Category Archives: Travel Tips

Practical Travel Tip: Revolut’s pre-paid card has transformed my holiday money

paris-cafe_milstan_flickrCC
Paris. Café By MilStan on Flickr Creative Commons. https://www.flickr.com/photos/milstan/5421437212

A few weeks’ ago, I went to Paris for the weekend for the first time in 15 years. I got a Post Office pre-paid currency card because I had no idea how much I would spend and didn’t want to keep going to an ATM because the fees rack up if taking relatively modest amounts out at a time.

I was pretty disappointed with the Post Office cards, on a number of fronts. The app took days (two – three) to show transactions, so it was difficult to keep track of what I was spending. Worse still, living in the UK, where contactless payment is everywhere, I was stunned by how many shops, cafés and even restaurants refused to take cards of any kind (forget contactless!) and still operated cash only. This meant that I had to keep nipping to the ATM. Sadly, the Post Office charges for taking cash out just like banks do and quite a hefty fee per ATM visit at that.

A couple of weeks’ ago, I was gearing up for a long weekend in Stockholm. I didn’t want to buy Swedish Krona cash, as I didn’t know how much I would want (or need) to spend. Equally, I didn’t want to rack up bank or credit card charges for transactions and cash withdrawals.

Thanks to moneysavingexpert.com (where I was looking for Monzo, highly recommended on the site but not going to arrive in time), I found Revolut, an app-driven pre-paid Mastercard that allows you to withdraw up to £200 equivalent with no fee, charges no fees on transactions, and uses live international FX rates for changing from your native currency* into a foreign one.

I paid £12 to get it delivered in a hurry, as I wasn’t organised in time. Normally it would be £5 but this is the only charge you pay.

It was amazing. I rarely rave about a company or product, as I’m naturally cynical, but as an experienced and frequent traveller, I like to share ground-breaking tips. This app and card are amazing. Seriously, get one!

Topping up is fast and instant (apart from in Heathrow, where the internet seemed to block doing a secure transaction and where my 4G signal was bad). When it’s time to exchange your GBP* into foreign currency, you see the Interbank rate changing in real time, so you can decide when to hit the ‘exchange’ button to get the best rate. As the Revolut blurb explains, the Interbank exchange rate is the “top-level foreign exchange market where banks exchange currencies. It’s a wholesale market through which most currency transactions are channelled and therefore offers the best exchange rate available.”

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The Revolut app makes it all so easy. On the left, my SEK transactions, split by category. In the middle, my first exchange, showing exact exchange rate. And on the right, my GBP ‘account’.

The number one advantage of the card was that as soon as I hit ‘enter’ on a card machine, a notification bounced through to my phone immediately – and I really do mean immediately. My fingers would still be hovering above the pinpad when I heard the ping!

This makes it easy and accurate to track money spent and money left. I particularly like the fact that each currency on the card is a held as a separate ‘account’, with transactions recorded in each one rather than in one lump.

As far as I’m concerned, unless I’m going to a cash-driven country, I’ll be using Revolut for every trip from now on. I’m going to the States with my closest friend in a few weeks’ time and it’s going to be great. I will need cash there, as tips are important and best paid in dollar bills, but as there is no withdrawal fee up to £200, I can take out relatively small amounts for each days’ tip needs.

Another advantage for those of us who aren’t brilliant at separately saving up our holiday spending money – top up each money when you get paid. You can see your holiday fund grow but it’s still in £££s in case you do need access to it before the holiday (thanks to Sarah Barlow of Scrumptious Catering for that one!).

*By ‘native’ currency, I mean the one you top up in – this is limited, so do check first whether yours is one of them but it definitely includes GBP, USD and Euros.

My top Boston travel tips

I’ve visited Boston many times in the past three decades, as my Aunt moved there when she got married. I love the city but don’t go as often now, as Margaret lives in Atlanta. But I’ve been back recently for Christmas and weddings, as two of my three wonderful cousins are still there.

So I thought I’d share my tips. They are probably well known but I if they’re useful for even one or two people about to go there, then that’s a job well done.

  1. Make sure you see the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Prioritise it, as it’s unique and lovely, and filled with a staggering array of art.
  2. Walk. Boston is a small enough city to get to know on foot. Walking from Boston Common, to Quincy Market, to the North End is a great way to spend the best part of a day. Even better, you can have a fantastic Italian lunch and cake in the North End.
  3. Do visit the Holocaust Memorial when you’re walking in the Quincy Market area. There are many around the world but I find this one particularly haunting and moving.
  4. Book a table one evening at the Atlantic Fish Company on Boylston Street. Not only is the Lobster simply supreme but pretty much everything else on the menu makes my mouth water. It’s a blow out because it isn’t cheap but it is very much worth it if you love fresh, perfectly cooked seafood and fish.
  5. Sign up to ‘Secret Boston‘ – it’s an email service that lets you know of cheap/exclusive/unusual things to do. They’re all at really short notice, so it’s best to sign up shortly before you go.
  6. Have a drink in the Top of the Hub – the bar at the top of the Prudential Center. The views are fantastic and the drinks are not outrageously priced. Obviously it makes sense to do this on a clear day, though! Now that the John Hancock tower observatory has shut, this is the place for views and if you want the full 360 degrees, you’ll need to pay $17 for the Sky Walk a couple of floors down, as that’s where the full landscape can be seen.
  7. If you have time for more than one museum, make your Number 2 visit the Museum of Fine Arts. It is fantastic. A great collection and they always have fantastic exhibitions too.
  8. If you have time for a third culture vulture experience, go on an Art and Architecture tour of the Boston Public Library. I did this for the first time on my most recent trip and I was very glad I did. It has a gallery upstairs filled with murals created by John Singer Sargent and they are a wonder to behold.
  9. Visit Harvard. It’s lovely just soaking up the atmosphere but there are good museums too.
  10. Trinity Church on Copley Square has free lunchtime organ recitals. If you want an unusual break during the day, it’s impressive. This is on a Friday only.

Here are my photos from the Art and Architecture tour of the library and the views from Top of the Hub.

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Top tips for San Francisco

English: Japanese Tea Garden, San Francisco
English: Japanese Tea Garden, San Francisco (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been so busy since returning from California on Monday that I’m not geared up for blogging with pics yet.

So I thought I would share my top tips before I forget them, as some are quite small but useful.

Number one recommendation: Go to Glide on Sunday morning.

Glide Memorial SF - Easter Celebration - 19
Glide Memorial SF – Easter Celebration – 19 (Photo credit: chrisheuer)

Inspiring, moving and downright uplifting. I’m an atheist and I can tell you that it didn’t matter one bit. It’s the living example of compassion, tolerance and community I’ve ever seen. Marvellous singing from a choir as diverse as you would expect from San Francisco and some of the best voices singing Gospel I’ve ever heard. My friend Heather and I walked passed the Glide community centre to get to the church and it was sobering; some of the most desperate people you will see all queueing to get a shower and some breakfast. But it was real testament to the superb work this community does. Give generously when the collection comes round – these people deserve it. They podcast each week’s celebration, so here’s the one I went to. 5/19/2013 GLIDE Sunday Celebration

And the rest, in no particular order but just as I remember them:

  • Buy a visitor passport for the Muni, which is the system that runs all the buses and historic cable cars. A week’s pass is $28 and includes unlimited rides on the cable cars, which otherwise cost $6 a pop. You can buy the passports at Walgreens as well as Muni terminals.
  • On that note, don’t attempt to get on the Powell/Mason or Powell/Hyde cars anytime after about 11 a.m. You will queue. For a loooong time. Instead, ride them early OR ride the Van Ness/Market line up and down California. This passes by Grace Cathedral, so comfortably on the tourist routes but nowhere near as busy.
  • Grab a BART transfers booklet when you’re waiting for the BART (the underground system) at San Francisco airport. It has every single bus route in it and was 100% foolproof when planning how to get around. You are unlikely to use the BART itself again but the booklet is brilliant.
  • Enjoy your conversations with strangers. Everywhere we went, people were so open, welcoming and friendly in a way never experienced in Europe. Embrace it, enjoy it.
  • If you’re staying in Nob Hill (Miranda-like snigger permitted at any time), it’s worth going to MyMy for breakfast on California and Larkin. Don’t go after 9.30 on the weekend, as there will be the obligatory queues but weekdays or early it’s the perfect breakfast. Mind you, you don’t have to go far to get a great breakfast in San Francisco!
  • The Jazz Center won’t be in any tourist guides yet, as it opened a couple of months’ ago. Do go, even if you’re not going to a gig, as the bar has great staff, gorgeous wine and lovely food.
  • Don’t try to save dollars by seeing The Legion of Honour and the de Young in one day (you get a discount if you do). These are two fantastic museums, jam-packed with gorgeous stuff (including the biggest collection of Rodin sculptures outside Paris). They need time.
  • The Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park is spectacular. Even if you have just a couple of days, don’t miss it.
  • Oh, an finally, go visit the bar my cousin works in – 15 Romolo. In the alleyway right next to the Beat Museum, it’s a real find. Unusual cocktails and great bar food.
15 Romolo Menu
15 Romolo Menu (Photo credit: atl10trader)

I’m looking forward to spending Sunday editing photos…when a holiday starts with one’s bartender cousin making the perfect Mai Tai, you know it’s going to be lively!

By Carole Scott