Video from Hong Kong

The video of our first days of the year is finally up and might give you a little impression of how January is in Hong Kong. You can also read about the trip on this link.

Currency Exchange Before and During your Travels

exchange

Exchanging money while traveling can be quite a hassle, where it feels like everyone is trying to rip you off by offering you poor exchange rates. Of course the loss of exchanging currency should be kept at a minimum, but it is important to remember that no one will offer you exchanges at the actual rates, because they then would have made no money from the exchange. To keep you currency exchange costs to a minimum, you should consider the following:

Use currency converter apps or pages such as xe.com to find out what the exchange rate is to avoid being fooled. If you don’t know what the currency is worth, they might be able to convince you that the exchange rate is double of what it really is!
Check rates at several exchange offices. Airports, hotels and travel agencies tend to charge very poor exchange rates; Airports becuase the people exchanging there have little choice, travel agencies and hotels because it is not their main field of business. Usually I look for the biggest banks in the city center to get exchange rates that are fair.
Exchange some money before you go: I usually exchange around 100-200NOK before I go at a currency exchange office that does not charge exchange fees (e.g Forex bank). The rates there are poor so I just want to get enough to cover my airport transfer and the first night at a hostel. After that I either pay by card if possible or do a single withdrawal from the ATM to avoid several transaction fees.
Pick a credit card with no transaction/withdrawal fees. The ATM withdrawal fees vary greatly, and it is advised to check comparisons between banks to find cards offering low or no withdrawal feel which can save you a lot of money.
Exchange remaining money if you have withdrawn too much instead of spending it at the duty free or expensive airport restaurants. Land borders will usually also have exchange offices where you can exchange your remaining cash into the next local currency
Pay with the foreign currency: if you are asked if you want to pay with local currency or your own currency with your debit card, always go with the local currency. You will then use the exchange rates of your bank instead of theirs (with poorer rates)
Always travel with spare cash: the US dollar and the Euro usually have the best exchange rates and will be easiest to buy and sell. I always travel with 100USD and 100EUR hidden separately in my luggage. If I have my things stolen, this should be enough to get me to the nearest embassy to make a new passport and have money transferred from a bank account back home.

This list could have been endless, and these are just my tips. Feel free to share your own below.

Create Your Own GoPro gear

In my opinion, the GoPro is the best camera travel buddy you can have, both because it takes up very little space in your backpack but also because of its ability to tackle water and some serious beating. The downside with the camera is its high price and its accessories are just ridiculously overpriced. That calls for innovative solutions, and I must say I am very happy with saving over a hundred us dollars on making a GoPro wrist mount instead of buying it from their webstore. just by following the three easy steps illustrated below:

1. Get all the stuff you need: An ankle strap from your surfboard, 4 small strips and a helmet mount (that comes with your GoPro camera).

2. Drill a hole in the helmet mount and the ankle strap and stitch your plastic straps through the holes

3. Voilà! You will now have saved a lot of money that can come in better use while traveling. If you are so lucky to already own a head strap mount you can also use an even simpler solution by following the steps in this YouTube video.

An Insiders Guide to Car Rental in the US

It is a real pitty that most of the historic “Route 66” does no longer exist. But there are many other good driving routes to follow, like the highway alternative

 

I have previously written a blog post with general car rental tips for the untrained minds, but figured that it would also be good with a bit more country specific advise. This post could just as well have been for car rental in another countries, but USA is probably the country in the world where renting a car makes most sense, so this might be the first of several posts about the topic (South Africa, Canada and Australia might come later). For customers I have probably booked more than a hundred cars in the US and have noticed the following:

 

  • The competition among the rental companies in the States is strong and most companies therefore let you cancel a car rental free of charge. It can therefore be smart to book a car if you are uncertain, and just cancel it if the price should be reduced a couple of months later or if you should find a better deal somewhere else
  • If you are planning on driving “Highway 1” in the peak season/summer months you will notice high one-way charges if you are driving from San Francisco to Los Angeles, but not the other way around. This is because everyone wish to drive from North to South in order to drive on the outer lane right by the water. In my opinion it can be worth sacrificing a little sight for a rental with little or no one-way fee.
  • The age limit for car rental with most companies is 20, but if you are under 26 you will probably be charged with underage driver fees. Age limit is also dependending on the state where you rent, and there are two states where the minimum age is 18 which is New York and Michigan. And since you follow the laws of the state where you pick up your car, that means that for people under 20, driving from Los Angeles to NYC is a “no go” while driving from NYC to Los Angeles is a “go go”
  • The tax of the car rental is also state dependent, so a drive across the country will often be hundreds of dollars more expensive when driving from east to west than from west to east. NYC-Los Angeles is much more expensive than Los Angeles to NYC.
  • Florida is the only state where it is required to have an international drivers license to pick up and drive a car. This should be collected at your local NAF office before you go
  • GPS is usually cheaper to buy than to rent, a day of GPS rental can cost the same as as downloading maps for your phone and a couple of weeks GPS rental will probably cost you as much as the price of a brand new GPS in the US (100USD)
  • A lot of American rental companies include a tank of petrol when picking up the car, which can easily be worth 50 US dollars, so in many cases it can be cheaper to divide the car rentals between the cities. Especially if you are travelling through San Fransico, where you can ride the tube and easily get between the different parts of the city or get to the airport without a car
  • “Go big or go home”. Roads in the US are good, the gas is much cheaper and most cars are bigger than here in Europe. It is highly reccomended to get the full American experience and get a car that has enough room for you to travel comfortably with all your stuff. Upgrading locally is really expensive, so doing the upgrade at the time of booking is strongly advised.

Do you have other tips for people going to rent a car in the States, feel free to share them on the comment field below.