News Van Life

Apps for travel: Wise (formerly Transferwise)

Spending abroad can result in lots of charges on ‘normal’ UK bank accounts, especially getting cash out. There’s got to be an easier way than having to join the CIA and stash wads in various currencies in a safety deposit bank in a Swiss bank, à la Jason Bourne. I thought our main bank, HSBC, might offer something like a Euro bank account but that didn’t seem to be the case. In the rush to get set off, I didn’t find an alternative but after getting stung for a cash withdrawal fee on the HSBC credit card, I started to explore.

The Wise multi-currency account (formerly known as Transferwise borderless account) seemed to fit the bill. I downloaded the app, signed up and uploaded photos of the front and back of my driving license as an identity check. This gives you a UK/GBP account that you can transfer money into, for free from your normal bank. A little wary at first, I put a token £25 in, just over the minimum to get a cash card sent out.

Minor drama here of course, because we were now on the move with no fixed address and it can take 10-15 days for the card to arrive. We explored ‘poste restante’ services – where you can have things sent to a post office near you for collection. Turns out Italy had the best option – they’ll keep a letter for 30 days (France and Slovenia were just 14 days I think) and it costs just 3 euro to collect. So, we ordered the card using a FERMAPOSTA address for a post office outside Venice and carried on with our travels. Collecting the card was easy, once I’d worked out how to get into the Post Office (through automated airlock doors) and worked out how to get a numbered ticket to be served. I showed my ID and the assistant got the letter – didn’t even get charged the 3 euro.

Then, all in the app, I transferred a bit more money in GBP and created a euro account. The conversion was instant, the rate was better than most and the fee was incredibly cheap – £1.69 to convert £500 to euro. So, now I had a contactless card I could use for purchases and cash withdrawal in Europe and many other countries. No more Non Stirling Transaction Fees for me! No more being stuck with odd notes and change in non-euro countries like Croatia and Switzerland.

If you want to give it a try, this invite link will give you one free currency exchange up to £500 i.e. without the conversion fee:

2021 Update after using the app for a few years now…

Still really pleased with Wise! Perfect for our nomadic van life! It works well and gets better with each update. It covers a lot of currencies, many of which allow you to create a ‘local’ bank account – which can be handy for example for setting up direct debits. Or, where some sites (like Etsy) only pay you in US dollars, or charge a further conversion fee. With Wise, you can create an account in US dollars and receive payment there.

The security is good. I’m occasionally asked to verify a transaction – real time in the app – if it’s an unusual amount or a new recipient. And though there are protections and safeguards, I don’t put all my cash there, just ‘spending money’, topped up when I need it.

There are other features now – like holding money as stocks, and setting up savings ‘jars’ – but I haven’t tried them.

News Van Life

Apps for travel: Park4Night

Park4Night is an excellent user-input based app, which allows you to locate (and share information on) free camping spots all over the world. In addition, paying campsites, car parks, picnic areas and even farms are listed, making this an invaluable tool for travellers who, like us, don’t like to stick to a definite plan of where they want to be the next night.

There are literally thousands of spots and whilst some aren’t ideal for a larger vehicle like our 6m home, advice and reviews are given about this sort of thing, so it’s rare that you end up somewhere you can’t actually stay. Some of our favourites so far have been:

Staying on a snail farm! Guess what we had for dinner that night??!! Just €10 for the night, including electricity.

Relaxing by the Saône river. For free!  Our neighbours for the night were on a boat, called, er, ‘Le Boat’…

A peaceful fishing lake. Again, no cost! Beautiful weather, very pleasant.

On the ‘Route Napoleon’ just after Castellane. Great dog walk, great scenery,  no cost. Parfait.

Admittedly some countries don’t have as many free sites, for example, we struggled in Italy, but we still found farms and vineyards where you can stay for free, but you are expected to buy some wine, honey or other produce… which is no great hardship really!

So far, we’ve only used it in Western Europe – will update after we get to Slovenia, Hungary, Slovakia, Poland and Scandinavia.