A Simple App Changed My Travel Experience
For my whole life, I’ve been with Nationwide: a bog-standard, British building society. It does the job as being a place where I can keep my money and, like most people, I couldn’t be bothered to switch. I was slow to embrace the rise of the fully online bank.
It wasn’t until I got myself stuck in a tricky situation overseas that I realised I had to change. I needed to use an online bank that doesn’t care where in the world you are when you spend your money. So I chose Monzo and the card has become one of my favourite bits of travel gear. Here’s why I think it’s probably the best online bank.
Why Did I switch to Monzo?
It was the summer of 2019 and I’d decided to book a flight to the USA and start exploring somewhere new. I’d spent a lot of time in Europe after returning from Thailand and was ready to head to a new continent.
Arriving in Denver at around 7 pm local time and feeling utterly shattered, I immediately hit the hay. I awoke at 4 am, refreshed and ready to explore. So I left Ember Hostel (probably the best hostel in the world) and started to wander the local area looking for somewhere to get breakfast.
I found a 24 hour diner, ordered a large pile of fries and some coffee, and went to pay. This is when Nationwide first decided to block my debit card. To be fair, they did say they’d unblock it if I just sent a text to confirm the purchase. But I was abroad and my phone couldn’t send texts. To do that, I’d have to buy international credit. Online. Using my debit card. You see the problem.
After borrowing other people’s cards to purchase international credit, I was good to go. But Nationwide continued to block my card every time I ordered food. Spending $250 on a hostel? No problem at all. $15 for a pizza? BLOCKED!
I couldn’t live like this. There is little more terrifying for a traveller than being stuck abroad with no access to money. After returning from America, I cancelled my antiquated bank account and made the switch. The most popular and widely raved about online bank account for travellers was Monzo. So I gave it a go.
An Online Bank Without Transaction Fees
My old bank charged me a transaction fee every time I spent money in a currency other than Pound Sterling. Considering I’m abroad most of the time, this fee – no matter how small – was beginning to add up. For a while, I did use a WeSwap card to avoid these fees.
However, this is a prepaid card, where you load it with pounds and then convert it into a foreign currency at a very low fee. It works well and the app is nice, but it’s still a bit of a faff.
Monzo requires much less effort. You just use the card as you would any other. It’s contactless as well, which my WeSwap at the time wasn’t. Simply tap the card and it will automatically convert your pounds at the currency rate, with no fees added on. It’s both easier and cheaper than the alternatives.
Monzo’s Clever Savings Pots
Everyone knows they need a savings account, but it can sure be a hassle. With Monzo, it’s all done in-app. You choose which kind you want depending on access and interest rates, then it’s good to go. You’re set up immediately and can track exactly how much money you save.
What I love most is how Monzo rounds up my spending. Every time I spend money, Monzo rounds the total up to the nearest pound and drops the change into my savings account. It requires no effort from me, but it’s amazing how quickly you can raise a decent amount.
I try and use cash as little as possible. I actually don’t have a wallet that holds cash anymore, so any notes or coins have to be loose in my pocket. While some countries may not have card payments widely available, others do. In Europe, I almost always pay by card so I can get the change added to my savings. It’s simple, but it works.
An Online Bank that Allows for Easier Tracking of Cash Flow
You spend a lot when you travel. On transport, accommodation, food and activities. I actually don’t believe that travel should be more expensive than staying in one place, especially if you live somewhere with high living costs. But keeping your spending under control requires careful tracking.
Every time you spend money with Monzo, the online bank app sends you a notification. It specifies how much and where you spent it. This has been great for reminding me I subscribe to a service that I need to cancel. You automatically keep your spending down when you see it instantly pop up on your phone.
And if a payment comes up that you didn’t authorise, you can instantly freeze your card from the app to stop any further payments!
You can also instantly see any money you receive. As a freelancer, I have to be very trusting of clients to pay me what they owe. I used to have to log in to my online bank account with Nationwide via a complicated and drawn-out process. It would require a long customer number and card reader with a secret code to let me in. I’d then have to open my bank account statement and scour it for the relevant payment.
With Monzo, this whole process is reduced to the single ping of a notification on my phone. I can then go into the app at any time to see where I’m spending and receiving funds and what needs to change.
I’ve only ever used two banks in my life: a building society and Monzo online bank. But I’ve had no problems with it whatsoever. Saving is easier, foreign transactions are cheaper, and security is just as strong without being a burden.