Australia Day 14 – An Otherwise Normal Day

Distance Travelled: 125 km

Steps Taken: 6643

 

Today marks two weeks in Australia.  At this point, most people have had a nice long vacation and are ready to head back home.  We, on the other hand, still have 4 weeks in Australia and another 4 weeks in New Zealand.  The span of time alone is almost daunting.

Today we took a little break and had a “normal” day.  We didn’t start our day with this plan, we had actually planned to do a long drive!  As we came into Rockhampton, we saw a mall that was open and needed some lunch.  Well, one thing turned into another and this was our day…

It started off like most days with some driving.

We passed by some interesting signs ( I just can’t get over the signs here!)

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We learned that we have entered into the Tropic of Capricorn.  A very interesting latitude that is shared with places like Chile, Southern Brazil and South Africa.

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I had tried wearing Scarlet backpack style, she settled down quickly, but lunch came so quick that we didn’t spend much time with it.

Lunch, by the way, was DELICIOUS!

 

Walking around this mall we found Kmart!

Roland quickly grabbed himself a basket and off he went!  No parent was invovled in this activity, this was all Roland!

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After doing a little shopping we went to the movie theater just in time to see the new Smurf movie.

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It was such a nice treat to just sit and relax for a few hours.

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We found a place right outside of Rockhampton to stay for the night and even picked up a pizza on the way out of town.   Dominos had this fantastic board so you know what stage your order is in. 🙂

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Day 13 – Wild Dolphins

 

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Today is a special day.  Not only is Scarlet now 7 months old but we are headed to the Barnacles Dolfin Centre!

This fantastic group of volunteers has taken on the responsibility of helping to keep this rare species of Australian Humpback Dolfin safe due to a set of circumstances that have brought them to this little cafe on the shores of this little bay.

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These wild dolphins came to this little spot first in 1950, as one was injured and beached himself in front of the cafe.  The locals began to feed him and named him “Ols Scarry”, for the battle scars seen on his body.  After gaining his strength, he returned to the wild but continued to visit for free fish.

Some years later another dolphin began to visit the same location, “Scary” and she began to bring her calf in 1991. The calf “Mystique” is now the Alpha leader of the pod and visits the bay daily for a free meal and other members of the pod can be seen as well.

It should be mentioned again that these are WILD dolphins.  There hare heavy fine for anyone who touches or swims with these rare creatures.  They are fed 1/8th of their daily intake and are fed ONLY fish that are caught in the estuary they feed in. This experience is heavily controlled for the safety of the dolphins.

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Despite waking at 6, skipping breakfast and heading straight over, we still had quite the line of people in front of us.

Members of the pod usually show up around 7 am and feeding starts at 8 am.  Naturally, holidays and weekends are busier and I recommend you show up no later than 6:30.  Currently (as of April 2017) the cost of entry is $5 per person and $5 per fish.

Since the amount of fish is limited for each dolphin the staff proposed that today, with the LARGE number of people, that we all let the children have the opportunity first.

We were fortunate enough to have Mystique and his son Harmony come and visit today.

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Once 7 am arrives, small groups of people are lead onto the shore (after removing shoes and sanitizing hands).  There the volunteers, who are also standing in the water will tell you about the dolphins.

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After getting up close we waited around until feeding time at 8 am.

 

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Here, Roland is handing Kevin his Fish Ticket so that he can feed the dolphins.

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The volunteers helped us to hold the fish just right, head first so Harmony could have his breakfast.  I was just amazed at how gentle he was. Gingerly taking the fish from Roland.

 

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Roland even managed to score another fish from a large family with 8 children.  When Mom saw Roland wanted another fish, she insisted he have one of hers and off we went to feed Mystique.

I’m telling you, this kid gets soooo many free things.  He doesn’t know how lucky he truly is.

A few things to note about visiting the dolphins.

1. Get there early

2. They are wild and may not be there every day.

3.  Flash photography is like an arc welder to their eyes (Blindly Bright)

4.  Put the phone on Airplane Mode.  Your phone going off (even in silent mode) will disrupt their sonar and could scare them off for the day.

5.  The Barnacles Cafe serves an amazing breakfast so stick around and enjoy your time in Tin Can Bay.  There is also a public pool and park.

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Roland found a digger!

As we drove out of Tin Can Bay we were treated to many more wonderful sights of Australia.  I have seen several wonderful murals in the small towns we pass through.

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The signs continue to entertain us, this time intentionally!

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Fatigue Zone: Question: What’s a group of toads?

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Answer: A Knot

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The varied landscape continues to change.  Forest, Mountains, Grasslands.

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Fires are no joking matter here. Most of the forests we see have burn marks on the trees.  The warning goes all the way to “Catastrophic”!!!

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Flooding is another problem they have. 

 

We also made a side trip into Woolworths to restock

 

So you know those pictures of toddlers left alone for just a few minutes. The ones where they cause a disastrous mess.  Flour all over the kitchen, markers on siblings, bum cream.

Well, I know this camper will never be the same after Roland has been living in it for 6 weeks.

 

 

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I gave him a yogurt pouch to have while we drove.   A few minutes later I look back on this mess.

One of the signs we have seen a few time is Wild Cows

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Today I’m pretty sure we actually saw some!  No, I didn’t get a picture of them but Dan starts referencing the song “Wild Boys”.  I didn’t know it and had no signal to look it up.  He wanted to be funny and start singing “Wild Cows”.

Tonight we stopped in “Green Achers” for the night and as I come back from a short walk I can hear music coming from the camper.

Apparently, all he did was turn on the radio and there it was.  I had no words when I walked in and heard this.

 

Australia – Day 10 Butterflies, Beets and Ballina

Distance Driven: 230 KM

Steps Taken: 7305

 

The place we stayed at last night was spectacular.  Bellinger River Tourist Park has beautiful views, new amenities and most importantly, is full of friendly people.

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Roland had the chance to play at their little park.

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We met a few dogs but Molly was by far his favourite.  Her owners, Kevin and Ann, were just as wonderful.

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Roland helped Ann with her washing and Kevin shared all sorts of interesting information about himself (he is a Vietnam Vet) and the local area.  We have a few places to add to our must-see list!

Roland even scored a kinder egg and toy truck from Ann, much to his delight!

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Our first, and really only, stop today was a Butterfly House just south of Coffs Harbour.

 

They have a maze that Roland was so eager to get into that we had to quickly run after him as we though he had just ducked behind a bush!  He found that entrance and was off, quick as a flash and giggling like crazy. (we are in for so much more trouble with this one!)

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The maze inside the maze

They have a wonderful butterfly house with several species.

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As this is a school holiday locally there were several groups of children.

They also have a “Bug House” with several impressive looking local bugs.  Some were very hard to find as the really do camouflage very well into their surroundings.

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We decided to grab lunch at the café before leaving and Dan was rather distressed at the face they put beets on his burger!   I thought it was great!! (I love beets)

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Our drive has given us much more beautiful scenery with the addition of interesting signs like Kangaroo or Koala crossings.  This one, however, was the most surprising!!!

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Roland can get a bit silly in the car when he is stuck sitting for a while.  He does strange things like sucking his big toe, boys are gross.

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One big long drive later (most of which the kids were sleeping for) and we arrived in Ballina.

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Just for the record.  I don’t like prawns.  They make me gag a bit.  I worked in a seafood department at a local grocery store and on occasion we sold prawns.  Their eyes would always fall off and stick to the ice.  Barf.

 

Tomorrow we will actually have time to discover the place we have chosen.

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So, as I’m writing this, Dan has gone out for a walk into town.  It’s a few kilometers away.  I just heard the first few drops of rain and thought “oh no!” and now it sounds like a torrential downpour. You can image the words Dan is saying right now.

 

Day 8 – Driving North and Making Friends

Distance Traveled: 248 km

Steps Taken: 10,942

 

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The Beast

 

I got to drive today!  Talk about stressful but it truly does get more comfortable as the day goes on.

I think we have hit a turning point, finally.  Everyone had a good long nights sleep, no super early mornings and both kids were dressed super warm.  It was only 7C when we woke up.

Dan doesn’t deal with the cold in the mornings as well so a warm breakfast was on order.  I, however, threw on my running gear and headed out (leaving Dan to deal with “Hangry” Roland) Oh and we ran out of coffee this morning.

My morning run was just what I needed.  There was little trail to follow so I made a few loops of it trying to discover if there was more.

 

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Insert Creepy Music Here!!

I’m not gonna lie.  When I ran down this little side trail and saw this car I expected either someone to jump out or to find a skeleton inside.  Super creepy.

 

 

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So off we headed and quickly stopped for coffee at the first McDonalds we saw! 

BTW, fastest time yet again!

 

The main part of our journey today was driving on the M1

These rock cuts are just something else.  Just think of the blasting that went into this and there are so many of these and often the highway is divided by one of these cuts.

We took a break at a rest area near Mooney Mooney in the Central Coast and had the pleasure of meeting two Rural Fire Fighters, Robert and Boyd.  We learned a little about rural fires and how they are “put out” and they had a laugh at the size of the grass fires we get at home (Their last grass fire was 1000’s of archers).

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A little further down the road, we stopped for lunch and Roland got to pet another dog (an occurrence that happens as often as Roland can manage!).  Here we met “Darcy” and her people parents, who were on their way home to Nelson Bay.

Everyone we meet is so friendly and happy to have a conversation.  They are warm and welcoming and happy to offer polite suggestions about the are and places we might find interesting.  Even grocery shopping at Woolworth’s provides entertaining conversations with the kids involved.  We learned this with Roland in Belize, children make excellent ice breakers.

I try to keep flexibility in mind as we drive around.  After all, Life is about the Journey.  We happen to see a directional sign for Toronto and just had to check it out.

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Tonight we are setting up in the dark at a caravan park in Heatherbrae, NSW and from here I think we will put a good couple more days of driving in.  Our next major destination is Gold Coast, almost 700km away.

 

 

 

 

 

Day 7 – Blue Mountains

Distance Driven: 47km

Steps Taken: 7,573

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Good Morning!

The Blue Mountains are a unique range of mountains that are like no others in the world.  They are known for not only their stunning sites but the blue haze caused by light, dust particles and the oils given off by the Eucalyptus Tree.

Today was our quickest day yet for getting going in the morning.  We ate breakfast and even had time to play at the park before leaving by the 10:00 check out time (yesterday took us until 12:00).  I am also happy to say that we have finally finished unpacking.  I have no clue where I put everything but our suitcase is empty and put into storage under the camper.

We first headed off to Govetts Leap Lookout in Blackheath

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Our second stop was Echo Point where we had specular views of the Three Sisters and the surrounding area.  This was clearly the most popular lookout as there were several tour buses and NO parking available.  We managed to find a side street with parking and as both kids were sleeping, I headed off to see the sights and bring back lunch.

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As time marched on, so quickly as it does every day, we chose one last lookout for the day, Wentworth Falls.

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We were given the opportunity to have coffee and a small snack, sold by a local company who sets up a van and make excellent coffee.  By they way, we are still not sure how to get a cup of coffee like home, it’s just not the same.  Today we tried a Flat White instead of a Long black.  I like it.

Getting settled into a motorhome that feels massive when driving and like a tin can when moving about, has been an adjustment.  We are slowly getting the hang of things and I’m sure by the end of this 10-week adventure we will with love it or hate it but we will be experts either way.

Tonight we needed to bathe both kids.  It was a fun experiment.

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Here is a video of what our home looks like today.

Tonight we have chosen a free campground.  There is a small loop of dirt road at a rest stop there you can park for the night.  There were washrooms and even showers.

I have had a massive headache all day.  I tried to drive but it was just too much.  As the thunder of an impending storm started to roll in I figured out the source of that pain.  Now, with the storm past, I feel much better.

Day 6 – Fire Museum

Day 6 – Fire Museum

Kilometers Driven: 95

Steps walked: 7754

Poor Scarlet woke up so cold this morning.  It was boiling hot when we went to bed and now we are all cold.  I’ve clearly forgotten that I am subject to the elements, just like in a tent.  The camper offers little protection from changing temperatures.

Our first breakfast in the camper was a simple one of yogurt with Rice Pops, PB&J on toast with scrambled eggs.  As we continue to unpack things are starting to settle in and I hope to bring you a tour of our new “home” in a few days.

 

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Roland got super excited to see this one!

 

Yesterday we passed through a town called Penrith and spotted a Fire Museum.  So, on our way back towards the Blue Mountains we decided it would be fun to stop in and take a look.

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Added bonus to traveling in your “house”

When we arrived at the museum both kids were sound asleep and I don’t like to wake sleeping babies. I simply got up and started to make lunch while they slept.  Once awake we were able to eat right away and head on inside.

Roland had such a great time looking at the different Fire Trucks and then there was a play area at the end that was the source of great excitement.

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Being a Saturday there were a few other families there. I met Paul, the grandfather of one of the children running around.

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He asked me about the lenses on my phone.  I have this clip on wide angle lenses with a polarizing filter added on top. This little thing is fantastic.  It lets me fit soo much more into my pictures.

I truly had such a nice conversation with Paul.  He told me all about his father who was the first causality in the construction of the Sydney Opera House and about the tiles on the sails being porcelain.  He was also kind enough to surprise Roland with a Fire Hat from the museum’s gift shop.

 

 

After the Fire Museum, we headed west to drive through the main passage through the blue mountains.

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Tonight, we are staying in Blackheath and we are 1060 ft above the sea.    When we started to climb, it was 24C and now only an hour later and still day, we are at just 15C.

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Every night we find a better way to get ready for bed and start to settle into new routines.  Roland was VERY excited to see his new Penguin Pajamas tonight! Scarlet is also sporting new “Little Sister” jammies.

Day 5- The Beast

 

Today was a rather simple day.  Picking up our camper AKA “The Beast”.  Again we were up rather early and had a head start getting packed up and off to breakfast.  I had french toast with a poached pear, mascarpone cheese, Canadian maple syrup and toasted pecans.  I was too hungry to think about taking a picture so here is my beautiful cappuccino.

They were also setting up a market nearby.


So off we went to get this great big mobile home. Caravan is the most common word we hear being used but Roland prefers Camper.

As we left the city we got to see what (in my mind) can only be described as the Paw Patrol Lookout

 


We also got to experience the tunnels Sydney has built.

 


We spent the remainder of our day driving towards the Blue Mountains and calling around to find a place to sleep for the night. We also did our first grocery shop.

I find I am rather set in my way about the brands and foods I buy. It can be a little frustrating at first but I just keep reading myself self that there is an opportunity to try new things.

Day 4 – Sydney Opera House and Zoo

Day 4 started very early. Like 3:30 am kind of early.

 


Yeah, no one can give us a straight answer about what happened.

Since I was up so early it only made sense to take a time-lapse video of the sunrise.

 


Once we got going we took a long walk around the harbor to find breakfast and headed out to the Sydney Opera House.

 

 

I gave Roland his own camera today. It’s an old digital and I don’t expect anything will come of it but he is just so excited to run around and take pictures!!!


The whole harbor is just beautiful.

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Alright, I’m going to say it. I thought it was going to be white. All the pictures I have seen make it look white.

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Did you know all the tiles are made of porcelain?
It’s beige at best.

Much to Roland’s delight, we even spotted a sleeping seal.


Back to the hotel room for a quick recharge and refresh AKA restocking the diaper bag and cooling down.

 


We headed back to the harbor to take the ferry straight over to the Taronga Zoo. Talk about affordable travel!! We loved it and let’s be honest. Roland thought it was pretty cool too.


This Zoo was amazing. The vegetation was lush making the trails shaded. We never felt overwhelmed by the size and we got to see some pretty cool animals!

 

We took the Sky Train for a loop to get a great overview of the whole Zoo.

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We had the opportunity to see the platypus.  It is a nocturnal and very shy animal so the video is obviously dark.  They are quite smaller than I would have expected and VERY fast under the water.

We rented a stroller for Roland and Scarlet even got the chance to be cut loose from the carrier.  We stopped in at the gift shop to return it and I contemplated getting Roland a new stuffy to commemorate his visit.  I would have thought he would choose a Giraffe or perhaps and Elephant as they seem to be his favorite.  What did he like the most?

 

A sheep.  Yeah,  I’m not buying a stuffed sheep at the Zoo.

As we headed back “home” we scored a free ferry ride (the ticket machine was broken) and I took the opportunity to pick up a few items we were running low on.  I also wanted to get Roland some dinner that was not from a restaurant.  The “Easy Mart” was crazy expensive but I found some interesting, kinda like home, items.

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I also stopped at the pharmacy for diapers and was given this fantastic little gift.

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Inside were diapers, wipes, banana holder, CPR guide, samples of soap, powder, and creams along with several reading items.  What a nice way to end our day.

 

Day 1 – Best decision I ever made!

It’s 6:00 am my time, that is according to my body anyway. I’ve managed a few hours of awkward sleep laying across a few empty seats. It’s Dan’s turn now. As I sit trying to get a good position upright, I’m not even sure I will sleep again.

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A flight attendant rushes by and suddenly I’m eating a full-size KitKat. For breakfast. So is that day one completed? Or is it still going?

I was a little nervous earlier today.

We are headed to Australia.  There are 2 flights and one of them is 17 hours LONG!

We flew from Toronto to Dallas/Fortworth this morning and had chosen a 12-hour layover.

Yes, 12 hours.  I know most people HATE layovers and want them as short as humanly possible, short of running like a mad man through the airport!

Our plan was to get a room at a nearby hotel and spend the day there.   I have only had the opportunity to do anything like this once, coming home from Haiti.  As a group of adults, we spent the afternoon in Florida and I was more of the “tag along ” than the leader.

 

Fortunately, for us, our luggage was directed from one plane to the next. So, with our carry-on items, we grabbed the shuttle and were whisked off to a hotel for the day!

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Turns out this was the Best idea ever. We had a room with a king bed and a sitting area. We quickly sprawled out and breathed. Relaxed. Ate lunch. And then we ALL napped. It was amazing to have all four napping at the same time in the same room.

AUS 12It gives me hope for my anxieties about sleeping in the camper.

Apparently our layover needed a bit of a side trip. We busted the main zipper on one backpack, Roland became a poop machine and we needed more diapers.

I had already taken a walk down the road to Whataburger and the gas station store with no luck (other than lunch of course).

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So we all piled into a cab and off to Walmart we went. It was an expensive ride but a fun little side trip and Roland had a blast (as he does everywhere he goes)

 

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When we returned from our “Walmart Tour” we reflected on the day and both agreed how rested and relaxed we felt. Just having this break made it feel like two separate trips rather than one incredibly long 30-hour long ordeal!

 

 

Back at the airport, Roland found more and more fun. He made friends with all the TSA security and helped brighten their day (trust me they were looking a little crabby before dealing with happy little Roland).

 

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We grabbed some supper and Roland started to hit overdrive.

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Scarlet in the Ergo has been amazing. She hangs out and naps when she’s tired. My shoulders are sore but I am soooo happy to have it.

Once we boarded flight number two we quickly realized just how wonderful airlines OUTSIDE Noth America are.  Friendly, accommodating, caring, happy people work here!

Late dinner and got the kids sleeping, Scarlet in a bassinet on the wall and Roland sprawled across two seats.

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How to save money when paying in a foreign currency. 

Things you didn’t know about booking your vacation in a foreign currency.
How to save money when paying in a foreign currency.
I have been working super hard to pick out hotels, holiday parks, tours, trips, rentals and the list goes on.

I have been working super hard to pick out hotels, holiday parks, tours, trips, rentals and the list goes on.
When dealing with travel it often means dealing with another currency.
Here is a list of what to look out for and how to save money!

1. Check the fine print!!

Some companies will charge you a fee to pay with your credit card. The fee may even be higher for certain types of cards, like American Express vs. Visa or MasterCard.

2. More fine print!!!

If you are paying by credit card, check the fine print. Your card may charge you a percentage of the transaction on top of their exchange rate. For example, you book a hotel room online or in person and your card is charged by the hotel in their currency. The charge on the card may be 2.5% higher with fees. If you are using your card a lot or for expensive purchases (like a car rental), this can add up to hundreds of $$$$!

3. Think the bank is better?

Big banks can send a money wire but it might cost you big $$$$. Check your local bank for their set fees.

How to avoid these expensive money grabs by finding other ways to pay.

1. There are companies that specialize is foreign money transfers and can often offer much lower rates. For example, I just sent a money wire for $15 CND. MY BANK WOULD HAVE COST $100

2. Do the math. If your transfer fee is $15 vs. your credit card charging you 2.5% (as mine does), than anything less then $600 is cheaper on the credit card and anything over $600 you should try to find a money transfer with a fee of $15. Just do the math with your card and the services in your area. (Hey look, I used my algebra skills!!!)

2.  Book your vacation that will allow you to pay in your home currency.

There are sooooo many travel sites out there that will help you to search and book flights, hotels, cars and even tours/attractions.  If you can prebook and prepay the full amount using one of these sites you will avoid the hassle of dealing with foreign currencies.

3.  Get Cash

If you can go to “your bank” in another country you may be able to avoid some extra fees and just pay the banks exchange rate.

If your bank doesn’t exist in the country you are visiting you may be able to visit an affiliated bank.  In Australia, for example, Scotiabank will allow me to withdraw cash using my debit card from Westpac.  No extra fees, just their posted exchange rate.

 

 

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Scotiabank. Placencia, Belize