On March 1st, my 18-year-old nephew is heading to Thailand for a three-week volunteer placement followed by some travelling around South East Asia before he goes to university. Being the family travel expert, I felt it incumbent upon me to provide him with a few tips that I have gathered over the years. Thought I would share some of them.


Avoid carrying large amounts of cash in case it is lost or stolen. Carry your cash and important documents in a money belt, or leave them in a secure hotel safe. Take cash with you from home to exchange overseas. Get new fresh bills from your bank, some currency exchangers will refuse older or slightly damaged notes. You can sometimes get better exchange rates for higher denominations so bring large bills ($50's and $100's). Don't bother to exchange your cash into U.S. currency first in Canada and then transfer that to the local currency upon arrival, you will just pay more in transaction fees that way. The Canadian dollar has been accepted everywhere that I have been. Travellers cheques are still a safe way to go as they are replaced free of charge if lost or stolen. You should be aware though, that you may get a lower exchange rate for travellers cheques than you do for cash.


Advise your bank and credit card company that you will be leaving the country and check with your bank to ensure that your PIN length will work where you are going. Some overseas ATM's only accept four digit PINS, and some cannot accept zeroes. With that being said, my PIN is over four digits and contains zeroes and I have never had any problems.

Be aware of any service charges associated with your ATMs and credit cards. Most banks charge transaction fees on every withdrawal, so take out as much cash at a time as you feel safe carrying to save on these fees. Avoid cash advances on your credit cards as you will be charged interest from the day you do that transaction. It is advisable to use your credit card where possible for purchases. The exchange rate on credit cards is always competitive, and it saves you from having to do cash advances or carry a lot of cash. Get two credit cards if possible, and don't carry them in the same location. If you are going to markets, cash is always king in terms of negotiating for better prices on items.


Don't be afraid to bargain. Initial prices are generally inflated unless you are in a fixed price store. Look around the market before you make any purchases to compare prices. Look for marked prices on items and start negotiating down from there. Don't be afraid to walk away from a vendor who will not accept your best price, you can always come back if you can't find that item elsewhere. Remember to keep the negotiations friendly. You can always get a better deal with a smile and a pleasant attitude. Don't forget, people's livelihood depends on these sales so don't get into an argument with them over a few dollars.


Bring additional passport quality pictures in the event that you need them for visa's or other bureaucratic red tape. Bring several photocopies of your passport and leave a copy with your emergency contact at home just in case you lose your original. If you are asked to leave a copy of your passport with hotels, tour operators or rental agencies, leave the photocopy instead, or let them make a copy if they insist. They may initially insist on the original, but if you stand your ground, they will usually acquiesce. Bring your driver's licence and health card with you, and make copies of those as well.


Pack your bag, and then remove half of what you packed. You can always do laundry en route yourself, or inexpensively by dropping your clothes off at laundromats. Buy clothes there so you will have souvenirs as you travel. Clothes are often cheaper in developing countries. The only caveat is that it may be harder to find your size overseas. I have found that with the increased tourism, almost all sizes are readily available wherever you go. Make sure that you have extra room in your bag for your purchases. It can be expensive to ship things home, so it is preferable to carry your purchases with you as you travel. With that being said, check your luggage allowance for your flights. Extra baggage weight fees can quickly add up and cost more than shipping your purchases home.

Don't forget gifts for your Uncle!

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