Patrons Wanted

Sure, we could plaster our travel blog with annoying pop up ads, banner ads and clumsy sponsored links, but we don’t. We’d rather focus on providing digital travel content that doesn’t suck. But we can’t live on good intentions. That’s why we’re so excited about Patreon.

An easy way to support the stuff you like

Unlike Kickstarter, which asks for lump sums that are used toward overall projects, Patreon lets you choose a level of support (from as little as 25 cents) to be put toward a specific creation. In our case, individual travel blog posts.

Patreon-whiteYou pick the support level (starting at just a quarter per post) and each month Patreon automatically bills you for the content we’ve produced during the previous month. For example, we generally publish 5-7 posts per month. If you and your big heart choose to support us at the US$1 per post level you can expect to be automatically charged for US$5 to US$7 a month from Patreon. That might not sound like much (two lattes, for example), but we can produce a lot of good stuff with that extra support.

Becoming a patron

If you like the words and pictures on our Trans-Americas Journey travel blog please check out our brand new Patreon Creator page. Just click the “Become a Patron” button on the upper left hand side to see how fast, easy, customizable and secure it is to become a patron of the Trans-Americas Journey.

Your Patreon support of our travel blog will help us stay on the road and continue to produce professional digital travel content about independent adventures in the Americas and meet other stated goals including everything from resuming our carbon offset program to getting our website and travel blog professionally re-designed.

Did we mention our sweet incentives including custom prints of Eric’s photos and totally free personalized travel advice for our most generous patrons?

We are committed to keeping our website and travel blog ad free. If you like what we’re doing and can give us some Patreon support of any kind we promise to use it to keep saying no to the pop-ups, banners and links and keep saying yes to digital travel content that doesn’t suck.

If you’d prefer to just give one lump sum you can still contribute any amount you want to our Tip Jar.

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Drink Responsibly (or, why we love our SteriPEN)

We’re just going to come right out and say it (again): Every responsible traveler should carry a water purification system if they want to be healthy, thrifty and environmentally responsible. That’s why we love our SteriPEN.

The shocking reality is that more than 8% of the earth’s population still doesn’t have access to safe drinking water. However, in much of the developed world (ie where most travelers come from) bottled water is no better than tap water which is treated and safe to drink to begin with. Yet bottled water costs up to 2,000 times more than tap water.

The environmental cost is even higher with millions of pounds of plastic bottles dumped into the trash annually. Furthermore, the production of all those plastic bottles and the act of transporting them consumes tens of millions of barrels of oil a year in the US alone.

According to the Beverage Marketing Corporation, global sales of bottled water increased 4.1% from 2010 to 2011. Many of you have probably ditched bottled water when you’re at home. However, when we travel to places with unsafe tap water (which includes some of the most compelling places on earth), our needs and behaviors change.

Take us, for example

We recently completed day 1,900 of our Trans-Americas Journey road trip. Well more than half of that time has been spent in areas where it’s not safe for us to drink the tap water. Conservatively speaking, let’s say we purchased four liters of bottled water per day for 1,000 of our days on the road. In this scenario we would have spent around $4,000 on water and thrown away at least 4,000 plastic bottles. Lined up end to end, that’s a trash trail nearly a mile long.

Luckily, we have a SteriPEN which uses UV light to purify a liter of water in 60 seconds with no additives, after taste or bottles to throw away.

 

 

Good for your travel budget and the environment

SteriPEN was one of our very first product partners and we’ve been using their Adventurer water purifier since day one of our Journey. If we hadn’t been using our SteriPEN we estimate that we would have spent at least $4,000 on bottled water. Subtract the price of our SteriPEN ($90) and the cost of the batteries (about $0.10/liter) and, so far, we’ve saved more than $3,500 by using our SteriPEN instead of buying bottled water as we travel.

Even better, we have not added our 4,000 empty plastic water bottles to the billions that are discarded every year. And if you think those bottles are all being turned into lovely new Patagonia fleeces, think again.

The International Bottled Water Association admits that just 31% of the 85 million bottles of water which are consumed in the United States every day are recycled (itself an energy inefficient, polluting process). That recycling percentage number dips into the single digits or disappears altogether in developing countries where so many of us spend time traveling.

 

 

And what happens to unrecycled plastic bottles in Calcutta or Cartagena? We’ve all seen (and smelled) them burning on trash heaps, slowly releasing toxins into the air.

Though we love our SteriPEN, it’s not perfect. It failed on us once when we were camping near Half Dome in Yosemite National Park (it was below freezing and we believe that conditions were too cold for the batteries). And though the company says fresh batteries will purify 50 liters, we don’t usually get through that much water before we have to change the batteries.

And speaking of batteries, we’re aware that throwing out our spent batteries is an environmental hazard. If you can’t reconcile yourself to that check out the SteriPEN Sidewinder that’s powered by a hand crank, the new Freedom which can be charged via USB or add on a solar charger for your SteriPEN batteries.

Be part of the bottled water solution

Another reason travelers need to commit to a sustainable and money-saving  alternatives to the financially and environmentally unsustainable cycle of buying and tossing plastic bottles water bottles? The places you want to travel to are starting to make it harder to get your hands on bottled water. For example, Grand Canyon National Park, where our SteriPEN easily purified enough water to fuel our hikes to the canyon floor from both rims, banned the sale of plastic water bottles in early 2012.


Be A Responsible Traveler, Buy a SteriPEN:

       
                   

SteriPEN supplied an Adventurer water purification wand to us to use and review.

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Your Tips Needed

During the past seven years, our little road trip has thoroughly explored 12 countries in North, Central and South America including the United States, Canada, Mexico, Belize, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia and Ecuador. We’ve published hundreds of posts on our travel blog and dished out thousands and thousands of travel tips and we’ll keep doing it through the remaining 11 countries in South America all the way to Tierra del Fuego. But now we could use some tips from you and we have two easy ways for you to do that.

Your tips needed

So far we’ve managed to stay on the road for more than twice as long as we’d budgeted for by being frugal (that’s a fancy word for cheap) and creative. But that’s only going to take us so far. If you love what we’re doing, if we’re your go-to distraction at work, if you’re living vicariously through us, if we’ve inspired your own travels, if you want to be part of every mile of our Journey please consider supporting our Trans-Americas Journey and there are now two ways to do that.

Tip Jar lump sum support

You can contribute a one-time lump-sum donation to our Tip Jar by using the donate button below. Or you can send your support to us directly from your PayPal account to ours at contact (at) trans-americas (dot) com.

 

Or, better yet, become an ongoing patron

We recently signed up with a new website and service called Patreon. Unlike Kickstarter, which asks for lump sums that are used toward overall projects, Patreon lets you choose an ongoing level of support (from as little as 25 cents) to be put toward a specific creation. In our case, individual travel blog posts.

You pick the support level (starting at just a quarter per post) and each month Patreon automatically bills you for the content we’ve produced during the previous month. For example, we generally publish 5-7 posts per month. If you and your big heart choose to support us at the US$1 per post level you can expect to be automatically charged for US$5 to US$7 a month from Patreon. That might not sound like much (two lattes, for example), but we can produce a lot of good stuff with that extra support.

Support us on Patreon

Becoming a patron

If you like the words and pictures on our Trans-Americas Journey travel blog please check out our brand new Patreon Creator page. Just click the “Become a Patron” button on the upper left hand side to see how fast, easy, customizable and secure it is to become a patron of the Trans-Americas Journey.

Your Patreon support of our travel blog will help us stay on the road and continue to produce professional digital travel content about independent adventures in the Americas and meet other stated goals including everything from resuming our carbon offset program to getting our website and travel blog professionally re-designed.

Did we mention our sweet incentives including custom prints of Eric’s photos and totally free personalized travel advice for our most generous patrons and access to exclusive patrons-only content?

We are committed to keeping our website and travel blog ad-free. If you like what we’re doing and can give us some Tip Jar or Patreon support of any kind we promise to use it to keep saying no to the pop-ups, banners and links and keep saying yes to digital travel content that doesn’t suck.

Here’s proof of your support at work

Back in March of 2013 we asked for your help to cover the cost of shipping our truck around the roadless Darien Gap jungle between Panama and Colombia which is a 60 mile (96 km) break in the Pan American Highway. Friends, fans and followers of our Trans-Americas Journey responded, stuffing nearly US$800 into our Tip Jar which covered more than half of the final cost of shipping our truck from Panama to Colombia. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

In June we arrived in Colombia, our gateway to South America and we couldn’t have done it without you! It took us nearly 6.5 years to cover North America and Central America and with your support (either through a one-time contribution to our Tip Jar or by giving ongoing post-by-post support through Patreon) we anticipate many, many more years of exploring and reporting about overland independent travel in South America.

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What’s in Your (Travel) Wallet?

It’s true. Credit cards and ATM cards have made travel finances easier. No more carrying wads of cash around to exchange at questionable rates from even more questionable persons. No more travelers checks with their associated fees.

Nope. Now, throughout the world, we can pay for purchases and get local currency from ATM machines with the swipe of a card. Not only is this easier and safer, the exchange rates are generally better than we used to get on the local gray market or in foreign banks where we used to exchange dollars for drachmas back in the bad old days of travel banking.

But there are still some pitfalls–many of them hidden–that can slowly suck your travel budget dry.

 

Attention travelers from the United States: If you want to keep your hard earned travel dollars in your wallet where they belong while you’re overseas then you should be carrying credit cards and ATM cards that do NOT charge a foreign transaction fee. Sadly, avoiding those fees is a big challenge and it’s getting harder every day.

You may not even be aware of it but virtually all banks and credit card companies charges a 1% to 3% foreign transaction fee on every single credit card purchase you make abroad.

Not only that, but when you take out cash from a foreign ATM you are almost always paying the local bank’s ATM fee AND  the 1% to 3%  foreign transaction fee that your home bank is charging you to access local currency. A number of banks even charge you an extra flat fee of up to $5 per ATM withdrawal.

(There’s a scary list of current foreign transaction fees charged by major US banks at the end of this post.)

Let’s say you are a Chase customer and you want to withdraw the equivalent of US$300 in Euros while you’re in Italy. If you visit an out-of-network ATM (note the scary health insurance-like language)you will pay about US$10.50 in foreign transaction fees PLUS  any Italian bank fees on the transaction. That means that it’s not that hard to hand over up to 5% of your total ATM transaction to the banks before it ever sees the inside of your pockets.

 

 

This is because the international credit card networks (Visa and Mastercard) charge a 1% fee to the issuing bank that you hold your account with. A few of these banks merely pass on this 1% fee to you. Many take the opportunity to tack on their own fee, increasing the percentage that you pay to 2% or even 3%. A very, very few banks not only don’t charge their own foreign transaction fee but agree to eat the credit card companies’ 1% fee as well so their customers can enjoy fee-free ATM withdrawals and credit card purchases overseas.

That’s why we opened an E*Trade Financial checking account and that’s why we carry Capital One credit cards. Capital One is the only major credit card provider that we know of that does not charge a foreign transaction fee for all customers (and we’ve done exhaustive research).

 

However, we just learned (the hard way) that all E*Trade ATM and debit cards now incur a 1% foreign transaction fee on purchases and ATM withdrawals outside the US  because the bank has decided to stop eating the 1% fee they’re charged and pass it on to customers instead.

We just contacted Capital One, where we already have credit cards that are blissfully free of foreign transaction fees, and the company confirmed that their banking accounts are ALSO free of foreign transaction fees.

We, like you, work hard to save money for travel and we’re also careful to conserve our money once we’re on the road. That’s how we’ve kept our Trans-Americas Journey going for almost four years now. We estimate that we’ve saved nearly US$1,000 a year by religiously avoiding ATM and credit card foreign transaction fees during our Trans-Americas Journey.

We are now in the process of closing our E*Trade checking account and opening a Capital One checking account and we suggest that other travelers from the U.S. do the same.

Another thing to look for when you’re choosing a bank account that’s most suitable for overseas travel is a policy of refunding a  certain amount of the ATM fees you incur from domestic or foreign banks each month. For example, Capital One will credit your account up to US$10 per month in ATM fees charged by other banks  as long as the foreign bank codes the fee correctly, which most major international banks do.

 

Share what you know and help travelers beat the banks! The information in this post pertains to travelers with US-based banks and credit cards. Submit a comment and tell us what you know about foreign transaction fees charged to travelers from Europe or Asia or anywhere else in the world. Knowledge is power (and money) people.

 

 

Check out FlyerGuide.com’s comprehensive list of ATM and credit card bank fees.

Credit card foreign transaction fee (updated 2/26/2010)
Issuer
Issuer fee
 

 

 

MasterCard/Visa fee
 

 

 

Total fee
 

 

 

American Express 2.7% n/a 2.7%
Bank of America 2% 1% 3%
Barclaycard/Juniper 2% 1% 3%
Capital One none none 0%
Chase 2% 1% 3%
Citi 2% 1% 3%
Discover 2% n/a 2%
HSBC 2% 1% 3%
US Bancorp 2% 1% 3%
USAA (available only to members of the military and their immediate families) none 1% 1%
Wells Fargo 2% 1% 3%
Foreign ATM transaction fees
Issuer Foreign ATM cost
Bank of America 1 percent currency conversion fee at Global ATM Alliance ATMs/$5 plus 1 percent currency conversion fee at Non-Global ATM Alliance ATMs
Capital One No additional fees: $0 plus a 0% currency conversion fee. Refund of up to $10 per statement on ATM usage fees charged by other banks.
Chase $3 plus 3 percent currency conversion fee; for premium accounts, $0 plus 3 percent currency conversion fee
Citi Citibank ATMs: $0 plus a 3 percent currency conversion fee/nonCitibank ATMs: $1.50 plus a 3 percent currency conversion fee
HSBC $1.50 for each ATM withdrawal; no fee for Premier Debit MasterCard
USAA $0 plus 1 percent currency conversion fee
Wells Fargo $5 withdrawal fee

Source: CreditCards.com

 

 

 

(Visa and Mastercard) charge a 1% fee to the issuing bank that you hold your account with. A few of these banks merely pass on this 1% fee to you. Many take the opportunity to tack on their own fee, increasing the percentage that you pay to 2% or even 3%. A very, very few banks not only don’t charge their own foreign transaction fee but agree to eat the credit card companies’ 1% fee as well so their customers can enjoy fee-free ATM withdrawals and credit card purchases overseas.

That’s why we opened an E*Trade Financial checking account and that’s why we carry Capital One credit cards. Capital One is the only major credit card provider without a minimum balance requirement that we know of that does not charge a foreign transaction fee (and we’ve done exhaustive research).

 

However, we just learned (the hard way) that all E*Trade Financial ATM and debit cards now incur a 1% foreign transaction fee on purchases and ATM withdrawals outside the US  because the bank has decided to stop eating the 1% fee they’re charged and pass it on to customers (us) instead.

We just contacted Capital One, where we already have credit cards that are blissfully free of international transaction fees, and the company confirmed that their banking accounts are ALSO free of international transaction fees. We, like you, work hard to save money for travel and we’re also careful to conserve our money once we’re on the road. That’s how we’ve kept our Trans-Americas Journey going for almost four years now. We estimate that we’ve saved nearly US$1,000 a year by religiously avoiding ATM and credit card foreign transaction fees during our Trans-Americas Journey.

That’s why we are now in the process of closing our E*Trade checking account and opening a Capital One checking account and we would suggest that other travelers from the U.S. do the same.

Another thing to look for when you’re choosing a bank and credit card that’s most suitable for overseas travel is a policy of refunding a certain amount of the ATM fees you incur from domestic or foreign banks each month. For example, Capital One will credit your account up to US$10 per month in ATM fees charged by other banks—as long as the foreign bank codes the fee correctly which most major international banks do.

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