SIM Card Options: International SIM Cards Vs. Local SIMs

I’ve had this question a lot, people wanting to travel and have access to all those super-useful travel apps. If you use your phone at home plenty and rely on it for data or just want to keep in touch with people at home maybe this is what you will want when you travel but just how hard is it to get your hands on a local SIM card and is it worth your time really?

Today I will discuss the pro’s and con’s of three popular SIM card options for travel: international SIM cards, local SIM cards bought before you land and SIM cards bought after you land.

Well, I guess everyone's going mobile now...

Well, I guess everyone’s going mobile now…

International SIM cards

These are available online or though some travel agents/tour companies. They’re often marketed at people who want to visit whole regions but only spend a short amount of time in each individual country. For example, people backpacking Europe who don’t know how long they will be in any one place and want the ease to send a text message or receive a phone call anywhere. It’s important if you’ll be needing data to check if it’s available and the rates before purchasing your SIM card.

Pro’s

  • Simplicity – put one SIM in your phone and away you go. No having to worry about getting a new SIM every few days’ as you travel and you can give one number to your family back home before you leave and not have to think about it again.
  • Less stress for family – if they know they can reach you anytime sometimes just that knowledge is enough to make some loved ones feel much better.
  • You can call anyone, even those people you thought you wouldn’t – on a stop-over in Thailand I received some good news from home, a friend was now engaged to be married, with the international SIM I had with me I gave her a call, expensive call but so worth it!

Con’s

  • Cost – not the cheapest option by a long shot in some locations.
  • It costs you for other people to call you – when I was in New York City I had one of these SIMs (hung over from another trip) and I missed out on seeing a New York Yankee’s game with some locals because I ran out of credit and didn’t realise it cost me money for others’ to call me.
  • Falling off the grid can be harder – if you’re going on your first solo trip abroad you may want to get caught up in the freedom of backpacking but then being woken by Aunt Mary at six AM just because she wants to say hello and see how you are can be a mood killer.

Getting a SIM before you go

There are plenty of companies online now marketing to travelers who sell SIM cards for multiple countries. With the internet too, you can look up the provider reading reviews on them, checking their coverage and call rates and know everything – even your new number – before you even board the plane. What a way to go!

Pro’s

  • Easy – you just give someone your credit card number and address then pop the little SIM in the back of your phone once it arrives.
  • Know your number before you go – handing out your number to your loved ones before you go abroad can be wonderful, they know how they can contact you should there be any issues and all their numbers are right there for when you need them.
  • Save time – it can be time consuming (especially if there are language barriers) to get a SIM before you go. You need to work out who you want to go with, get the SIM in your phone and activated (often in a language you don’t know) and recharge. Then work out how to recharge as needed. This option cut’s out all that time spent working things out for yourself.

Con’s

  • Cost – companies that provide this service are buying in SIM cards from providers or wholesalers, having them shipped to them and then out to you, have staff and other overheads so of course this isn’t as cheap as buying a SIM card in country.
  • Missed opportunity – if you are going to a country to interact with locals for the experience of a different culture or to practice language skills, you could be missing out on a great opportunity here in finding someone to buy a SIM from, asking them for help in setting it up in your phone, asking how to recharge, etc.
  • Slow shipping times – Ordering with time to spare can help you with this, make sure you’ve given it enough time for incidentals like the company running out of SIM cards and taking longer to get one to you.

Getting a SIM after you arrive

Sometimes people don’t want to do all the running around before they get to a place – or don’t have time to – they either choose to buy their SIM when they arrive. There are of course pro’s and con’s to this method too.

Pro’s

  • Often cheapest method – often this is the cheapest method of the three, especially in a lot of developing nations where a few dollars can buy you plenty of data, calls and SMS messages.
  • Opportunity to interact with locals – buying my local SIM in Vietnam meant I met a whole family, laughed with them as they helped me activating the SIM and recharging it then ended up sharing tea with them. It was a great experience I never would have had if I didn’t buy my SIM there.
  • You know the coverage – with a local provider, you know the coverage (from coverage maps, however accurate they are) before you buy a SIM whereas the international SIM can sometimes be a bit hit and miss depending on which provider it taps into.

Con’s

  • Wasted time – if you have to find someone to buy a SIM off then purchase, activate and recharge the SIM when you could be on the beach sipping cocktails, are you really going to be that interested?
  • Getting the right SIM for your phone – when I was in Laos, I met a guy who went down the local SIM route who’d gotten frustrated because at the time the providers there didn’t have SIM cards that fit his smart phone, so he had to get scissors and cut the SIM down to size. Not sure what he did wrong but it only worked sometimes, so he couldn’t call, only text which he was very frustrated about.
  • Not having a SIM when you touch down – not having a SIM card when you arrive in-country can be a big deal for some people who want to text or call their loved ones ASAP about their adventure so far or that they’re in their hostel safe to ease concerns. If this is you, perhaps you want to consider one of the other options.

Over to you! What do you do about your phone when you travel? Do you have advice for other travellers about SIM cards? Please tell us in the comments below!

How To Move To The UK

“Adventurer Stacey’s in the London, that’s awesome for her! How do I do that?” is what I hear behind every question I’m asked about my recent re-location. I used to ask those questions too before I took on a life of travel and adventure, now that things have gone full-circle I’m smiling to myself. I’ve created a list to break down the steps for a move to the UK (or any country for that matter) which I hope you can find useful:

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#1 Draw up a plan

Preparations for relocation can start up to six months before you move. For me this time, it was only three months however, many people take less time. It’s up to you and your personal needs.

#2 Passport check!

Do you have one? Is it valid for much longer? If you need a new one start going through the process of passport application ASAP as you need a passport to apply for visas. For some people who’re eligible for a UK or EU passport, they won’t need to worry about the next steps (and the rest of us are jealous of you, by the way!)

#3 Get the correct work visa

Most Aussie’s, Kiwi’s and Canadian’s under 31 will opt for a Working Holiday visa. These are easy to get and can take as little as two weeks however, if you’re highly skilled you may want to apply for the highly skilled migrant visas. Check with the British High Commission ASAP which visa type best applies to your situation.

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#4 Book Flights

I’ve written a bit about how to find cheap flights in the past but as a general rule, booking in off season or shoulder season to the UK is usually cheaper, you may also want to see if there is a big difference between business class seats and economy as sometimes the price is very close and being such a long flight for some, you may want that luxury.

#5 Purchase travel insurance

I’m with World Nomads who I strongly recommend because their coverage is so good – they even offer coverage for work-related injuries (lets hope that’s never a problem!) and cover you for more than just the UK. You can also renew your cover as you travel which is great for those of us who need it (like myself!)

#6 Sort out your home

If you own your place, you might want to consider renting it out to help with those mortgage repayments. If you are renting, you’ll want to find someone who can keep your stuff at their place or work out a storage option. Make sure you have this sorted well in advance to moving as you don’t need the stress.

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#7 Mail: what are you doing with it?

You might want to consider getting a friend or family member to open your mail at home and relay anything important to you. Or alternately you can get everything sent to you electronically through a service or from the companies themselves.

#8 Consider power of attorney

This is not a must-do however, many long-term travellers or expats give their power of attorney to a trusted friend of family member back home. This is an extension of someone just reading your mail for you however, you might want to look into it and see if it’s an option for you considering you do plan to be away for a while.

#9 Health checks

You will want to ensure any vaccinations are up-to-date, your dental checks out and your doctor has had a good look at you before you go. You’ll also want to ensure any medications you are on are also available in the UK and take a note from your doctor about any medications you’ll be taking with you on the plane. It’s also important if you have contact lenses or glasses that you take an optical prescription with you as well.

Apparently the horse had a hole drilled in him to drain water... hole is in his penis so he looks like he is weeing when it rains. Cannot verify this story, but thought you'd like to know...

Apparently the horse had a hole drilled in him to drain water… hole is in his penis so he looks like he is weeing when it rains. Cannot verify this story, but thought you’d like to know…

#10 Pack properly and on time

I am an experienced backpacker but for sure, there were packing mistakes I made the first time I moved here. I left some things at home that I sort of needed and had to buy there. I would prefer to go that way than the other way though. You should start packing no more than a month before you leave (in order not to over-pack) and no less than a week before you leave (because you don’t need to stress about packing last moment). I have a general packing list for backpacking too that is a good starting point.

#11 Photocopy important documents

Make copies of important documents before you go: passport, travel insurance, visas, credit cards, hotel/hostel reservations and tickets. You’ll want to leave these at home however, some people make several copies and carry some with them, leave one copy at home and email another copy to themselves so if something goes wrong they can deal with it then and there rather than having to call that person at home and ask for their credit card numbers when they need to cancel them.

#12 Get some spare passport photo’s taken

Generally with travel this is a good idea – I’ve had to use spare passport photo’s a number of times for things like visas. I’ve never been unlucky enough however, I’ve heard some police in some countries want them for police reports if you have to report theft.

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#13 Get your CV sorted

I’ve previously mentioned this on the blog however, UK employers prefer two-page CV’s with dates of each job (starting and leaving). Make sure yours is UK ready before you go as this will save plenty of time and hassle once you arrive.

#14 Contact your UK-based mates

This is super important! Sure, a whole lot of Aussie’s, Kiwi’s and Canadian’s move to the UK every single year and it won’t take much for you to make new friends but it’s much, much easier to have those familiar friends around you when you arrive and it’s never been easier to do this. Shortly before you leave (I left mine to a month before I left) you can change your city on facebook to the one you will be moving to in the UK and then search for other people in your friends’ list who’re in the same city. Surprisingly, you will find people who you didn’t know had moved. I found some old university friends which was great because they already knew what professional jobs were like here, employers expectations, etc. and could help me out. Also, joining facebook groups is a great way to hit the ground running. There’s a bunch of more formal ways to do this too like university alumni organisations, clubs and groups you’re a member of back home, etc. however, this is becoming the more popular way to connect so why not?

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I hope that break down has helped you guys’ who’re thinking of making the big move and I sincerely hope this method of breaking things down encourages some of you to chase those travel dreams. I’d love to hear about others’ experiences with moving to the UK and any advice they would have for people considering it in the comments below. Keep adventuring guys’!

Apps For Moving To London

Lost in London I was asking people in the street for directions. Everyone I asked must have been a local as they kept walking. I managed to stop one girl, an Eastern European who helped me with my map. Thank god for immigration!

But you dear reader, you don’t need to have this experience. Through careful research I’ve found the best apps for moving to London (or visiting, if you’re going there with a smart phone) so you don’t have to be asking directions of local’s who’re busy pretending they didn’t hear you, paying too much for a black cab, missing out on great travel deals, lonely in the big city, hungry and unable to find decent take-away or one thousand other problems you face when new to such a huge city!

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Uber

This seemed to be at the top of all my friends’ lists and I was a little sad to see that as London has the best taxi’s in the world however, It’s a very popular app in London for a reason! When you sign up with Uber use the code uberAdventurerStaceyue to get a free ride (I get one too when you use the code)

City Mapper

Everyone has this! It’s a London must with its maps for walking, cycling and public transport you’ll be using it constantly when you’re new (or if you visit new areas, which feels like it’s always happening in London!)

Google Maps

I’ve previously mentioned this in my list of apps for independent travellers, here’s just one more place it’s useful.

Tube Tamer

The network can be confusing, especially when you’re new so this app has been great for me!

Whatsapp

This seems super popular in the London and if you don’t have it before your move, you’ll need it soon enough!

Meetup App

Meetups are quite popular in London as London is a super transient city with plenty of people coming here for work and losing their old communities. A great way to meet new people or just to connect with others’ who share your interest. Totally keen to jump into London photography groups as those seem the right ones to meet other people who love the city just as much as I do and who notice all those little things that I might miss!

Excuses2Meet

Kind of like the appy equivalent of going to a real-life meetup event, you can put things in you’re looking to do with your new friends like “someone to play videogames with” and find other’s who’ve said they’re looking for the same thing. I’ve downloaded it (along with all the others) however, it feels like it might take more time to meet people than just showing up at a MeetUp event. We’ll see what happens!

Fever

This is a great idea! An app that helps you find things to do in London this week. It tailors its suggestions to you based on preferences you put into the app really good for wanting to show your knowledge of what’s on without having to do much work. Also great for when you make those early friends everyone makes when moving to a new city who don’t really know what’s going on and aren’t very good tour guides at all.

YPlan

Similar concept to Fever, I’ve still not decided which I prefer so have listed both.

Groupon

This is quite popular in London for loads of stuff (as the high rent prices mean everyone is pretty skint and needs discounts). Also has great travel deals on it from time to time.

Spareroom

How everyone finds their flatmates – now in an app!

Just Eat

Want to know if that place on the corner is any good to eat at? Going out with friends all spur of the moment and don’t know anywhere good? (Of course you don’t! You’re new to London!) Here’s a simple solution.

Do you have any recommendations for apps that London Newbies should have that are not listed? Please leave those awesome recommendations in the comments below!

How To Find A Cheap Flight

I’ve written about this previously back in 2014 and wanted to update the post with a few additional tips for my readers, I hope this is helpful for saving some cash to spend on fun things for your trip rather than giving all your cash to a big company before you even leave home!

Airfare prices can be the most costly single thing on your trip however, it doesn’t all have to be doom and gloom and there are a bundle of cheap ways to travel now. I’ve listed some of my top tips to save time, money and a bunch of stress on your next trip!

Plane-Wing-Taken-Out-The-Window-Adventurer-Stacey

Why Are Airfare Prices So Unpredictable?

As Richard Branson said in his autobiography (which I loved – every entrepreneur should read it!) airlines operate on small margins and it’s a hugely competitive industry. The airline wants a full plane and enough money from each passenger to pay overheads and make a little profit. Airfares can change from day-to-day with the cost of fuel and the demand on tickets fluctuating. I’ve watched many a flights price move up $200 in a week then down $200 the next week.

The following are my top tips to getting the best deal on your next flight!

Timing

Planning your travel in the shoulder or off-season will save you a bundle – I’ve flown Melbourne to Amsterdam return for AUD$1,200 when my friends paid $3,000 for the same flight only a few months’ later. I could have got the ticket cheaper again if I’d been available to fly a little later (for AUD$1,000).

Know What You Want To Spend

Part of being a budget traveller is having to stick to a budget. If you know you have $300 to spend on that flight and you’ve seen tickets this cheap before, don’t settle for the $600 ticket because you’re scared that will go (unless you’ve got real reason to think it will) sometimes waiting for a sale is well worth it. I’ve had to do this while booking flights around Asia before and although it was a bit nerve-wracking, I ended up paying what I wanted to pay in the end!

Be Flexible

Although I wouldn’t suggest flying on national days and missing celebrations often it’s good to have a bit of a window to fly in where possible. If $100 would make a big difference to your trip, would saving that little bit by booking your return leg two days’ after you thought you would make a difference to your trip?

Travel For An Event

More of an aside often we want to travel for an awesome event or festival however, we don’t want to pay an arm and a leg for the privilege. When planning my St Patrick’s Day trip, I booked several months’ in advance when sale fares were available and booked my ticket to be arriving in Dublin 8 days’ before St Patrick’s Day itself. Although I wouldn’t recommend this to everyone it suited me fine. I wanted to re-visit some parts of Ireland that I’d liked the last time I was there and knew that would be enough for me to be over jetlag and onto a normal time table for the event!

Something else I often see is people booking flights into a nearby city and traveling overland for an event, this can save big money too!

How Far Away From My Trip Should I Book?

Booking flights in that golden window of time when airlines are trying to fill their seats but not so near that they know they have you and prices will go up – usually about six to eight weeks before ensures the best prices. Don’t believe me? Visit any budget travel agents website and see when their flight specials are for, you’ll usually find them about eight weeks away or sometimes a little further away if the off season is coming up.

How To Search

I use Skyscanner to search for flights and have for several years’ now. I like that they don’t charge commissions and also give you the price that you will pay, not the drip price. Drip pricing is when an airline markets their flights as being super cheap – say, $6 then there is a tone of non-optional extras that may turn your $6 flight into a $106 flight, costing you sometimes the same amount of money as the more honest and often better to fly with airlines. I often search around three months (should I know I’m traveling three months away from a trip) and then repeat that search periodically, as well as watching budget travel agents’ websites to know when the airlines are having their sales!

Although I have not set up an email notification in ages often this is a preferred method of savvy fliers. You can do so with either Skyscanner or Airfare Watshdog. They’re easy to set up and could save you a pretty penny, if not a lot of your time.

Return Is Often Cheaper

When traveling around South & Central America last year I found that return tickets were often cheaper than booking a one way ticket. I saved around $800 from booking return flights rather than one-way flights and not taking the return leg.

Booking A Connection You Don’t Intend To Take

I don’t advocate for this as it’s something I’ve never done and don’t want to be responsible for your getting into trouble with an airline if you’re found out. However I wanted to mention it as this works well for people who’re happy to travel with just carry on luggage. Basically you want to book a flight to one city and it’s expensive for example, you want to fly to LA but its $800 for an LA flight and to fly to San Francisco via LA will be $600, you book the flight through to San Francisco, get off in LA and don’t take your connection. Be weary though that you won’t be able to take a return leg of a ticket like this. To find more info online if you’re interested this is called hidden city ticketing.

Places To Look

Although most people think they will find the cheapest tickets on budget airlines in economy sometimes the best deals (in regards to value for money) can be with traditional airlines or even in business class. When one considers that to fly budget they will get nothing for their money they will be purchasing basic things like the use of a blanket for the flight, a meal and a drink sometimes the price difference is even less than expected. A friend of mine too, booked a business class seat for his Melbourne to London flight for little more ($300) than a economy class seat and admitted to drinking the difference in Dom Perignon and having the best service and seating on the plane to boot! Checking business class before you book is a great idea!

Keep An Eye Out For Deals

You can sign up for email newsletters with your favorite airlines or budget travel agents however, I am a huge travel nerd and I list deals through my email newsletter! I list deals mostly for those traveling from major hubs in North America, Europe and the Antipodes (Australia and New Zealand) and am always seeking out more great travel deals, so if you want me to be doing all the hard work for you, sign up for the weekly email newsletter in the right-hand side bar now.

Taken when I was on a recent Maiden Flight and they had a little party before hand cupcakes and tequila (as it was to Mexico). Flight was late so we got extra tequila (at 10am, mind!)

Taken when I was on a recent Maiden Flight and they had a little party before hand cupcakes and tequila (as it was to Mexico). Flight was late so we got extra tequila (at 10am, mind!)

Did you like this post? Found it useful? Please list your thoughts and if there was anything important that’s been left out in the comments below!

Four Of My Favorite Things About Dublin

I’m in Dublin this week for St. Patrick’s Day and am very excited to be here! It’s a great little city and very hard to get lost in (although, I do try!). The atmosphere this time of year though is what I came here for. Everyone’s Irish, even those who’re not and the city is full of revelers having a good time and spreading the Irish cheer.

My favorite things about Dublin though, are not the cliché one’s or the tourists, from my last trip here I had four favorites I wrote about in my travel journal. Actually, there were more but four seemed an appropriate number for an Irish story (like the four leaf clover, its lucky!) so I picked my favorite four and here they are:

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Pub Culture

Ireland has some of the best pub culture in the world. You can walk into a pub in the middle of the day and find local people drinking and shooting the breeze. Unlike in many other places in the world where a pub is a bar or a venue you go to dance, in Ireland they’re like public lounge rooms and people pop in for a drink and to catch up with their neighbors, the local gossip and politics.

At night though, pubs are full of great music, dancing and slightly awkward local boys’ trying to chat up local girls’. They’re fun places to be full of laughter and good cheer. Something I wish there was more of everywhere in the world.

Dublin Chippers

I was introduced to Dublin chippers by a local the first time I was in Ireland. Everywhere in the world seems to have its after-drinking food and a 2am trip to the Dublin chipper to pick up some fish and chips (or likely just chips) is as good as any after-drinking food in my book. Plus, you always seem to find someone you know in there, even if you have only been in town a few days’. Small place, very friendly.

Irish Directions

The first time I was in Ireland this happened to me and I thought it was just one weird guy but apparently it’s not uncommon (says Irish comedians, one shown below on youtube)

In my story, young pre-backpack Adventurer Stacey had over packed her suitcase and had broken it. She had to find a shopping mall to buy a new suitcase but got lost on the way (as always) and had to ask for directions. Most of the places in the world where I have asked directions I get something boring like, “Turn left at this set of lights and keep going, it’s on your left.” But not in Ireland. In Ireland the directions were more like, “Go left here and walk for ten minutes, then turn right and walk another five minutes, it’s on your left.” I laughed, surely he wasn’t serious. Did he know the pace of my walk? If I was likely to get distracted on the way and stop? Wind speed? Direction? I told him to stop taking the piss and tell me for real, how I get there. He laughed and told me he’d already told me before walking away. There was no-one else around so I decided to try it and you won’t believe, I got there. (the part about directions is at the two minute mark)

Irish Slang & Humor – You’ll Never Get It, Even When You Think You Do

I’ve had Irish friends and I think at this stage I mostly understand them (even though sometimes they do seem pretty alien) but when I was first in Ireland, often slang would go straight over my head and locals obviously didn’t want to tell me that they didn’t mean what they were saying.

One of my more vivid memories was when two older Irish men were at the pub, one asked the other what he wanted, “Oh, just a half Guinness” “Only a half?” asked his shocked friend before leaning closer to me and uttering, “He’s not well you know.” I thought he meant his friend was genuinely unwell, maybe he was about to go in for surgery and shouldn’t be drinking. As a result, I asked the first guy about his health and if he was okay, really. Did he need to go home? Some water? He just stared at me in confusion. Neither talked to me for the rest of the night. I later heard from someone that someone being “not well” was slang, a dismissive way of saying someone was crazy. I wonder if these guys’ thought I genuinely was crazy after the event.

Those are my four – now, if you excuse me I’m off to enjoy this wonderful little city!

My Thoughts On World Nomads Travel Insurance

Urging readers to ensure they have travel insurance and talking about how important it is, is one thing then the inevitable questions about which provider to go with hit my inbox. So who do I personally use for my travel insurance and would I recommend them?

I’ve travelled plenty and have used a range of travel insurance providers over the years’. I’ve had single-trip policies and multi-trip policies however, my current policy is with World Nomads and their policy is a little different. They’re set up for long-term travellers and due to my positive experience with them I will be renewing my insurance with them when it runs out.

You DON'T Have travel insurance you say...?

You DON’T Have travel insurance you say…?

My World Nomads Experience…

I’ve had a World Nomads policy for nine months now (or so… I think… it’s been some time) and at quote their policy seemed really reasonable to me. Information about them was easy to come by with most other travel bloggers using them, big travel brands recommending them and plenty of sites that compare policies talking about them in comparison to other providers and their insurance policies in relation to other insurance policies.

For me, knowing I’m with a big company who deal with issues that long-term travellers face specifically makes a huge difference to my piece of mind.

I’ve had to email them a number of times about my policy as my plans changed. I would ask them if it was okay to travel here or there and if there would be additional costs, to date there have been none and the service has been great with them responding to my emails within a few days’ with answers that I needed!

I’ve not had to claim anything and hope I never do have to (because who wants to get hurt while traveling, right!?) but know I’m covered if I do need assistance and this provides me with a great peace of mind.

Something I love too which I have not had to do (yet, but will need to do within the next few months’) is that you can renew your cover on the road (because where are most independent travellers anyway?) so you can keep traveling and enjoy your carefree lifestyle for as long as you can afford it rather than having to worry about what to do when cover runs out. I believe too that you can get cover after you’re on the trip although I’ve never tried to as I always make sure I’m covered before I go.

I don't have travel insurance and don't know if getting into this big, potentially bottomless pool is a good idea...

I don’t have travel insurance and don’t know if getting into this big, potentially bottomless pool is a good idea…

Would I recommend Work Nomads To My Friends?

The answer is a resounding “YES!” unlike other travel insurance companies I’ve been with these guy’s specifically tailor to long-term travellers, they also have extra things like cover for if you’re hurt at work which to me is super important as I do work as I travel.

I wouldn’t recommend any product I didn’t use myself and totally love so you can be sure this recommendation carries some weight behind it.

I like these guys – they have great service, reasonable prices (considering the cover you’re getting), are recommended by just about everyone including myself for a reason!

If you’re interested in getting a quote on your travel insurance and could do so using my link or the World Nomad’s widget to the right of this post in the side bar (which means at no additional cost to you I earn a small amount of money from the company) that would be great as you’re helping me to keep traveling and dispensing more awesome, super-relevant advice! Thank you in advance!

Ah, cool water! So glad I have my travel insurance now...

Ah, cool water! So glad I have my travel insurance now…

Is It Hard To Find Work In London?

UK-England-London-Tourist-Photo-Big-Ben-Adventurer-Stacey

Something I see often on travel and expat forums is people stressing out, the common concern is clear: “But what if I get to London and cannot find work!”

Although this worry is totally understandable, it’s unlikely to be a real issue for many people. As long as their savvy, able to find work in their own countries and are willing to be a bit creative when the chips are low, finding work in London shouldn’t be a real concern.

The last time I was in London I had three job offers in as many days (and I wasn’t even living there!) of course, these were not high paying jobs and I would have needed to find something else eventually had I of chosen to live in London but the point is that in London, “Survival jobs” are abound if one cannot find the job in the industry they wish to work in.

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The three jobs I was offered were one in a restaurant, one in a bar and one in retail. Of course, two of the jobs paid slightly above minimum wage and the third was below minimum wage however, if one was in debt when they moved to London (as many backpackers are by the time they reach the “London stop”) or needed to find a job quickly they could quite easily find work.

Now let’s talk about those coveted professional job’s most people would prefer to be working with their higher pay and more sociable hours. How does one get one with as little stress as possible? Here’s a short, four-point strategy to keep in mind:

#1: What work will you do? “Anything” is not an answer!

It’s okay to have a fall-back (aforementioned survival job) in case your professional ambitions take some time to take off in the new city (let’s be honest, employers seeking a professional workforce have turn-arounds of something like 4-6 weeks between sending your application in and your start date and not everyone can afford to spend that time in their new flat on the couch). However, having some direction is important for when those opportunities do come up. Going to London and knowing you want to use your marketing degree gives you something to aim for when you are applying online or through agencies for positions and when you are in your survival job in the pub when a marketing executive comes in for a pint, you can smile and ask questions that may bring up leads (just don’t do this in front of your boss, okay?)

One must have a direction, or no tree shall be climbed...

One must have a direction, or no tree shall be climbed…

#2 Get your resume London-ready before leaving home

I love writing but even I cannot stand resume writing and when you must have a copy of your resume for each job type (ie. Your survival job AND your professional job) it’s all the more annoying. Before I land in London I will have a science resume, a hospitality resume and a nanny/babysitting resume. Different countries have different resume templates and it’s best to make sure your resume matches that of the country you’re moving to.

#3 Have a pre-London-arrival and post-London-arrival strategy

So you know you’re amazing and any employer should be happy to have you but, maybe you’re a week away from flying out and too busy with preparations for the new city to keep applying for jobs? That’s okay because you have a bunch of number’s to call once you’ve arrived, a killer strategy for hiding the jet-lag induced bags under your eyes and are perfectly willing to ask anyone – even the owner of the curry house where you have your first London lunch – about work opportunities. Having some sort of plan for “if I don’t find work from home” is positive and will help you far more than if you never let yourself have one.

#4 Consider agencies

Employment agencies are a big deal in the UK. Many professionals, both local and expat’s find their work through them and often they will be working within forty-eight hours of arriving in London (crazy, right?). The best way I’ve found to register with UK employment agencies is through Agency Central

No idea what this building is, but know that no-one working minimum wage is living here, or driving that car...

No idea what this building is, but know that no-one working minimum wage is living here, or driving that car…

Moving to a new city will never be easy however, when one considers the transient nature of mega-cities like London’s population the well-worn path of people before you does make it appear easier to make this work than it sometimes feels like when you’re receiving rejection letters. Chin up, it’s all part of the experience and this is a great “coming of age” experience for many young Kiwi’s, Aussies and Canadian’s for a very long time.

Visiting Charles Darwin’s House While In London

Downe House, as viewed from the gardens

Downe House, as viewed from the gardens

After completing my training as a biologist at university one of the things I was most looking forward to while visiting London last year was Charles Darwin’s house! The grandfather of biology himself who studied everything living around him, even chronicling the growth of his own son was someone who I was sad I’d never had the opportunity to meet, this was an opportunity to get up close and personal with the great genius himself!

On the map it’s a simple hour-long journey to Downe House however, that’s boring. I’ll tell you how it really is on the ground: From London Waterloo station which you got to by some feat of genius through the rush hour chaos (note: don’t actually do this in ‘peak times’) you catch the South Eastern Line train to Orpington. You’ll notice how village-y this place is compared to London right away when a nearby bobby smiles at you. Chat to him, he’s friendly and has a funny non-London accent that you’ve never heard before. Ask him about the buses and you’ll find you need to catch the R8 bus (there is only one bus that goes to Downe House) ask the driver when you climb aboard if they can stop at Charles Darwin’s house for you, they will know where it is and will also smile at you which you will find unsettling after being in London. You’ll find a seat next to a teenager who’s been looking at you strangely due to your foreign accent (you think) and will ride out until the bus stops – not in front of a bus stop but just on the road and the driver calls to you, letting you know you’ve arrived. There you will be, in a small country lane as the tiny bus pulls away you’ll see a big house that you’ve come all this way to see right before your eyes. Feel the excitement but don’t run at it, you’re on the road remember. Look left, then right then left again before crossing.

The super-cute R8 bus, just stick out your arm!

The super-cute R8 bus, just stick out your arm!

I don’t want to give too much away because I want readers to go there themselves (genuinely I do! It’s such a positive experience after being cooped up in London!) but I’ll tell you some of my favourite things about my visit just to wet your appetite.

The gardens are beautiful! They’re where Darwin did plenty of experimenting and hypothesising. He took a walk in his gardens every day, even in the harsh English winter when he was an old man. They’ve been dutifully restored to an approximation of what they were thought to look like in the time Darwin there.

You've arrived (can you see those open times? Taking notes?)

You’ve arrived (can you see those open times? Taking notes?)

The museum itself holds some surprises even to those who’ve read plenty about Darwin and who’re familiar with his work – Darwin was ahead of his time in that he was an active father and a husband who saw his wife as an equal. Although followers of his work realise how much he love his wife that he almost didn’t release his Origin of Species for fear of hurting his wife with her deep religious sensibilities are surprised to see how he would find time after working to play board games with his wife and talk to her about things that were more intellectual, valuing her opinions. His relationship with his children was also more modern than his times. He actually spent time with them (outside of studying them as infants and measuring their growth and development for his work as a scientist). Apparently he was also very kind to his staff as well.

I was also surprised to see Darwin’s notes on his own health – I’d know he had battled with ill health throughout his adult life however, to see that he’d kept a diary made me smile. Something like that seems the type of thing I’d do!

A slide used by Darwin's children to slide down their stairs - what a fun childhood!

A slide used by Darwin’s children to slide down their stairs – what a fun childhood!

I came away from the experience feeling like I’d learned plenty about Darwin whose work had been a big part of my studies and was the basis for a discipline I have such respect for! I would recommend a visit to Dawne House for visitors to Kent and London as it’s a really beautiful place and getting there is a really nice adventure!

Darwin's finches hold a special place in the hearts of many biologists (and you can see them here, how exciting!)

Darwin’s finches hold a special place in the hearts of many biologists (and you can see them here, how exciting!)

Getting back too, was fun. I stood on the street and waved to a bus that stopped for me. After climbing aboard we were driving for a while and as the lane narrowed (these lanes were not consistent at all) we came face-to-face with a four wheel drive that had to back up so we could get past. It was a real adventure and so much fun laughing along with the local teenagers about how hopeless the other driver was!

Darwin's study where he did much of his work!

Darwin’s study where he did much of his work!

Arriving back in London that evening I felt newly refreshed and pretty wonderful! I’d spent a day in the country side, admiring a beautiful home, a wonderful garden and learning (I’m a life-long learner!)

Over to you! Have you ever visited Downe House? Would you recommend it to your friends? What other things would you recommend to the London visitor?

Backpacker’s Best Friends: Gadgets, Gizmo’s And The Rest

The most useful things I own also happen to take up the least amount of space in my backpack. I’ve chosen eight of my favorites I think every backpacker should take with them when traveling.

The Mayan people sharing their favorite gadgets before the internet.

The Mayan people sharing their favorite gadgets before the internet.

Clothes-pegless clothesline – these are widely available at camping stores and I do not remember where I got mine but it’s easily the most useful thing for me backpacking. I have used mine in countless countries to dry my clothes (both after being washed and after being caught in the rain) and even used it with I lived in Canada and the university clothes dryers were dodgy. Very small and very useful. Should be part of anyone’s kit.

Sewing kit – I’ve used mine a number of times and sadly one of those was when my backpack broke. Even for someone like me who’s never had any skill for needle work can use these to fix some pretty daunting problems.

Sleep sheet – I didn’t have one of these before I went to Asia for the first time and I regretted it when I stayed in places that didn’t offer sheets to travelers. They’re also useful to wrap around fragile souvenirs when you’re going home.

Sarong – used this in place of a sleep sheet before I had one. Also used it for my hair, as a towel at the beach, as a skirt, a top, to cover up for temples and after tubing in Laos. I could keep going but I won’t. Just make sure you have one.

Travel towel – best thing ever! I actually now have two, I loved mine so much! They are towels that are super absorbent to dry you off easily but also dry easily themselves and don’t take up as much space in your bag as a regular towel would.

Toiletries bag that has a hook – sounds so simple, and it is! I’ve appreciated the little hook on my toiletries bag so much over the years. Goes everywhere, no drama. As you’re using it daily in different locations you will grow to love it!

Ear plugs – lifesaver! Mine are special ones for the plane that do something weird to you so your ears don’t pop – not complaining and don’t totally understand them but recommend ear plugs for all that plane/bus/train/car travel with crying babies/drunk backpackers/locals playing their music at unsociable hours and for the hostel room when you’re sleeping right under the snorer.

Money belt – I don’t always use mine as a money belt but it does have RFID blocking technologies so has often just been there to protect my passport (from theft and from having water spilt on it in my bag)

RFID wallet – I have one of these and love it, it’s small but great. Everyone should have one. As someone who’s had their card compromised while overseas I can tell you, getting cash when you have no card, don’t speak the language and are not sure what’s going on is tough.

 

What about you? What gadgets have saved you over the years’? OR, what gadget do you think you would get the most use out of while traveling?

Most Useful Travel Apps for Independent Travelers

Well, I guess everyone's going mobile now...

Well, I guess everyone’s going mobile now…

I’ve been asked what the most useful travel apps were for independent travelers a number of times over the years’ and have decided to do a round-up this week of the best travel apps I’ve used so far in my life as an independent traveler. Of course, every location will have specific apps (like bus/train apps for different European countries, for example). I chose to keep this pretty general though so not to get too bogged down. Feel free to add your favorite travel apps in the comments too so other readers can benefit from your experience.

Google Maps

Old faithful Google Maps has everything an adventurer who’s consistently getting lost needs plus a little extra. If you’re looking for something in particular in a city Google Maps can come in very handy. Of course, you can put in an address or name of business but you can also do more general searches and see what’s around you. Things like “ATM” or “Restaurant” plus there is reviews, etc. given by other users of google so you’re never going anywhere comply blind which is great.

XE Currency Converter

I pulled this app up when I first got to Belize and the hostel owner smiled at me, “You all use this app!” he said, “It’s good because if you didn’t, I’d just charge what I wanted!” then he laughed. He was joking (one hopes), this is a super useful for when you’re not totally comfortable with a new currency yet or when you will be using a few different currencies on your trip and want to stay on budget.

WhatsApp Messenger

Easiest way I’ve found to keep in touch with loved ones while traveling (and at home!) is WhatsApp Messenger. You can send an SMS for free to anyone as long as you have a WiFi or 3G connection.

TripAdvisor

An old favorite, I’ve used them TripAdviror app to look up great places to stay but also to double check claims of some places that they have high ratings on there (the website doesn’t always match claims!)

TripIt

Your mum will love you for this! Instead of asking you all the time exactly where you are, you can email your itinerary to other people from your phone, plus having your itinerary all in one place makes life easier for you. TripIt is great for new independent travellers who don’t want to miss a thing!

Accommodation

Depending on your style and budget there are a number of apps available. I’ve chosen my three favourites.

HostelBookers/Hostel World

Competing companies these two both have great deals, it just depends on whose interface you prefer. Occasionally for some parts of the world too, one website/app is better than the other, this is something you learn through experience however. HostelBookers app is here and Hostel World’s app is here.

Hotel Tonight

Not that we want to always be booking last moment but in travel, things are constantly changing and it’s good to have this app to find those last moment deals when you need to be hooked up.

AirBnB

Love this website! The AirBnB app is great too for when you want to stay somewhere a little different to the usual hostel/hotel and have a more unique and local experience. You’ll stay with locals and learn more about the place you’re staying in from them than you may staying in tourist-centric, less personal accommodation.

Airfare

Depending on your preference as with accommodation apps, both of these are great apps.

SkyScanner

I first heart of SkyScanner a few years’ ago when I was backpacking South East Asia for the first time. Everyone was using it and it was brand new and shiny then, now it’s very popular and much more polished. I use it all the time when booking flights myself (Note: I also recommend the website for booking flights).

Hipmunk

I’m newer to this than SkyScanner but like it so far! The Hupmunk is pretty cute and I also like how they list the lowest prices first in both airfare and accommodation and how in accommodation it tells you on the first screen if there is WiFi there. Wifi is a high priority of mine.

As mentioned previously, I’d love to hear your recommendations for travel apps worth using. Please comment below and share your favorites so others’ can check them out.