A Money Coach in Canada

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When I was debating between a month in England or in Halifax, on a whim I checked to see what train prices would be. Being a good money coach, I clicked the “deals” link and nearly fell off my seat.

$350 (instead of the usual $1200+ or so) for a late-June ride from Edmonton to Halifax (actually, it may have been Toronto, but still!)
First Class
Private cabin
All meals (legendarily gourmet) included
Private washroom; access to shower
Sleeper berth at night

My point is: Via Rail continuously offers fantastic deals. You can find them here. Why fly when you can sit back and glide through the Rocky Mountains, or across the Prairies and into the lush land of Southern Ontario or further?

Photo Credit: Madbuster77

We’ve covered the UK, Russia, and today it’s Thailand with some on-the-ground money advice by folks who know whereof they speak.  Check back on Saturday for a post about being savvy with your money in Nicaragua!

How to keep your wallet happy in Thailand – “The Land of Smiles” is brought to you by a former colleague, Heidi.  She is a teacher-turned-banker-turned-teacher and is currently teaching primary school at the British Columbia International School of Bangkok.

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Probably the most expensive part of your trip to Thailand will be the airfare over here, but once you land, here are a few tips to help you save some Baht along the way.

Cash is King

Before you fly over here, order some Thai Baht and ask for a mixture of denominations (20’s, 50’s, 100’s). The exchange hovers around 30 Baht to the Dollar, so about $100 worth of small bills will be plenty – otherwise you’ll need a briefcase to carry away all the Baht!

7-11 the Unofficial Bank of Thailand

There is no problem using your ATM or Credit Card in ATM machines in Thailand, but the problem occurs in that they only spit out 1,000 Baht bills, and you’ll be hard pressed to get 970 Baht change from the streetvendor who just cooked up some Pad Thai for you. So “Oh Thank Heaven” there’s 7-11, where I believe it is their unspoken duty to change a 1,000 baht note for that 7 baht bottle of water you just bought (yes, only 25 cents for bottled water!) Not only will you appreciate the sub-arctic temperature they keep the store at, but you won’t get a deathly stare when you present them with a 1,000 baht bill. And 7-11 over here truly is like a bank – you can pay your cable, internet and electricity bills or even pay for a flight that you booked online, all while you buy your slurpee!

Transportation

Getting around Thailand is pretty cheap, but you can make some costly mistakes. Let’s start with when you first step off the plane in Bangkok – they’ve just completed a high-speed train directly from the International airport, so now it’s cheap, easy and fast to get into downtown Bangkok. If you’ve been flying for hours on end though you may just want to hop in a cab – just make sure you follow the signs outside to the official “Meter Taxi” stand – you do not need to negotiate this fare as the meter taxis are on a fixed rate per kilometer.

Getting around Bangkok you’ve got multiple modes of cheap transport: skytrain, bus, taxi, tuk tuk, or if you’re really brave – a motorcycle taxi! One of my favourite modes of transport though is the water taxi. For about 50 cents you can get an hour-long river boat “cruise” on one of the traditional Thai longboats. No need to pay a huge amount for a river cruise when you can hop on their water-transit system for 14 baht!

Everything is Negotiable

I’ve never really been much of a haggler myself, but I’ve had to get into the game here, because I quickly realized that if there’s no sticker price on something (which there rarely is!) then the price is open for debate. Many foreigners come here and feel like they are constantly being “ripped off” because they see the Thais paying a different price, and I felt that way too until I put a few things into perspective, namely that the Thai minimum wage is 300 baht per day (about $10 a DAY!) As a foreigner living in Thailand we would never be paid that low, and as a traveler, you would have brought money with you for your trip, so in their eyes we get paid more, so we should pay more. Saying that though, there’s a difference between paying the “farang* tax” as I like to call it and being taken for a ride.

My advice on making sure that you are paying a fair price is to shop around a bit to get a sense of what the item is worth before making your final purchase. And when it comes to taxis or tuk tuks, either make sure they turn their meter on, or you negotiate the price of the ride before you drive away – otherwise they literally will take you for a ride…like to their cousin’s restaurant or brother’s gift shop!

Overall, your money will go a long way…it’s just a matter of saving up so that you can buy yourself that plane ticket here!

*farang (or sometimes pronounced falang) is the Thai term for a foreigner. The term derives from the word Francais, as the French were some of the first foreigners to come to Thailand. And Francais in Thai is Farang-set…hence anyone who doesn’t look like they come from Thailand is instantly referred to as a farang.

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Want to travel to Thailand but need the money?   My business helps folks get organized and in control of their day-to-day finances to obtain such goals!

Here’s the second in this month’s series on saving money while travelling.

Looking for affordable accommodations when you travel this summer without giving up comfort? My pal Gregg saved hundreds on his European tour by using an online site.
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I’m 48 years old, and having just returned from a 3 week/9 city whirlwind tour through Europe, I’ve been joking that it was my two decade late ‘post university tour’. For this trip, however, I wasn’t quite up to the thought of lugging a backpack around and sleeping in less-than-private hostels. I wanted a bit more peace-of-mind knowing I had a room reservation and, if at all possible, a private bathroom.

As I went online to research hotel prices in Europe my naiveté became apparent. I was making my plans only two to three weeks from my departure date and WOW are hotel rooms expensive – those ain’t dollars, they’re Euros, worth 40% more! As I contemplated delaying my trip, I decided to look at more affordable options having recently heard there were web services connecting travellers with people renting out rooms and apartments. So I started my search and came across AirBnB.com

Airbnb lets anyone search and book rooms, apartments and unique spaces from people around the world. Membership is free and the only fee you pay is a small booking fee charged on top of the rental once you commit to a reservation. For my trip I was looking for a room for two people for two nights in cities like London, Paris, Amsterdam, Prague, Florence, Rome and Barcelona and found great convenient places for each of them. Prices ($CDN) ranged from $58/night for a room in someone’s London apartment near Canary Warf, to $77 for a full flat/apartment in Prague, to $90 for rooms in Paris and Amsterdam, to $93/$98 for Florence/Rome, and $88 in Barcelona for a full funky place in the centre of town that I booked last-minute using the Airbnb iPhone app.

Everything worked out great with all our reservations, and the best part was meeting local people who were more than happy to chat and provide insider tips and tourist information. Of course you can’t always tell exactly what a place will be like from a website photo (our Rome apartment was fine but the street and entranceway were not appealing), but Airbnb features like testimonials, photos and Google Street View minimize any uncertainty. And although you submit your credit card information when you book, the charge is held ‘in-trust’ until you arrive and find everything is suitable. This gave me great peace of mind knowing that I wasn’t handing out my credit card, or cash, to strangers, and that I could call Airbnb to cancel and receive a refund if the space was unavailable or not suitable.

The trip was great and staying with locals in each city really helped us feel connected to the cities and countries we were visiting. Although I found Airbnb to be the only site I needed to use, you can also check out Crashpadder.com, Couchsurfing.org, For Rent by Owners,and Vacation Rentals By Owners . I didn’t use these as the latter two focused more on apartments and homes for rent for longer stays, and the first two didn’t seem as feature-rich, but they may be worth a look too. To check out how Airbnb works go to: www.airbnb.com/info/how_it_works.

Bon Voyage!
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Gregg Taylor is a career coach and consultant who loves life, travel, and supporting people through life and career transitions. He can be reached at gregg at visionpath.ca

Readers: any tips for comfortable accommodations at affordable prices while travelling? Anyone use any other sites?

Featured Image photo credit: Jessamyn

Enough of the heavy duty posts about the economy and Greece.  Or why it’s so important to jump off the consumption train.

It’s July!  Serious summer!  And I bet most of you have *some* kind of travel ahead. (Can’t afford to?  My online money management program can help!)  So this month, I have a series of posts lined up all about being smart with your money while travelling, or even living abroad.

First up:  England. After 3 weeks living with both a native Brit and a Cdn expat, here are 5 tips I’ve learned to save money while staying in England.

1.  Cel phones & Internet

I paid Bell an extra $100 for 100 phone minutes.  I can make the calls from the UK to anywhere in the world.   Usually these would be at nearly double that price for calling from outside my region so I’m glad I made the call to Bell.   However, I popped into a local  (England) phone shop (I forget the shop name, but they’re in every mall) and discovered for £10, or $15, they would have given me the same minutes on a new sim card.  Don’t know how to replace a sim card?  It’s super easy. Having said that, it would have involved jail breaking my iPhone (I got it for $200 in exchange for locking into a 3 year contract with Bell) which I was hesitant to do.

Internet?  Of course I turned my roaming data off (and you should too, or you’ll probably regret it!).  I had hoped for the same kind of ubiquitous free wifi that Vancouver enjoys, but no such luck.  In fact, only one coffee shop and one pub has provided it free so far during my stay.   So I bit the bullet and paid £39 (about $60) for 60 hours of wifi from BT OpenZone.  Most coffee shops have BT OpenZone as an option.   Next time though, I’ll buy a dongle, although apparently they’re not as fast as using BT OpenZone.

2.  Grocery Stores

Obviously buying groceries is less expensive than dining out.  Grocery stores here seem to supply way more quick-and-easy (yet healthy!) travel-friendly items than Canadian stores.  Marks & Spencer is particularly fabulous – little curry bowls and fancy-schmancy couscous boxes, for example.   As you would expect, there is a range between super-value grocery stores up to high-end grocery stores.

Sainsbury is probably the most value-for-dollar.  Think:  SuperStore.

Tescos are everywhere, and a good, basic store.  Think:  SaveOn

Marks and Spencer are probably comparable to Safeway.

Waitrose is generally top end, perhaps comparable to the IGA Marketplace.

I have not seen anywhere comparable to  Urban Fare or Whole Foods (Waitrose might reach those heights but I’ve only been in one small one).

3.  Trains. Trains are the way to go between towns.  The further in advance you book, the better the fare.  Use trainline to find the best deals.  So far I haven’t seen any real advantage of going first class over economy, and I’m not just saying that because I’m a money coach.  So unless you have money to spare, stick with economy.

4. Many galleries – top calibre galleries – are free or by donation.  Spend time enjoying them!  The Tate Galleries, The National Gallery, Natural History Museum — enough to keep you engrossed for hours, for free.

5. Shows.  If you’re prepared to risk not getting a seat at all, really super-low deals can be had by booking same-day theatre tickets from Last Minute.

One thing everyone should know is that the whole country is well in to the chip-(debit) card. My debit card isn’t (I’d received the card but not my pin before I left) so I can’t use it at all! Problem inelegantly solved by using my visa which is chipped.

Readers – any of you travel in England a lot? What would you add to this list?

Photo Credit: APDK

Friends. Friends help us celebrate life.  Friends help us heal when we need healing.  And for me, some dear friends in England have graciously welcomed me into their homes for a whole glorious month to gain perspective and do some visioning about my next steps.  Specifically, I have paid for only 1 night of shelter, and even that was reasonably priced and part of a girls getaway.  Only a very small number of meals have been eat-out — little more than I’d have eaten out at home.  I have done lots of thinking, reading, blogging and work on my business.

But that is not all. That is not all.  For free, I have:

…explored the Tate Gallery in Cambridge; I have attended  Sunday Services and the contemplative mid-week EvenSongs (just what this soul needed) at this Cathedral, which was more rich in art and faith and intellect and history than I had previously thought possible; I have punted the River Cam after a pub lunch (ok those weren’t quite free, but they weren’t much); I have experienced a little life-behind-the-scenes of a chorister (my friend’s son);  I have done my  Couch-2-5K runs along this Sea and this Sea and in fields so pastoral with bunnies and wobbly foals and sweet calfs and birds that it might as well have been Narnia; and spent a day swimming and lazing on this wild beach on the one 30C day so far; and gone for a long walk on the Broads after leisurely lattes and toast served with style in the (English) Garden of my hosts.

And all that in addition to the primary blessing of reconnecting, with plenty of time for leisurely conversation, with treasured friends.

Is it apparent how saturated with blessing I feel right now?

Huh.  There’s frugality.  And then there’s Priceless.

I bet some of you have similarly rich experiences of spending time with friends away from home.  Do!