special place in my mind that private cars, xeoms, and motodops will have to work hard to dislodge.

    In 2007 the Peruvian populace became rather dissatisfied with the President, (To this day I'm not entire sure what it was about) and subsequently decided to voice this disapproval through a series of protests. This is where the British and Peruvian idea of protesting part ways. Whereas here in Blighty protests involve placards, tutting of a ferocious intensity and very occasionally sporadic, unplanned violence. In Peru things are done a little differently, the strategy was to introduce spanners to all the gears of transport and grind the whole country to a halt. Road blocks were established, strikes held and in one of my favourite pieces of direct action, explosives were set up hill of mountain roads and detonated causing rather large land slips to fall and decorate the tarmac with a sheet of anti bus rubble.

    These protests ran congruently with the time I spent in Peru, not only that but the worst days straddled the point when we were trying to cross large swathes of the country in one go. Originally we planned to jump in a bus, shout something about being Oscar Mike and hunker down for a few hours of discomfort, but as you may have guessed buses and two tonne boulders every few meters do not mix particularly well.

    Enter knight in shabby textile armour: the tuk tuk. The beautiful three wheeled motorcycle/scaffolding cross driven by egos large enough to claim they could get you past anything at all. So we decided to call them on their bravado.

    While the constant swarm of tuk tuks tends to be annoying this time we strode to the street corner with a single purpose: one of amassing a tuk tuk fleet capable of transporting our rather sizeable group. Fleet is perhaps too boring a word for the group noun of tuk tuks; a clatter or smog may be more suitable. After a mere few minutes our group of twenty stood clustered around our assorted vehicles sizing them up with a mental tape measure.