Back Down Memory Lane – 2015 in Review

So 2015 was an interesting year for me.  I completed my first full year on a new job that did not provide enough leave for me to travel once per month, but I was still able to get some trips in.  I attended my second and last Carnival in Trinidad.  Hate that it was my last one because I went with a REALLY horrible travel group and wasted thousands traveling with them (can you say major lesson learned).  The experience was slightly salvaged because I was able to link with others who had better vibes.  But if I had it to do it all over again, I would have gone by myself in a heartbeat.

At the top of the year I set a travel goal of visiting 6 new caribbean islands.  That goal was accomplished this year as I visited St. Martin/St. Maarten, St. Barths, Anguilla, Puerto Rico, USVI and BVI.  Although Jamaica has always had my heart (and always will), there was a new favorite caribbean island – St. Martin/St. Maarten.  What can I say, the ease of getting around, inexpensive food, rum and accommodations, and the friendly people made the trip so enjoyable.  With these six islands off the list, I project that I will be finished with my 2nd bucket list of visiting all of the Caribbean islands in 1.5 years (God willing).

I took a few domestic trips to Tampa for Rum Fest, Miami for Carnival and North Carolina to hang with the country folks.  No flights were missed during my travels this year, which is definitely a plus.  However, I did have a shift in loyalty for air carrier and hotel chain.  I spent a lot more time and a lot less money traveling on Southwest when possible (the majority of my domestic travel was on Southwest) and my hotel loyalty shifted from Hilton to the IHG group.  Who knew that the Holiday Inn could be so fab at a fraction of the cost I was paying for Hilton brand hotels.  Don’t get me wrong, I still like Hilton, but I have learned to use my dollars more wisely.

I met a lot of really kewl people during my travel and even met a special someone.  In addition to picking up several bottles of rum from each new Caribbean island, I picked up quite a few life lessons.

  1. You can be very happy with very little.  Money buys things, but not happiness.
  2. It’s okay to allow a man to pay for dinner and to treat you like a princess.  They don’t all have hidden agendas.
  3. Sometimes language barriers can be overcome with a smile or a wave.
  4. Life is meant to be experienced.  Grab your passport and become a citizen of the world.

2015 was a great year and I cannot wait to see the adventures that await me in 2016– God willing (I already have four new islands on the books and am setting a goal to visit 8 new islands, if possible).  See you when the ball drops!  All the best!

Money Money Money Money…. Money (foreign version)

Unless you have been blessed to have a job that REQUIRES you to travel for a living AND you are able to rack up the air miles, hotel and car rental points, you are going to need money to travel.  Not only to buy your plane ticket, pay for lodging, food and miscellaneous expenses, but also to get around at your target destination.  You need to make sure you have enough money to last the duration of your trip.

So, what should you do?  First things first, do your homework.  Find out which form of currency is accepted at your vacation destination.  If they accept the currency of your homeland, make sure you compare how much things cost using foreign currency and local currency.  Sometimes you come out better using foreign currency, depending on how the market is doing in the area.  However, there are times that it is best to use local currency.  This requires a bit of research, but it can save you in the long run.

So what if you only the local currency is accepted?  Do you exchange money before you leave?  At the airport?  Or, when you arrive?  Well, the one thing I will tell you is that you will pay more fees exchanging in the airport– don’t do it unless you will be in some completely remote location and it will be difficult to find a cambio or local bank.  Some of the larger banks and lending institutions throughout the US will assist you with exchanging money, but you have to plan in advance.  If you exchange your money at your vacation destination, you need to know the exchange rate to make sure you are getting the best deal.  This information can be found on the tourist board sites or other internet sites.

Now you need to decide if you take all cash, use credit cards, or a combination.  I would highly recommend that you keep use a combination for security reasons.  Make sure you make a photo copy of the credit card that you will use, just in case it is lost or stolen and you need to contact your issuer.  Use the credit card for your lodging, rental vehicles, and large purchases.  Use cash for local transportation, food and tipping (if that is permitted).  Make sure that you separate your money and do not flash large bills in public places.  If you are using foreign currency, make sure you know the value of each bill or coin.  If you are using a credit card in a foreign destination, be aware that some cards charge you a foreign transaction fee.  Therefore this may make a really good deal, not so good once you factor in the fees.

You have the money aspect sorted out, so your all set— right?  No, you need to find out whether or not your destination has any added tax.  Some countries levy numerous taxes that you need to factor into the equation.  Many caribbean countries and some european countries have a value added tax (VAT) that is levied on various services and items of consumption.  Others have a “duty” that is placed on some items such as wine and spirits, accessories, or high dollar items.  To avoid this, you can shop a duty-free shops.  In some countries you can ask if the tax can be refunded by filling out a tax form (common in some european countries).  When shopping at duty-free shops, please know that you will need to have your passport available and some details on your return travel details.

Bottom line.  Do your homework before setting out on your next vacation.  A little research can definitely help save money to help fund your next adventure.