Money highlights while traveling

Last week, I got back from an amazing 10-day trip. Brian and I saw Stonehenge, sailed the Irish Sea, and I threw up three times. It isn't a true vacation unless I've thrown up.

During our journey, we had a few money-related experiences, and I took the time to journal them. We were frugal. We learned about tipping. We talked to bartenders about taxes. I enjoyed these money highlights and financial reminders along our journey, so I thought I'd share.

More than money

A chatty cabdriver drove us from Dublin airport to our hotel. Once we arrived, he had a deal for us:

“Now, listen. I'm going home after this. If you want, you can drop off your bags, I'll wait here, and then I'll give you a ride to wherever you want to go. No charge.”

Immediately skeptical, we said, “Eh, we're really tired. We're probably just gonna take a nap.”

“Oh, come on,” he insisted. “It's a free ride. Drop off your bags and let's go!”

We were a little nervous about getting taken, but we went with it. He drove us to Temple Bar, talking the whole way about how he was looking forward to going home and sharing a bottle of wine with his wife.

“Yeah,” I thought. “That you pay for with the extra money you're about to charge us.”

Once he pulled over and dropped us off, I noticed the meter read 30.00. At the hotel, it was 23. Here we go.

“Eh, let's just make it 22,” he said. I was taken aback. That was a pretty good deal for the airport ride alone.

“You sure?” Brian asked. Our driver insisted. Brian then handed him a 20-euro note and a five-euro note. “All I've got is the five,” Brian said. The driver then insisted we just make it 20, refusing to take any tip. What then ensued was a shouting match, with Brian insisting on the tip, and our driver, Bob, yelling that we were giving him too much.

Bob finally relented, allowing us to take down his address to ship him a bottle of California wine once we get back home.

The experience made me realize I'm very distrusting of people when it comes to money. This guy was so kind, and I immediately branded him a scammer. Sure, it's only natural (and necessary) to be wary in a strange city, but this was a good reminder that life is about more than money, as J.D. would say.

Frugality is satisfying

That Saturday, Brian and I rented a car in Wales. We learned how roundabouts work (I think) and took way too many pictures of sheep. We stopped in Cardiff, the country's capital. Walking around Cardiff Bay, we came across a flea market, and one of the booths sold handmade bracelets for one euro.

“Oooh, pretty,” I said, and Brian took out some change and bought me a nice one with blue stones. We didn't buy any other souvenirs in Wales, and I thought $1.29 was a pretty good price for a piece of jewelry that reminded me of a beautiful place. Because I also thoroughly enjoy frugality, the bonus is whenever I wear this, I'll also always think: And it was only one euro!

But sometimes it's OK to splurge

The next day, we got to Stonehenge. The whole experience was pretty amazing, despite a lady asking me to take her photo because “this needs to go on Facebook!” Really? We're standing here, amid of one of the seven wonders of the medieval world, and you're talking about Facebook? (Real talk: It only made me angry because I was thinking the same thing.)

In addition to the overall majesty, we were also impressed with our Stone Circle Access. You can see Stonehenge for free from behind a fence, and you can pay £8 admission price to see it behind a smaller barrier. For that price, you can't walk up to the stones, but you can get fairly close. Maybe, like, 30 feet away?

But then there's Stone Circle Access. With this, you're able to get up close to the stones for an hour, before Stonehenge even “opens.” You can walk around them. You can walk under them. You can sit by them. The only thing you can't do is touch them.

The cost for this access? £16 a person. Together, Brian and I paid $48. Sure, it's double the price of general admission, but it was worth it.

(Note: Click here for more info on Stone Circle Access.)

Stonehenge

The money customs of other cultures

Part of the fun of traveling is learning about other cultures. Throughout our trip, we noticed that tipping was inconsistent. Sometimes it seemed customary; other times it didn't. We tried to tip at Temple Bar, for example, and our money just sat on the counter the whole time.

“I don't think you tip bartenders here,” I told Brian.

“I just saw another guy do it. You're supposed to leave one!”

“That's not what Rick Steves said!”

When we returned to Dublin after our jaunt to the U.K., we decided to learn about tipping norms from a real Dubliner (as opposed to Google).

“If you're at restaurant, you tip,” our bartender informed us. “Maybe 10 percent, or, if the service is exceptional, 15. But barkeepers don't usually expect tips. Maybe if they go out of their way or something like that.”

He also gave us a brief lesson in Ireland's tax system, which was interesting. For example, their value added tax (VAT) has different ranges, depending on what you buy. Books, children's clothes and educational stuff have a zero percent VAT range. Most everything else is taxed at 13.5 percent. But retailers factor this into their pricing, rather than adding the “plus tax” like we do in the States.

“That's partly why everything is more expensive here than it is in the States,” our bartender told us. “The tax is included.”

He then made us a free sandwich (the kitchen was closed) and chatted with us for the next couple of hours. We tipped him.

The importance of being prepared

The following night we logged into our account to see how much we'd spent. We budgeted for the trip, but we also used a credit card to avoid foreign transaction fees. The card we chose not only waives these fees, they also have a good rewards program.

Our spending was about what we expected: sobering enough to make us put down our pints and say, “OK, let's try to cool it for the rest of the trip.” But one thing that gave us a little jolt: We racked up $130 in rewards. Our card offered a free $100 if you spend $500 within the first few weeks. I had forgotten about this perk, so that was a nice little surprise.

It was awesome being able to use this card and not worry about fees. We rarely had to take money out of an ATM. Before our trip, we had painstakingly planned and budgeted. Brian even groaned because I organized our planning into “Phase I, Phase II and Phase III.” It took some effort, but we figured out the most frugal way to splurge. This isn't a budget vacation post, and I've already gotten long-winded, so I'll sum up the details in a few brief bullet points:

  • The “Hotel Tonight” app has an awesome $25 referral deal. We both used it and got one room for $40 and another really fancy one for $60.
  • Before booking flights, I read that Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the cheapest days to buy airline tickets. This was true for me.
  • We nicknamed Ryanair “Lyin' air” (hilarious) because of their notorious fees. But it was still a pretty low price to fly from London back to Dublin. We shared one checked bag and split the fee.
  • AAA discounts work on overseas car rental.

Overall, I thought the trip was a good example of how I've learned to manage my finances. I enjoy frugality, but I also enjoy a well-budgeted splurge. And now, I'm back to work and focused on earning more, fueled by the gusto of a thoroughly enjoyed break.

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John
John
7 years ago

I hate to seem like an untrusting skeptic but if you assume people are out to screw you, you will rarely be disappointed. There are innumerable people that are kind, generous and friendly. However, most of the crooks tend to put themselves in positions to take advantage of the trusting and incautious. That’s just the way of things. I would rather be more untrusting and less often duped then the other way around.

Kristin Wong
Kristin Wong
7 years ago
Reply to  John

No, you’re right! Especially while traveling, it’s obviously important to be skeptical and cautious. Perhaps I should’ve been more so. I said the driver insisted, but it wasn’t as if he was forcing us. His attitude was more like, “If you’re tired, just go to the hotel, but you guys should go out and have a good time!” Had he refused to take no for an answer, that would’ve been a red flag. Perhaps I’m still too trusting though!

Michelle at Making Sense of Cents
Michelle at Making Sense of Cents
7 years ago

Wow that is very nice of the cab driver. I’m going to be honest, I would have thought very similar to you, in that he must be trying to scam me. I need to stop thinking like that, because obviously I know that there are nice people out there.

Johanna
Johanna
7 years ago

Of course there are nice people out there. Most people are good. But which is worse: Hurting the feelings of someone who doesn’t mean to do you harm, or putting your trust in someone who does?

John S @ Frugal Rules
John S @ Frugal Rules
7 years ago

That’s an awesome story about the cab driver. I would’ve likely felt the same way you did as I think it can be very easy to be distrusting. My wife and I went to Ireland for our honeymoon and found the people there to be incredibly friendly and we really do want to go back again.

Johanna
Johanna
7 years ago

I’m glad that the cab driver turned out to be a good guy. But offering unsolicited help and refusing to take “no” for an answer are two of the hallmarks of dangerous people. You don’t need to be mistrustful of everyone you meet, but ignoring real warning signs is not a good idea.

I’m surprised that a market in Cardiff would price items in euros. Wales usually uses British pounds.

And Stonehenge is a LOT older than the medieval world. 🙂

Kristin Wong
Kristin Wong
7 years ago
Reply to  Johanna

Yes, it sure is! But I don’t think that saying means that Stonehenge was built in the Middle Ages…it’s just a title given to a list of “wonders” that was compiled in the 19th or early 20th century. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wonders_of_the_World#Lists_from_other_eras

And yes–I meant a pound, not a euro. 🙂

Johanna
Johanna
7 years ago
Reply to  Kristin Wong

Interesting. I wasn’t familiar with that term.

Skint in the City
Skint in the City
7 years ago

Loved this post – as good as doing a little travelling myself, almost! And totally intrigued as to why Tues and Wed are the cheapest days to book flights. Sounds like a great nugget there p do you know the reason? I can see why they’d be cheapest to fly, but actually to book? I’m hooked!
PS – Best way to get round Ryanair baggage charges – wear it all! No restrictions of flying with your book and cosmetic bag in your pockets and you even get special multi-pocket jackets to help you beat the charges!

Kristin Wong
Kristin Wong
7 years ago

Glad you enjoyed it!
Here’s an interesting explanation I read before booking my flight:
“When airlines want to push through a fare increase, marking up their basic prices across the board usually by $5 or $10, they often do that on Thursday night, then watch to see if competitors match and if the higher rates stick over the weekend. If competitors balk, prices can be rolled back by Monday morning.”

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704062604576105953506930800.html

Mike@WeOnlyDoThisOnce
7 years ago

Great story. Interesting how tipping culture works in other countries; in some, it is even seen as disrespectful (e.g. Japan).

Tony
Tony
7 years ago

I had a very similar experience in Dublin several years ago. We chatted with a cab driver who was taking us to the Guinness factory. He was super friendly, and he refused payment when he dropped us off. He said we were his “American cousins”. Maybe he was the same guy?

Anne
Anne
7 years ago

I totally loved this post as it basically describes my life. My husband and I are retired and we travel for pleasure constantly. We are super frugal and mostly use credit card points for flights.

However, I absolutely cut loose with more money when there is a fabulous experience to be had. Last year we swam with dolphins in Mexico at their training facility. One of the highlights of all my travels and a priceless experience. I paid top dollar for pictures of us and don’t regret it for a moment.

Ian
Ian
7 years ago

We had a similar experience in Ireland. We were taking the bus from the airport. We struck up a conversation with a gentleman, telling him we were just visiting for the first time and heading to our hotel in Temple Bar. He got of the bus with us, helped us with our bags, and showed us around a little. The whole time I was waiting for him to ask for money. He never did. When I offered him money, he refused. He even gave us his address to come over and watch the football game on later that week. I… Read more »

krantcents
krantcents
7 years ago

Traveling teaches us so much about different countries and cultures. If you were in New York and the cabbie offered a free ride, I guarantee it was a scam. Funny how different we are! I traveled to the UK about 6 times and the people are very generous particularly to tourists (Americans).

Ely
Ely
7 years ago

I had a slightly different experience traveling in Scotland and Holland two years ago and in Dublin and Cardiff this year. Before, we used cash almost exclusively. There were no fees charged by my bank and the exchange rate was pretty good. On this year’s trip we didn’t have as much of a cash cushion so I used the card more. Not only were there fees but one place actually caused us to be charged a cash-advance fee, which we did not know about till later. (I think they were dirtbags.) In addition a lot of places didn’t take cards… Read more »

Hanah
Hanah
7 years ago

Watch out using credit cards to try to avoid fees though. Credit cards may not charge a fee per transaction, but they often charge a premium on the exchange rate (e.g. 2% above the regular exchange rate). That’s often hidden deep within the terms of your credit card agreement, so check up on that before doing the math on the cheapest way to deal with money.

TW
TW
7 years ago

“That’s not what Rick Steves said!”
Love that.

desertdust
desertdust
7 years ago

I once had a cabdriver in Edinburgh decline my tip because he said it was too much! I had tipped generously because while driving me from the train station to my B+B, he pointed out the retro movie theater, a park with great walking paths, and explained the public bus system. Clearly no profit scam there…..

Conor
Conor
7 years ago

Glad to hear you enjoyed your trip. Next time you’re in Ireland you should visit Newgrange – older than Stonehenge and the Pyramids!

My Shiny Pennies
My Shiny Pennies
7 years ago

We love to travel, but we don’t see it as an excuse to spend freely. I find it rewarding to track down flight and lodging deals so that we have more money to spend on things we travel for: food and sights.

Kristen
Kristen
7 years ago

Hi Kristin with an i! Thank you for your article. I am traveling to Italy in early fall. I have been before but that was when I wasn’t very mindful of my money. I am wondering if you would consider writing an article on the best form of payment when traveling abroad or if you could suggest an article. Someone recently told me that it isn’t always convenient to use credit cards, which I didn’t find that to be true but it was 10 years ago. What credit card did you use (if you don’t mind me asking)? I am… Read more »

Kristin Wong
Kristin Wong
7 years ago
Reply to  Kristen

I used the Capital One Cash Rewards card and didn’t have any issues with it charging me extra for being in a foreign country, but Hanah (#17) left an important comment that I think is worth looking into! During my first Europe trip, I just took out ATM cash and dealt with the fees. That was when I wasn’t great with money, either. I didn’t want to take out too much, because who wants to carry that much cash while traveling in an unfamiliar place, but I wanted to take out enough to make the most out of the fee,… Read more »

ashley
ashley
7 years ago
Reply to  Kristin Wong

I don’t remember which blog I saw it on, but someone did a study to determine if the credit cards without transaction fees charge you more and they found that they did not have a higher exchange rate. I really like my chase sapphire card. Not sure if it’s still valid, but when I got it there was a 40,000 point bonus. It’s a great card with great rewards for travelers. Also, find a credit union that does not charge fees for foreign atms. They exist, you just might need to call around to find one. I’ve never bothered getting… Read more »

Theresa
Theresa
7 years ago

“Because I also thoroughly enjoy frugality, the bonus is whenever I wear this, I’ll also always think: And it was only one euro!”

That might have been true if you were in a market in Ireland, which uses the Euro, but you were in WALES, which does not. The U.K. (which Wales is part of) uses pound sterling.

Making sure you correct that in your article will help show that Americans aren’t all entirely ignorant of other countries (and I say this as an American).

Kristin Wong
Kristin Wong
7 years ago
Reply to  Theresa

Yup. Johanna beat you to that find. Obviously, I meant pounds. I was well aware of the currency I was using am aware of the fact that Wales is part of the UK. This was simply a typo.

Debt Blag
Debt Blag
7 years ago

It’s a lucky thing that you accidentally spent $500 using that credit card and got that $100 bonus.

I’d feel silly if I let free money like that pass me by as I try to take the effective cost of everything into account.

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