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Travel Tips - Travel Cards and E-Sims

We are just about to head off to Europe on a long holiday, the first one since 2019 (this holiday is the one planned for May 2020) and it is amazing how much has changed in travel-land.  Thanks to Michelle for the idea for this blog post.

Money and Travel Cards

Four years ago we travelled with cash (converted to the local currency), credit cards and the (then exciting) Air NZ OneSmart Card.  Things worked well.  But fast forward four years and so much has changed.

Covid created a world where electronic transactions are supreme and the use of cash has diminished.  At the Australian Tennis Open this year we couldn't use cash anywhere - despite having arranged to have Australian dollars with us, in fact, things were so technology based, there were things we couldn't even buy as it required an Australian mobile phone number.

One of the big changes has been fees.  While using the credit card in the past incurred foreign exchange fees, there are now the ubiquitous fee for using a credit card.  I have noticed in the last week when at a conference in Queenstown, that there are now additional fees if you use pay-wave.  The cost of using a credit card has become significant enough to take it into consideration while travelling overseas.

Travel cards are a thing though.  From the (then exciting but now very clunky) Air NZ OneSmart Card, there are now an array of cards to use.  

After doing some research (including talking to people who have travelled), we have settled on taking two separate Wise Travel Cards.  Travellex has had a data hack, which discourages us from giving them our information, Air NZ Smart Card - well we will take that as a back up, but it takes at least a day to add money, whereas the Wise Card adds the money more or less immediately.

The Wise Card also provides you with the ability to make payments to other peoples bank accounts (but although I spent half an hour trying, I can't get it to make a payment to our Millie Developer in India, Saravanan).

We will still take cash (living in hope) and if we find a nice piece of art to purchase will definitely need the credit card, but we are planning on using those Wise Cards to withdraw cash and to 'tap and go'.  We have loaded a debit card linked to our bank account for easy top up from our travel account, so that we don't have to load a whole lot before we go.

Read more here: (it costs $14 NZ for the card, which is taken off your associated debit card, and the card arrives pretty quickly.  Just remember to activate it by putting in a PIN, put some NZD on it and using it in a machine with your PIN before you leave.  You choose 'credit' when you are setting the PIN up on the machine).

Pre-booking to reduce potential stress

We are also very lucky to have a fantastic travel agent that we have worked with for over 7 years, so have pre-booked and pre-paid for pretty much all our costs.  Having heard the tips about peoples credit cards being denied at their accommodation or train or flight when they arrive in Europe, we decided that pre-booking would reduce our stress significantly.

Getting wifi/safe internet and data

Although we aren't planning on working while we are in Europe, these days you need access to your phone for simple things like Two Factor Authentication (2FA) for accessing your bank account any many other online services (work and non work-related).  So working out how to get access to wifi and data is important.

Some one might have a cleverer idea than I could come up with, but because of the 2FA requirements for so many things (because your phone and tablet will pick up you aren't in your normal location), we will turn on our roaming on our phone.  Unfortunately our provider (Skinny), only has 7 days roaming for $24 that has to be renewed every week.  One suggestion was to just turn the device on when you need the data to work and pay the roaming charges.  Not sure that I am game enough to try that.

But you also need data these days to find out things about where you are visiting (with QR Codes, and just general googling), and often to get onto transport and into attractions.  

We will also need to be able to access safe internet for those times when we do need to do some work.  The risks of connecting to free or unsecured wifi in hotels or public places is far too high, so we usually buy a sim card in the country that we are travelling in.

Well - that has changed too - for the better.  For people who have already travelled in the last couple of years, or are more tech savvy than me, you will know all about e-sims, but I didn't and am delighted they exist.

As long as you have a modern device you don't have to carry a little pointy thing to take out your sim card and put a new one in when you arrive in a country.  You just buy an e-sim and activate it just as you are leaving or arriving in the country.

The e-sim recognises if you have roaming that you want to use for notifications and phone calls, and the e-sim makes your data plan that you have purchased active in the background.

We have purchased four e-sims - two for our phones and two for our ipads.  The phone packages are with HolaFly and are unlimited data for 60days (we are away for 49 days).  But the package doesn't allow tethering (so we couldn't use it to provide safe internet connections when we have to use our computer).

We use our Ipads a lot for accessing news (hmmm, NZ Electioneering and Trump going to court while we are away... maybe not news), getting new books to read, checking personal emails and working out what the history is and the things happening in the area that we are at.  So we purchased two plans (slightly more expensive) with Maya Mobile - USD 49 for 30 days, BUT they allow tethering to our computer, so that we can use that device safely.

Registering your travels

Previously we have registered our travels with MFAT at (Thanks Christine for that tip).

But these days, with all the cybercrime, we strongly recommend that you register your travel with your cards and bank.  This will mean that you won't (or shouldn't) have your transactions blocked by your bank, just when you are in the middle of having a great time.  Most cards and banks have a place where you can register your travel or send them a secure email.


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