38. Time to get serious- but only once.

Hi guys,

As thoughts have started to head towards summer holidays, I have recently been asked by a few people about a few more serious matters, such as writing genuine travel advice as if I actually know anything of any value. As crazy as this seems, I’ve decided to satisfy a few of these people here and now! Beware, I may just drop some knowledge bombs. Or not. Let’s see…

The subject of money has come up most often so I guess we should start there. Having lived in a few European countries before crashingmybike here in China, exchanging money comes a little more naturally to me than some (despite the fact that I still don’t know exactly how much a dollar is worth in pounds and ounces).

money exchange

The big companies are clearly the best to go for in this case- a traveler’s no-brainer- as they are the safest. Well… seemingly a no-brainer at least. Whilst I was in Beijing with my parents a Danish family were rejected from the Confucius Temple in Beijing  after trying to pay….. with fake notes. Such a shame to miss out on that, as it is thought-provokingly serene- even to a airhead like me. But then to find out that a good wad of their holiday money had been exchanged into fake notes is crippling. It wasn’t even like they were obvious fakes either. Using my pigeon Chinese, I couldn’t even convince them to return the fake notes, so it was doubly painful. Having said that, we could have guessed that considering my ropey Chinese. Their mistake? To exchange their money in a market. OK, to average common-sensed traveler this is a daft error, but it is tempting to take a great rate and there are some that are genuine, especially in countries that value foreign currencies higher than the domestic one. They are way too far between to be sure, however, so whatever the weather I’d take the hit on a higher commission to have piece of mind. For those who want to risk buying some particularly expensive Monopoly money, best of luck.


Personally I like the Post Office, Thomson and another local company near me, but being as the rate fluctuates like a Yoyo on Red Bull it’s best to shop around. Being a pedantic sausage like me, it can take a while, but don’t lose too much sleep over it!



(the last time I tried to find a good exchange rate!)

In terms of transferring money, most of the major companies such as Travelex have a pretty comprehensive  range of options when choosing to transfer money, from students loans to deposits for properties. These type of companies make a lot of sense because they are reliable and generally quite efficient, as well as offering customer service options for added reassurance and security.  But it is very much down to what you need really. Let me explain…

A good example of a bad example of not knowing how to do it, for you leisure…. A few years ago I was moving to Spain to study for a year and attempted to transfer my meager student loan using a banking service that is usually available to high-flying businessmen at HSBC. The cashier, who didn’t know how much I had to transfer, thought it was strange for someone like me to have in the region of two hundred thousand pounds in a bank account at my age, but she humoured me anyway. I essentially asked to borrow her Arctic lorry to transfer a quail’s egg at a favourable rate. Shockingly it didn’t happen. In that we learn two lessons: the importance of using services appropriate to the job, but also the importance of asking questions to the experts. Just as people consult me on things that I’m supposedly good at, such a bumbling around China, I like to think that the gurus in the know at places like Travelex have a pretty good idea of how to do it best. (Side Note- I bumble around fairly hopelessly: for the purposes of the point I claimed I was good at it!!! Sorry I lied.)

no commission

Perhaps the best way to do it, if you have the opportunity, is to get a local to help out and get the inside line. In fact, getting the best company on the internet is an easy option, but the thrifty transferrist (Editor: definitely not a word Simon.) may be able to get a better deal through a trusted local agent. Particularly if you are in a country where you aren’t speaking a native tongue, getting all the options as clearly as possible is essential in making a good choice.

The final thing to consider is service charges vs commission. Just because the service charge is high, doesn’t necessarily mean you spend more money, as the total cost may be balanced by a cheaper exchange rate. Similarly, and a common trick for these companies, sucker people in with a low or even 0% rate, only to give a poorer overall exchange rate. The best thing to do is work out a total cost and then go with the cheapest option, rather than hope that you are paying less! It is a little more work, but it can save a lot over time, especially if you transfer money regularly. Again, most of the major companies such as Western Union, Travelex and MoneyGram can set up direct debits easily enough, so they can make the job easier overall.

Well, a few bits and pieces on foreign money/ exchanging for you this week. I suppose next time I will return to my usual tomfoolery, but the people have spoken.

Have a great week!! Stay safe and don’t get ripped off on your holidays.


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