Work hard, play hard

19 June 2019
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It’s a philosophy I have adopted throughout my adult life. And although the knees creak a little bit more (and a lot louder) than they used to, there’s very little that holds me back.

Not even the recent right to enjoy discounted rail fares – no, it’s not a result of eligibility for a 16-25 railcard – has slowed me down, although the London Marathon in April proved a formidable challenge (a little over five hours of pain). On reflection, I still think of myself as more spring chicken than burnt-out rooster.

While the playing hard element of my life involves a little bit of marathon running and a chunk of cinema and live music (for those who are interested, I’m more Kiki Dee than Pink), short-break holidays are the proverbial icing on the cake. I am sure heaven or nirvana is not much better than a few days trail walking in the Tramuntana mountains of Mallorca (pictured right, exquisite in spring) followed by a couple of days submerged in the art galleries of Madrid marvelling at the brilliance of El Greco, Goya, Velasquez, et al. And then eating luscious tapas in the San Miguel market while strangers pour beer or red wine over you.

An extravagant lifestyle, I hear you cry? Not really. In pursuing my pleasures outside of work, I never forget to wear my personal finance hat. Especially when it involves travelling outside of good old Blighty.

So, my most recent trips to Mallorca and Spain have been on dirt cheap easyJet flights from Luton rather than more convenient (but hugely more expensive) British Airways flights from City Airport in London’s Docklands (a stone’s throw from my abode).

I have been prepared to travel at the crack of dawn (on the way out) and late at night (on the way back), to get rock bottom air fares. And I’ve learnt the art of travelling light, thereby avoiding the need to pay for baggage to be thrown into the hold – or excess hand baggage charges as a result of a case being too large.

I’ve also discovered that buying currency at the airport is akin to throwing euros down the drain. Currency is now bought well in advance and at the best rate I can find (usually online).

Yet it’s when I am overseas that I become ultra personal-finance savvy. Not only do I prefer to walk everywhere but if I need to get somewhere in a hurry I will always try and seek out public transport – a train in Madrid, a bus in Mallorca – rather than flag down a taxi.

Dining out – or withdrawing cash from an overseas ATM – also requires a little bit of personal finance nous. Like many tourists, I had not heard of ‘dynamic currency conversion’ until recently. It’s a trick played upon unsuspecting Brits when they’re using their debit or credit cards overseas.

In a nutshell, we are encouraged by the ATM provider, the shop assistant or restaurant staff to pay for our cash or settle our bill in sterling rather than the local currency (typically euros).

In opting for the familiarity and comfort of dealing in sterling, we end up adding some 7% to the cost of our transactions.

One in five travellers, say the experts, get stung by this conversion ‘charge’, costing them a combined £1.7 million a day between now and the end of the main holiday season at the beginning of October.

While I was in Madrid and Mallorca, I did my utmost to avoid the temptation to ‘go’ sterling when paying by plastic – even though occasionally a little too much Rioja caused my brain cells to demand that I malfunction and trust in pounds.

I also watched like a hawk anyone processing one of my payments via a hand-held machine to ensure they did not trick me into opting for pounds rather than euros. Thankfully, I seemed to avoid falling victim to the ‘dynamic currency conversion trick’.

With travel insurance bought on an annual rather than a single trip basis (saving me a small fortune) and by declaring all existing medical conditions before signing on the dotted line (honesty pays), I do believe I am beginning to get overseas travel off to a fine personal finance art.

Of course, you can’t legislate for the odd hiccup along the way – a delayed flight back to Luton from Madrid tested my patience as did a subsequent tedious wait at passport control at one o’clock in the morning. Sadly, from a personal finance point of view, the flight wasn’t sufficiently delayed (three hours or more) for me to claim compensation.

But that’s by the by. Enjoy your forthcoming holidays, whenever you take them and wherever you go to. But don’t forget to pack your financial savviness along with the obligatory bucket and spade.

JEFF PRESTRIDGE is the personal finance editor of The Mail on Sunday. Email him at columnists@moneywise.co.uk.