24 Nov

Managing Your Money: On The Road

Canadian Coins

So you’ve saved and saved and saved, put away your refund determined by a tax estimator, and now it’s finally time to hit the road. How are you going to manage that wad of cash while you’re away? The more thought and planning that you put into this before you leave, the easier it will all go while you’re on the road.





Managing The Bank Accounts

We used a two tiered bank account system:

  • Our primary savings account was with a brick and mortar bank in our home town. This account was the highest interest savings account we could find so that we could maximize the money our money was making for us while we were away.
  • Our daily use account was with an on-line bank that offered free ATM withdrawals in foreign countries. We kept at most $2000 at a time in this account and, as it depleted, we would transfer money to it from the primary savings account. We set this account up as a ‘bill payment’ on the primary account and would simply electronically pay the bill to fill up the account.

Debit Cards

Our main method of obtaining cash while we were away was ATM’s. We had barely any trouble finding bank machines everywhere we went. Every major city or town has at least one. If we were heading somewhere very small we would make sure we had taken enough out already. Even Laos, which by all accounts had a dearth of ATM’s, had more than enough to make access easy.

Depending on the local ATM fees (remember, our bank account didn’t charge any ATM fees but sometimes the local machine itself does), we would take out enough money to last a couple of days. Cash is king on the road so this meant we always had to have enough to cover transport, hotel, food, drink and entertainment.

Have a back up!!! We carried two ATM cards each for our daily bank account and an additional ATM card each for the savings account. We never kept all of these in the same place for obvious reasons.

The need for this became abundantly clear on the day that the ATM machine in Nha Trang, Vietnam munched on Jason’s’ card. We watched in horror as it repeatedly didn’t spit it out all the way and kept sucking it back in…and then it stopped trying and just kept it. Bummer.

Credit Cards

We used credit cards only for airline tickets and to secure reservations (if needed). The interest charged on credit cards is outrageous and so we paid the balance as soon as possible from our savings account. We used credit cards only for the convenience of them…it’s hard to pay for an online airline ticket with cash!

Ca$h Is King!

Cash ruled the world everywhere we went. Most places don’t take credit cards never mind debit cards and, even if they do, they likely charge more for the privilege (it costs them so they pass the cost on to you).

Never accept torn, ripped, dirty or wrinkled bills…if you do you are being used as a dumping ground for these bills. Merchants will often refuse bills that are torn, ripped, dirty or wrinkled too much so you shouldn’t accept them either.

Back Up To The Back Up

We carried $500US cash in our bags as the ultimate backup. We had heard that some visas and entry fees could only be paid in US cash (and found that to be true) so we brought this along for those occasions. We made sure that the bank issued us crisp, clean, unmarked, whole bills and kept them in that state as we travelled. Once in a while we found an ATM that dispensed US dollars (I have no idea why) and so we would top up this fund at that time, although the original $500 would have gotten us through.

Currency Exchange

Try to limit the cash you need to exchange at a border crossing – you will most definitely get ripped off. Not only is it a bad exchange rate but we found that sheisters tried (and succeeded) in confusing us by talking quickly, quoting exchange rates from one currency to American dollars and then into the second currency, and pushing to have the transaction take place quickly. More than once we walked away thinking ‘hey, wait a minute’…but it was done. We instituted a policy that we both had to understand and agree to the math before we made an exchange. If you want to get ahead of the game, click here to order your foreign currency before you get to your destination. That way you can avoid being ripped off!

Keep Track Of Every Dime

Always know the state of the budget. It’s fine to be over (and even better to be under!) but you should know where it’s going and have some idea whether you can make it up or not. The last thing you want is to run out of money before you run out of time!!

I set up a spreadsheet before we left that tracked all the money in about 6 categories (you can check it out here). We had a budget notebook with us all the time and would simply write down all the money we spent. Every couple of days I would update the spreadsheet – I had already set it all up to do the math so could keep track of it all very easily.


It’s your money…make it work for you!!

18 Nov

India Is Hard

We entered India one year ago today.

It is a place that I had been looking forward to seeing for many, many years. I was nervous and apprehensive but, more-so, I was excited. Finally I would be able to see what this great, magical country had to offer.

I learned, more than anything, that India is hard. But I also learned that it has great beauty, deep history, resilient people…and camels!!

In September I shared some stories and slides from our trip to family and friends. It turned out (despite my nerves), to be a fabulous evening and I had a great time. One of the stories I told was about our time in India.

I had a friend film the story-telling for me. I thought I would share it today as I remember back to arriving in my most-anticipated country. I apologize for the poor quality – we were not set up for filming so it’s pretty dark but it gives an idea of how the evening went.

India is Hard from Gillian Duffy on Vimeo.

14 Nov

OneGiantStep Changes It Up


I have had this picture as my screen saver at work since I got back from our trip.

For me, it represents the OneGiantStep I have taken outside of my comfort zone in the past 2 ½ years. It reminds me daily of my commitment to live a more uncomfortable life…to step out and try things that are hard, that test me, that make me grow.

And so OneGiantStep must grow too.

I like that maybe I inspire people and I think more people need to be inspired. I want to show people that, whatever their dream, it’s only OneGiantStep away…that it’s not that far…it just seems that way.

I want to continue writing about our experiences while we were away but I also want to share more about how we got where we are…both the planning of the trip and the mind shift that allowed it to happen. And I want to share more about where we see ourselves going…we have bigger goals than ever, and plans to make it happen!

And so that’s what it’s going to look like around here. I hope you’ll stay and help – contribute your voice, ask questions, challenge yourself and others.

I have a few people to thank for helping me with the redesign:

  • First up is tech support. Jason (the other ½ of OneGiantStep) has done an amazing job of tweaking the code and making sure it all looks right for me. It would have taken me forever to figure out what he did in a fraction of the time.
  • Clark of ToUncertaintyAndBeyond tipped me off to the Theme Test Drive plugin that made this whole redesign so much easier. Using this plugin I was able to see and tweak the new site without ever affecting the existing site. I don’t know how else I would have done it.
  • Last, but certainly not least, is HopAndJaunt for designing the fabulous new header and logo. I love, love, love it!! They were so patient with me…I used non-creative, totally vague language to describe what I wanted and then seemingly changed my mind partway through. They were nothing but kind and generous and I totally would recommend them to anyone looking for any graphic design work…I mean look at it…it’s beautiful!!

Replace Fear Of The Unknown With CuriosityIt’s an interesting concept…

08 Nov

Lest We Forget

A red poppy grows in Century Park in Shanghai.

We will be heading to the cenotaph on Thursday morning to pay our respects to those who currently serve, and those that have served, in protection of our country. It will be, as always, a moving day.

Thursday, November 11th is Remembrance Day here in Canada – as it is in all Commonwealth countries. A day to commemorate the sacrifices of men and women during times of war. A day to think about those that go out, in our stead, to ensure that our way of life is protected.

I never used to attend Remembrance Day ceremonies. I thought of Nov 11th as an extra day off…a free day to do with what I pleased. I don’t know what changed my mind, but there came a time when I realized that it was important that I take the time to go. That, yes, it would mean I probably couldn’t go biking that morning or lounge around the house all day in my pj’s but that it was worth my time anyway.

Having been away for the past year has only cemented how important this day is for us. We have now seen parts of the world that are not as lucky as we are.

Last Nov 11th we were in Nepal, trekking in the Himalayas. It was not lost on us how lucky we were to have the opportunity and resources to be so far from home. We took the time on that day to observe the two minutes of silence and to be grateful for our luck to have been born when and where we were.

Being in Berlin, and seeing where the wall used to be, was emotional for me. I was able to imagine living in one of those apartment blocks on the eastern side, peering over the wall to the west at all the things that I would have been denied.

In Vietnam I tried to imagine what it would have been like to be an American soldier in that hot, steamy, thick jungle and coming up against a Vietnamese farmer. How would I know if they were friend or foe? What would I do?

What if, instead, I were the Vietnamese farmer? And my farm was under siege. How do I know I wouldn’t be shot? How will I feed my family now that my farm has been sprayed with defoliant chemicals?

We live such insulated lives, away from many of the events that directly influence the lives of other people. I have never personally experienced war, or real political instability, or hardship of any kind. I am lucky to have grown up in Canada.

And so you’ll find us there on Thursday morning, rain or shine, straining to hear the service as we gaze upon the men and women who serve for us and remembering the sacrifices of those who are no longer with us.

I hope we’ll see you there.

At the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month’

02 Nov

Managing Your Money: Before You Leave

CanPaperMoney_2 I know it’s dry, and terribly boring, but if you don’t pay attention to your money before you leave you may end up worrying about it more than you need to while you’re away.


I know this sounds like a no-brainer…and it is…the more money you can put away the better off you will be on the road. No-one likes to worry about how much they have, or how much they are burning through so the more you can save the better.

First off…stop digging the hole! Stop accumulating whatever debt you are accumulating. No more ‘pay-as-you-go’, no more ‘don’t-pay-until-next-year’, no more ‘just-put-it-on-the-credit-card’. Just. Stop.

Then, work towards filling the hole. Pay off debts aggressively. Debt is costing you money and giving no reward. Once the debt is gone, all that money spent paying it off is now building the pile ‘o money that will be yours!

We made plenty of sacrifices so that we would have enough for our trip. We tracked all our spending so we would know where every dollar was going (a habit we keep to this day) and we increased our consciousness about spending money, asking ourselves whether we really needed an item or just really wanted it. Every purchase was compared to ‘how many days in Thailand’ it cost. It really worked and constantly reminded us of the bigger goal that we had.

We ate out at restaurants way less often (one of our fave things to do), we didn’t go on any mountain biking trips that year, didn’t buy any new clothes and moved into a cheap rental once we had sold our condo.

Any money that didn’t need to be spent, wasn’t. Eye on the prize baby!

Find A Good Bank That Will Help You

I know, sounds impossible, but some are better than others and, if you do your homework you might find one that is better. It’s worth the time to look.

Banking fees were a significant portion of our budget…about 2%…so it was important to make sure we were getting what we needed and spending the least amount to get it.

Our primary concerns were:

  • Account Security. We had a pool of money that would gradually diminish as the year went on but we didn’t want it all to be accessible at once for security reasons. What if someone got hold of our cards and could gain access to the whole pile? So we set up a system of bank accounts to which our cards only had access to one. We were able to electronically transfer money to keep this one account filled up as we needed. Alternately you could schedule payments from one account to another.
  • Banking Fees. We wanted an account the would give us the greatest interest rate but the lowest banking fees…no point spending money to store your money! Many accounts waive fees if you have a certain amount in them all the time. Seeing as we had enough money to cover this minimum we managed to reduce our fees significantly.
  • ATM Fees. Our plan was to use ATMs almost exclusively to access cash so we needed a plan that would minimize these costs. Some banks charge up to $5 per transaction at a foreign ATM machine…and that’s on top of the local fee that the ATM machine may charge! Many ATMs have a daily limit that you can withdraw and so we would have to make multiple withdrawals to have enough cash…and would be charged for every withdrawal. Ouch! We managed to find a bank that charged zero ATM fees, foreign or otherwise. Score!!
  • Credit Cards. You need a big name card. Visa or Mastercard are where it’s at in the rest of the world. Actually, ca$h is king, but if you’re going to carry a credit card (and you should) then it should be one of these two. Find one with the lowest interest rate possible and beware of exchange rate premiums that may apply. Read the fine print…out of country rules may be different than in country rules.A credit card with a reward or travel points system may actually help pay for your travels! Look into the possibilities.

Don’t be afraid to change banking providers if you find that your current bank can’t (or won’t) help you. Our long term bank was absolutely inflexible with regard to fees etc. We had evidence of another bank that would be able to help us, but they still could not bring enough to the table to make us stay.

Don’t negate on-line banks. Our end case scenario involved a ‘brick and mortar’ bank that had an on-line affiliated bank. The combination of the two met all our above needs and worked like a dream.

Remember it’s your money!!

Power Of Attorney

Ugh! It just gets drier and boring-er, doesn’t it? But this piece is what gave us the most piece of mind.

Sure, we thought we had accounted for every financial scenario, had dotted all our i’s and crossed all our t’s…but what if we forgot something? How were we going to manage it while we were on the other side of the world? We asked someone to be our Power Of Attorney.

Some considerations:

  • Choose someone you absolutely trust. Remember, they will have access to your money. Whether it’s a family member or a friend, it has to be someone that absolutely has your best interests at heart.
  • Check with your bank as to how this is done. It may be as simple as you writing a letter or, as in our case, you may need to all head to the bank to have paperwork signed.
  • Learn the conditions of the PoA. Ours allowed our friend to deposit money, withdraw money and write cheques on one account but did not allow access to all the accounts or the investments. This protects everyone involved.

We ended up using our Power of Attorney more than we thought we would. A couple of unexpected bills showed up that he could take care of for us and, while arranging to come home, he took care of the rental deposit etc so we could have a place to live. Thanks Ron!!

It’s about more than saving money…it’s about managing your money.

Are there any other things you have done to financially prepare for a big trip?