Travel Credit and Debit Cards for Backpackers

Travel Credit and Debit Cards for Backpackers

Next week I leave for France for more than nine months, and it’s high time I change my international money management strategy. For too long I have been the victim of budget-killing $5.00 international ATM fees and 3% foreign transaction fees- so I started doing some research to find the best travel credit cards out there.


When I began my credit card search I knew I needed both a credit card and debit card with no international transaction fees. I first went after the credit card that other travelers seemed to adore – the Capital One Venture Rewards card. After my application was promptly rejected, I was terrified (and tearing up a bit).

Luckily Chase accepted my application for the Chase Sapphire Preferred card soon after and now I’m breathing again. Here is a list of all the credit and debit cards I’m taking with me this year, and the ones that best suit my backpacker budget.


Best travel debit cards

Best Travel Credit Cards

Charles Schwab debit card – This card is the hands-down the best debit card for travelers. It has no international transaction fees, no currency conversion fees, no monthly maintenance fees and no annual fee. While you will still be charged by other ATMS for taking out money, Schwab will reimburse you for the charges at the end of the month.

Note: by opening a Charles Schwab debit account you automatically open a brokerage account, but it’s no hassle and you don’t have to use it.


Best Travel Credit Cards

Chase debit card – This is my go-to card I’ve used for the past four years. This card probably won’t see much action in France considering it charges a 3% international transaction fee and foreign ATM withdrawal fee, but I’ll keep it with me in case of emergency and resume using it when I get home.


 Best travel credit cards

Best Travel Credit Cards

Chase Sapphire Preferred – This is a great travel credit card because it charges no international fees of any kind. It also gives you with a killer 40,000 points upon sign-up if you spend $3,000 in the first three months (which translates to about $500 in airfare). And finally, it rewards you with two times the points on travel and dining purchases.

I know the initial $3,000 limit seems high, but three months of backpacking, including the flight, will certainly add up to $1,000 a month, or $250 a week. The only downside? There is an annual fee of $95, but it’s waived the first year.


While abroad I would advise carrying at least two debit cards and one credit card. When I was studying abroad in Buenos Aires I was pick-pocketed and ended up waiting three weeks for a new debit card. It was a huge hassle and if I would’ve had a back-up I could’ve avoided the whole situation.

The money management do’s and don’ts of traveling abroad:

  • DO call your bank to alert them that you will be traveling outside of the country.
  • DO have at least two debit cards in case one gets eaten by an ATM or is stolen.
  • DO have your bank’s number handy (like on a piece of paper in your backpack) as well as scanned copies of all of your cards in case they are stolen.
  • DO enroll in online banking so you can check it from anywhere in the world. And be careful about accessing your account in sketchy internet cafés – consider bringing an smartphone or iTouch to check your balance more safely.
  • DON’T use traveler’s checks.
  • DON’T wear a moneybelt.
  • DON’T exchange money at the airport, the rates are always the worst. Wait until you get into town.
5 Expressions to Help You Survive Paris

5 Expressions to Help You Survive Paris

Paris can seem scary to the average tourist. It’s not the herds of Peugeots careening around one-way streets or the plenitude of dog droppings on the sidewalks; it’s the Parisians.


Like New York, Paris is a busy place where most people are in a hurry. Parisians just don’t have time for the poor French of us tourists (ahem, travelers). In Paris you may find yourself getting lip from cab drivers, shop girls and pedestrians alike.

Here are the expressions I have found to be the most vital to survival in Paris. If you want pitchers of free water and perfectly baked baguettes, keep reading.

Cafe in Paris

1. Greetings: bonjour and au revoir, merci

Manners are of utmost importance in France. Like almost as important as cheese. (Please don’t even get me started on the elaborate etiquette of French table manners.)

Upon walking into a store it’s polite to greet the shopkeeper, and a simple “Bonjour” is all you need. Make sure to say “bye” and “thank you” on the way out as well.


2. Un carafe d’eau

This is far and away the expression most critical to survival in France, at least for a thirsty American like myself.

Once while dining alone at the famed Café de Flore, I ordered an omelet and as the waiter walked away I shouted, “Et un carafe d’eau s’il vous plait!” Moments later, he returned with a large pitcher of complimentary tap water. The Scandinavians seated next to me turned and asked, “Excuse me, but how did you get that?”

And for after you’re done with the carafe, “Pardon, où sont les toilettes?” is  “Excuse me, where is the bathroom?”

Note: ‘d’eau’ is pronounced just like ‘dough’.



3. Un baguette pas trop cuite, s’il vous plait.

If you are like me, you will often be seen ordering at boulangerie several times a day. And ingesting a scary amount of carbohydrates.

While there is some debate on whether baguettes are better cuite (well-done, if you will) and pas trop cuite (softer), it has seemed that most French people under 70 years old are ordered their baguettes ‘pas trop cuite’ these days. So if you aren’t a senior citizen I would follow suit.


Paris Menu

4. Je prens…

‘Je prens’ translates to ‘I’ll take.’ Instead of looking like a witless buffon (cough, me) you can casually say, ‘Je prens le _______ ( insert dish name here),’ while gliding your finger down the menu.


5. Parlez-Vous Anglais?

This one’s a bit self-explanatory, but it’s polite to ask others if they speak English before unleashing a barrage of rapid-fire Anglais. Most Parisians, especially the younger ones, speak English quite well, but it’s still a good idea to ask.


What else do you think is important to know about visiting or living in Paris?

Saturday Snapshot 3

Saturday Snapshot 3

So I have some big (and good) news! One – I received my au pair visa in record time and ended up buying my ticket to France yesterday. I will be leaving in 10 days and I am beyond excited.

Secondly, and please excuse the exclamation points – my dad surprised me with an early Christmas present, a Canon EOS Rebel T2i and telephoto lens! I’m such a lucky girl these days! The camera has almost twice the pixels of my old camera and is SO much faster. Not to mention the telephoto lens is so much fun to play with.

So back to the photos – these are the first shots I took with my new camera. The fall is so stunningly colorful around here so I just had to take some pictures.

I liked several that I took so please tell me, which is your favorite?

Photo 1
I was taking a walk at Cranbrook and noticed all the beautiful leaves covering the forest floor. It’s funny how cameras can make you take in the details.


Photo 2


I then looked up and loved how the dark boughs of the tree contrasted with the golden leaves. Ah, fall.


Photo 3

Finally, these are two art students I spotted walking about a half-mile away. This new lens can do some serious creeping, right? It kind of makes me feel like a superspy. Or maybe a stalker, but superspy sounds way cooler.


So, which photo is your favorite? I would love to hear your comments below!

6 Lessons I Learned in the First 6 Weeks of Blogging

6 Lessons I Learned in the First 6 Weeks of Blogging

I started my blogging career with lofty expectations: I wanted to secure freelancing gigs, connect with industry experts and make enough money to buy a ticket to Thailand. Yeah.

What I discovered is that blogging is a slow-going process, and it takes time to build relationships and generate revenue (more on that later). Here is what blogging has taught me so far.

1. Blogging isn’t the writing you learned in school.

Blog posts are not the formulaic, joyless, five-paragraph essays you churned out in high school. You must hone your writing skills as well as develop your own (preferably humorous) voice.

Some of the biggest bloggers have very identifiable writing styles: David Lebovitz quips sarcastically, Everywherist pokes fun at herself and Nomadic Matt tells it like it is.

As I blog I have to remind myself to show more of my personality through my writing. Readers don’t want a list of tips, they want to hear your story and learn more about who you are. Bottom line? It’s a blog, not a guidebook.

2. Twitter is the best way to connect.

In the past two months I have gone from having two Twitter followers to more than 225. The New York Times Travel section retweeted one of my tweets, which resulted in lots of new followers and blog hits. GotSaga sent me an offer to publish an article on their site which I happily accepted.

I now understand why so many social media experts extol the benefits of Twitter; it is truly the best way to connect with other people in your industry, and to score anything from a job interview to a free lunch.

In my very, very limited experience, not all social media is effective up front. StumbleUpon hasn’t done anything for me yet, and my Google+ account lies untouched. And generating my Klout score (of 10!) was just discouraging.

3. Monetization is impossible, apparently.

Out of all topics related to blogging, blog monetization seems the most disputed. This blogger loves Google Adsense, this blogger hates it.

After an unsuccessful three-day stint with Google AdSense, I decided the ugly ads weren’t worth the meager income. I then began thinking about installing an advertising page. Private advertising doesn’t just fall into your inbox, apparently. And when will I start getting emails for these elusive sponsored posts?

4. There’s a lot of information out there, but it’s not all in the same place.

To blog well you have to boast competency in so many different areas: photography, photo editing, writing, internet marketing, social media, web design, SEO, site monetization, pitching and WordPress.

I have visited a variety of websites to develop these skills, including Improve Photography, SEOmoz and ShoutMeLoud. In addition to countless articles and blogs I have also read ProBlogger: Secrets to Blogging Your Way to a Six-Figure Income and Nomadic Matt’s e-book, How to Make Money with Your Travel Blog.

I found that while there are countless resources on the interwebs, you have to go looking for it. And despite the best efforts of many, there is no decisive guide to creating a successful travel blog.

 5. The blogging community is like a family.

Before starting a travel blog I thought that all bloggers were in competition with one other. I never dreamed of how connected and supportive the community actually is.

Most of the comments you will see on blogs are in fact made by other bloggers. It turns out most bloggers not only write prolifically, they also read voraciously. And the majority of bloggers I have reached out to have been so willing to give me much-needed advice.

6. WordPress is super confusing.

There’s a lot to know about WordPress, and it first it can be overwhelming. I found myself googling, “What’s an alt tag?” “What’s a hex code?”

After only six weeks of blogging, I have installed over 30 active WP plugins. This involved sending out lots of awkward emails to other bloggers along the likes of, Um, so what plugin did you use to install that cool scroll-bar social media thing on the left side of your website? Thanks! 

And after using a few blogging platforms, I’ve learned that WordPress is undoubtedly the way to go. But that doesn’t mean that it’s simple to use.

What did you learn from starting a blog?

Doors from Around the World

Doors from Around the World

It turns out that over the years I have amassed a sizable photo collection of doors, who knew! The doors are surprisingly very interesting and really reflect the countries in which I took them.

The post would be more aptly titled “anything you walk through”, considering the collection also includes lots of archways and gates. I cobbled this post together after I made the photo series Street Art from Around the World.


Hint – scroll over the photos to see which city and country in which they were taken.


Tallinn, Estonia

Edinburgh, Scotland

Edinburgh, Scotland

Merrion Square. Dublin, Ireland

Merrion Square. Dublin, Ireland

Palma de Mallorca, Spain

Palma de Mallorca, Spain

Palma de Mallorca, Spain

Colonia, Uruguay

Colonia, Uruguay

Père Lachaise Cemetery. Paris, France

Vives, France

Place des Vosges. Paris, France

Moroccan Restaurant. Paris, France

Dublin, Ireland

Dún Aonghasa. Aran Islands, Ireland

Dingle, Ireland

St. Andrews, Scotland

St. Andrews, Scotland

Brussels, Belgium

Alhambra Palace. Grenada, Spain

Alhambra. Grenada, Spain

A few favorites -

I love the photo of my friend Hali with her shock of blond hair in front of the dark wooden door in Scotland. I took this photo in Edinburgh just before we decided to summit the very wind-whipped and gorse-covered Arthur’s Seat.

Another favorite is of the French family I nanny for exiting the Hostalet de Vives, a traditional Catalan restaurant on the French-Spanish border. We were all smiles after enjoying a delicious meal of meatballs and green olives in gravy.

Which one is your favorite?

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