Travel Tuesday: Travel Money Guide

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It’s Travel Tuesday so in an attempt to get back to my usual posting schedule I have decided to put up this article, which is not an exhaustive guide but should help point you in the right direction for travel money for short and long term travelling and trips.

Cash machines, banks, travellers cheques, pre-paid credit cards. You have loads of options.

Most people take their money out at a bureau de change (or travel agent) before they leave their hometown. Some people do it at the airport before they depart, or on the ferry. The exchange rates on both are poor and you tend to get very little for your money. There are plenty of other options for sorting out your money abroad, as I found last year when I drove from York UK to Rome Italy in my car.

A laid back attitude can save you loads in exchange fees, and don’t worry, if you can’t find an ATM, most places (including every toll road between here and Rome, every petrol station we went to, and every hotel we stayed in) take credit and debit cards, they’re not baffled by chip and pin, and when you’re at the till, facing a helpful attendant, you’ll probably find trying to articulate your petrol pump number more difficult than the actual paying part. That was my experience, anyway.

When I got home, I was pleasantly surprised to find that my bank hadn’t charged me all those crazy fees they scare you with for using your cards abroad, either. I used both my credit and debit card, depending what I felt like at the time. I was working for minimum wage at a supermarket at the time so I wasn’t well off and bank charges were my biggest worry. Banks love to charge you for accessing your money abroad.

Here’s what I found out about your money options when you go abroad:

1. Cash machines.
The absolute easiest thing to do these days is to just put your card in a cash machine when you get abroad and take some money out in the local currency. I take mine out in blocks of about £200 to make sure I’m making the most of currency charges. I’ve found this to be a LOT cheaper than any bureaux de change either here or on the ferry, and it’s more convenient than carrying round all the money for a longer trip. If you’re staying for a month or two, a foreign bank account might be worth opening. You usually need your passport, proof of address, proof of UK address, and sometimes they want a signed reference e.g. from an employer or college at the country you’re staying in. Check with individual banks for details.

2. Travellers Cheques/ Cheques de Voyage
Nobody uses/accepts these any more, and places probably shouldn’t be issuing them nowadays. It’s like the financial equivalent of a gramophone.

3. Pre-paid credit card
If you’re venturing off alone for the first time, these are a great idea, because you can leave your main bank cards etc at home, so if you get pickpocketed or held up at gunpoint, you can feel safe in the knowledge that your Boots Advantage Card is safe in your house. Unless your house gets robbed. Personally, I would take my usual card with me because one call to the bank gets it cancelled anyway, but it’s up to you because confidence is really important when travelling (especially if you have anxiety) and if this makes you feel more confident about venturing abroad, then go for it.

4. The following banks have branches outside the UK: HSBC, Barclays, Royal Bank of Scotland, and Deutsche Bank (obviously, this is a German bank, but they have a few branches in the UK so you could open an account here before you go abroad and would be an excellent choice if moving to Germany for more than a few months as they have branches EVERYWHERE). Citibank offer a service where you can open a 2nd account in a destination country before you leave the UK if you have a UK account with them (their branches are all in London), and they’re fairly well represented across Europe, so could be a good choice if you are looking to work abroad for a while – especially since you can transfer up to £50,000 instantly between your UK and foreign Citi account, perfect for trips home. All these banks are mentioned because they have branches in several countries across Europe. Outside of Europe, you are probably looking at Barclay’s or HSBC, although they tend to only have branches in capital cities. HOWEVER accounts tend to be country specific so there is generally a more limited range of things you can do in your own bank abroad, check each bank individually to see which ones would be most useful if you’re going abroad. If you’re spending more than a couple of months abroad, it’s well worth opening a foreign bank account and if it’s with your own bank that you bank with in the UK, you should be able to transfer money between accounts and currencies more easily, and some will even do it for free (although this varies, so check).

Here’s a handy link for a list of banks in every country in Europe (and some countries that are clearly NOT in Europe, such as Azerbaijan; thanks Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_banks_in_Europe

Those are the travel money options (unless you want to take a flock of chickens for bartering instead). What do you do about money when you go abroad?

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Why I Risked My Job To See Lynyrd Skynyrd in Concert

I went to see Lynyrd Skynyrd on Wednesday in Manchester.

The day after I received news that my mother had died, in December, I saved Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird” to my bookmarks bar – so I could reach it from anywhere on the internet. My anchor. Hotel California was next to it – that had been there a little while longer. I may have contributed two to three hundred views to both videos over the last four months.

Lynyrd Skynyrd in concert Manchester April 22nd 2015

I knew that The Eagles’ Hotel California had always (to me) represented the death of the ideals of the sixties, the death of “the revolution” and all the rest of it. To my mind, it’s a song about how some people came to the party bringing innocence and were changed by the process they got intertwined with, then one day they wake up and realise the party’s over, and what’s left? What are they without the thing they thought they wanted? I’ve always felt this song very poignantly describes the loss of idealism and the crashing down of reality that eventually (in the UK) birthed both the punk movement and the reactionary new wave music. And before that, the angry young men genre of popular culture (you know, A Clockwork Orange, etc etc).

I digress. My point is that I understood why Hotel California was a present and perpetual influence over my emotional landscape. My mum had introduced it to me. Although she’d explained it as “a bunch of people who wake up one day and realise they’re addicted to drugs then they die.” I guess that interpretation was influenced by the way she lived her life.

But what about Free Bird? I only heard it for the first time last year, around January/February time. I was re-watching Dharma and Greg and realised that I couldn’t call to mind how the song [Free Bird] went. So I Youtubed it. And in the biggest oversight of my life, I realised I’d never actually heard it before.

When my mum died, then, I wasn’t too familiar with the song. I didn’t even know all the words. So why did those mournful chords reach into my heart and resonate so deeply?

Lynyrd Skynyrd in concert Manchester April 22nd 2015

I couldn’t work it out. I just kept listening over and over again, through the pain and sadness, through the regret and wishful thinking, the “if only’s” and the “why didn’t I’s” and it seemed to calm me, to bring me into the present, to centre me. I can’t explain it. It made me feel profoundly sad and utterly calm at the same time, like it was a dance I knew well. It remained a mystery, even as Lynyrd Skynyrd made it onto my Bands Bucket List, and even as I debated whether £90 for two tickets was affordable. I just knew I had to go and see them. Something was drawing me towards them.

This is how, on a school night, I dragged my husband out on the motorway to Manchester and back again, forsaking tea, the night before I had a work trial for a new job, because nothing else was as important as this. I didn’t know why.

Lynyrd Skynyrd in concert Manchester April 22nd 2015

I was enraptured by the whole set. Rickey Medlocke played the guitar with his teeth. Mark Martejka seemed to be playing his guitar with his charm. I stopped counting after Johnny Colt changed into his third hat of the set; a goggled top hat of the Steampunk variety, superceding some sort of furry animal. Gary Rossington’s black hat was far more rock-n-roll.  They did all their big ones – Simple Man, Tuesday’s Gone, That Smell… Someone a little closer to the front than me passed forward an adorable bear who was holding a card. Rather than discard it like any other band would have, Johnny Van Zant personally took it from her, thanked her, and showed everyone what it was before carefully putting it somewhere safe.  The level of interaction between the band and the crowd made you feel like this was all just a musical conversation, like you were catching up with old friends who you’d known for your whole life.  People you’d want to grab a beer with.

Lynyrd Skynyrd in concert Manchester April 22nd 2015 Johnny Van Zant

I noticed the confederate flag finally made an appearance at some point but I couldn’t tell you when, it wasn’t out for long, and it sat along side the stars and stripes which was out for the whole show. They’re really into their flags – they had the Union Jack out at one point as well, for Simple Man, which was dedicated to the American and British troops. I’ve heard (in the past) a lot of mumblings about associating the Confederate Flag with racism. Well, I’ve only ever associated it with the South and with the Dukes of Hazzard and with Lynyrd Skynyrd. Without getting into historiography, by taking the symbol and using it in this way, they are making it symbolize wholesomeness – the comparative freedom of the South, it’s values and distinctly different culture than that of the North. Perhaps I feel parallels between the American South and the English North. Anyways, we got to Sweet Home Alabama and the band all left. I started to wonder if they were going to play it. The suspense was tense. But the energy of the crowd buoyed me along – they seemed to be in on the joke.

Lynyrd Skynyrd in concert Manchester April 22nd 2015 confederate flag

Lynyrd Skynyrd in concert Manchester April 22nd 2015 Sweet Home Alabama Confederate Flag

I didn’t know at the time that they always play Free Bird for the encore.

Anyway, they came back out, and Peter Keys started a little something on the keyboard, and I didn’t really recognize it. Perhaps they were going to play something else instead.

Then the tune he was playing somehow morphed into the opening bars, and before I knew it, Free Bird was starting. If I could have saved one moment of my life to relive again and again, I’d choose the next twelve or so minutes. Johnny Van Zant nailed the lyrics (of course), it was just as perfect, no, it was more perfect than I had imagined. During the first chorus I started to cry a little, and I must have imagined it, but it seemed like Johnny had caught my eye, then got misty-eyed himself. I had to pull myself together. The rest of the verses went by too fast, I was hanging onto his every word, to every note, every drum beat. Then the extended instrumental solo started to rise up like a wave. Now, I’m not a surfer, but I think I got a good feel for what it’s like to surf just then. I started to feel buoyed up by the music, I marvelled that there were actual living people in front of me playing a song I’d only heard through my speakers. Michael Cartellone’s drums underscored the guitars that were weaving waves; I got higher and higher… then right at the crest of the wave, there was a light show. I got a little bit mesmerised with the lights on the ceiling (like a cat with a laser pointer) and I was just waving my hands above me and staring at the ceiling feeling like I was on some kind of acid (but I wasn’t).

Then it ended. I don’t know how it ended, it just washed away again and I was treading water in a sea of people. Then I managed to get a t-shirt. Having people selling merchandise out in the car park was pure genius to stop a bottleneck.

lynyrd skynyrd empty stage

I went home. I let the feelings settle. I was awestruck that those guys do that EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. Just… wow. When they were playing, you genuinely believe that you are the only person in the audience and that they are playing just for you, that you are special and somehow, the world has been a brighter place since then. As I said before, it’s like going for a beer with some longtime friends.

If I never get to see another band off my bands bucket list (the bands I need to see before they kick the bucket), I don’t think I’ll feel like I’ve missed out. I don’t think any band I ever see after this could blow me away more than Lynyrd Skynyrd did on Wednesday.  I know that lots of bands were being referred to in Terry Pratchett’s Soul Music, but for me, Lynyrd Skynyrd are officially The Band With Rocks In.

I was listening to Free Bird again on Friday via my mobile phone, stuffed into the car ashtray for volume, as my car has no sound system, and on the second replay, I suddenly understood why I’d stuck to it. It wasn’t that it felt like a message from my mum to me. It was from me to her. I was the Free Bird.

Back in 2005, I told her I wanted to go to university, she took it very badly and tried to kill me (she was in complete denial of some very big mental health problems and, despite the fact she’s always had a personality disorder, she literally wasn’t the same person or people who I’d grown up with – or taken care of since she ended up in a wheelchair when I was 9 years old), and when she failed to kill me, she called the police on me. They arrested me for breach of the peace even though she was the one who was shouting and screaming. When they let me out (no charges pressed, not even a caution, because the desk sergeant knew what she was like), they advised me not to go back. So I had left, I went away, I had to move on because otherwise I was going to die inside like a caged bird. So I spread my wings, I went on my own way, made a life for myself, it was hard having nobody in the world, and I felt awful for leaving, and worried about who was looking after my mother, especially after my sister ended up in a children’s home, and then ten years later, after struggling with anxiety for a year and paying for counselling, the very DAY after my last counselling session when I’d made my peace with what had happened, out of the blue I got a call from my sister who said she’d died of cancer. I went manic for a couple of weeks. Then when I came back down I just felt so bad that I had ever left.

I think the line that really made me realise why I’d fixated on this song is “If I stay here with you, girl, things just wouldn’t be the same.  ‘Cause I’m as free as a bird now, and this bird you cannot change.” I was always conflicted over leaving but there was no possible way I could stay any longer than I did because I couldn’t keep looking after her. I’d tried to stay, and things hadn’t been like they were before. I hated myself but I couldn’t stay. I had to go out and see everything and do everything and climb mountains and fall off high things and fall in love and protest against fascism and finish school and get a degree and work for minimum wage at 4am and get married and be down and out in a capital city and work as a professional ice skater and learn the ukulele and drive across Europe and go on a train across Europe and eat weird stuff and publish books and lose religion and find it again and lose it again and find it again and go to festivals and be in a film and…………..

so many things.

And I’m crying as I write this. Because I know that my mum – the persona who was motherly and caring and who occasionally tucked me in bed at night and would tell me a story or pre-set my keyboard with a lullaby, that mum would want me to go and do all those things. And all the other things I’ve done and am doing and am going to do. She would never have wanted to know she was causing me so much pain and anguish by making me stay and physically and mentally abusing me. That wasn’t the same person. And if I’d stayed, I wouldn’t have been able to look after my mum who read to me, I would have been hiding in a box from the mum who I ended up on three categories of the child protection register because of.

All through my childhood she was two different people, and one of them I cared so much about and didn’t want to leave behind, not ever. But the other one was nasty, and was just filled to the brim with vitriol and hatred and cruelty. And one day the nice one went away and never came back, and the nasty one got worse than she’d ever been before.

And that song is how I would explain it to her if I could. I know she can’t hear me. I always hoped she’d live to 80 and that the nice part would come back one day and that she could be part of my life again and I could make her proud.

And instead of feeling so full like it’s going to overflow with the lava of loss and pain and confusion, my heart feels quieter when I hear Free Bird. It’s like someone’s found out how my soul resonates and they’re playing it out loud.

I know they’ll never read this, and I know that there are probably millions of people who feel the same way about this song, but it just means so much to me, like no other song I know. Thank you, Lynyrd Skynyrd, for keeping your music alive, and for keeping the band going again after that first tribute in the 1980s. You guys are just so much bigger than the rest of us. I’m so glad I got a chance to see you perform and that I was only four from the front.  If anyone else is debating whether to see them or not, just go for it, they’re well worth the time and effort.

Oh and the next morning? I got to work on time and at the end of the day the manager didn’t even ask if I wanted the job, they just asked me for my bank details and gave me shifts for next week.  And I reckon that if I can get through a housekeeping shift after getting to bed at 2am and getting up at 6am and walking there, then I can probably keep doing this job for at least a little while.  Which is all I can ever commit to anything, except my dear husband who I have promised to always come home to, wherever I go to in the meantime.

See what’s on the rest of my Bands Bucket list
Other concerts I’ve reviewed.

The Pros and Cons Tag

So I saw this pros and cons tag on Megan’s blog: here

1. Write a list of things you think are “pros” about yourself. 

2. Write a list of things you think are “cons” about yourself.

3. Post and share! If you’d like to link back to this post, that’s cool too, but I’m not saying that’s necessary. 

1. Pros:

I think big.  I dream big and have a lot of big plans and ideas of all the things I want to do and achieve.

I have finally got my hair to the colour I’ve always wanted, and it’s been like this for about 8 months now.

I really really care about rabbits, as well as other soft fluffies, featheries, and so on, to the point where I want to take them all home and look after them all.

I come across as very confident even though I have no self esteem.  Although that’s less “fake it till you make it” and more “fake it till this depressive phase ends or I’ll be stuck in the house for weeks.”

I absolutely LOVE the great outdoors even though I also love being curled up at home with a good book, or having a chinwag when I’m out on the town with friends.

I’ve pretty much resolved my panic attacks by finding out what causes them and trying to take action to avoid that general situation, coupled with mindfulness techniques to calm myself for when the situation is unavoidable.

I love health and nutrition and am always finding new ways to improve the nutritional quality of the food I eat.

I try very hard not to let my cray cray affect my daily life.  Sometimes I succeed at this for weeks or months at a time.

2. Cons:

These can be pretty much summed up by: “I am a perfectionist, and I am as crazy as a bag of frogs.”

As soon as I’ve achieved something, I can’t celebrate that success, I’m looking for the next thing to achieve.

If I decide I’ve touched something dirty, or that someone else with dirty hands has touched, I have to wash my hands.

Sometimes that includes the tap handles, which obviously creates a negative feedback loop if I can’t clean them.

PRO: This almost never happens when I’m outdoors, which is bizarre when you think of all the bacteria out there.

I start pining for the fjords when I’m kept in a cage of day to day working for long periods of time, which makes me miserable.  I’m a free bird and I don’t cope very well with pointless “gainful” employment even though it gives me money to do stuff.  I’m even worse with part-time where I have to stick around to go to work but don’t get enough money to do stuff.

Sometimes I can go for entire weeks on a few hours’ sleep, other times I need 16 hours a day.

The above makes it very difficult to keep a job for longer than a few months.

I can be very particular about tasks, because I want to make sure they’re done properly.

I can be far too honest for my own good, including paying full price at attractions, returning money to people, reporting problems, paying for things when people have forgotten to charge me, etc.  I think life would be easier if I didn’t do this, but I can’t help it.

Sometimes I get bored and have so much energy that I go off and do something that seems like a great idea at the time but often turns out to be really stupid.  Then I regret it 6 weeks later when I’m back to normal…

…Other times I can’t leave the house for weeks on end, or I just can’t go to work.

The worst one of all: I am 28 and I have no fricking clue what I want to do with my life despite having tried 26 different jobs in the past 10 years (not including the five different businesses I’ve run in the past, and not including multiples of the same job role, so for example I’ve worked in several secondary schools as a science teacher but am counting science teacher as one job).  I’ve got to run out of things and decide what to do sometime soon, right??

Wow.  That was quite scary writing all that down and putting it out on the internet.  It’s not exhaustive.  If you want to tag yourself and do the pros and cons tag, feel free to link back or link to Megan’s original article, I’d love to see what other people think are their strengths and weaknesses.