Enjoying the view from Hang Nak

Travel-life admin: the worst chore in the world

We all have to deal with life admin (banking, going to the doctors, paying bills, insurance claims etc) and the amount of time spent on it seems to increase the older you get. This doesn’t go away when you go travelling. It just gets harder and therefore more frustrating.

One of my biggest hates is inefficiency. When something is inefficient it’s lazy. Every barrier to inefficiency can be overcome. No excuses. Life admin, at the best of times, is a struggle due to inefficiency. Again, this just gets worse when you go travelling.

Nowadays we have wonders like the Internet. Where we can bank, pay bills, buy insurance and all that jazz. However, even though the Internet gives us global access to these things, the companies behind them still have 80s processes.

Let’s start with banking

I’m with Halifax. I use online banking almost every day to transfer money and check payments. However, even though the Internet is everywhere, some aspects of banking while travelling are almost impossible (or extremely expensive). For example, if I’m outside of the UK I have to call a designated number through the banking app on my mobile (requiring data and calls allowance), or I have to post a signed form via international mail, simply to change the address on my account. No idea why I can’t change my address just using my internet banking app. When I was on the phone to them they said it was something to do with security. I’m hoping that’s a bullshit cover story for outdated processes otherwise I’m a bit worried about how secure internet banking is!

Alex is with HSBC. Surely that should be a bit easier, with it being the ‘world’s local bank’ and all. Is it fuck. When Alex lost his bank card we went into a branch of HSBC in Argentina and they could do nothing for us, not even let us call the UK HSBC from there. It’s my impression that it’s all the same bank so why can’t it help you wherever you are in the world?
Finally, on banking, ATMs abroad are the biggest crock of shit. They give out big notes that you can’t spend because no one ever has enough change, and they charge you extra money for withdrawing your own money. It’s normal to be annoyed about the extra charges incurred but making it extra inconvenient by giving out 1000 baht notes when a beer costs 55 is just the nail in the coffin.

Let’s move on to insurance claims

We’ve bought year-long, worldwide travel insurance cover. When you need to claim, it must be submitted within 28 days of the incident. If I am claiming on this insurance you can bet your ass that I’m still going to be outside of the UK, unless the incident happens a month before we travel home, given that I’ve paid for the insurance to cover me until May. Why then, do you have to send in evidence by post? And why do you have to make phone calls to expensive UK numbers? Why can’t I call you through an app using the internet, or upload my evidence? I sure as hell am more likely to have access to free wifi than I am free international post and calling. We went through this fiasco back in September when we were robbed in BA, Alex has written a whole post on ‘getting robbed and getting over it’ if you’re interested.

Think you can blog anywhere in the world? Think again

Before we left the UK I set up my website and blog and did a couple of posts. When I got to Miami I was excited to share some of my first experiences, only I couldn’t log in. After a Twitter conversation with the company I found out it was because I hadn’t authorised access from the USA. What a load of shit. I had to then go onto my security settings and add the remaining 19 countries we were to visit onto the list. I’ve been caught out by this a couple of times. Like when we decided to go into Paraguay for a couple of days and I wanted to post an article, I had to get my sister to log in from the UK to authorise that country because I’d not done it previously as we hadn’t planned on visiting. They say it’s for extra security (always the same excuse) but there must be better ways than that. The company knew I had bought the site for travel blogging. Travel.

So yeah, travelling the world is fun and exciting but don’t be fooled by the glamour of it. It takes a hell of a lot of organisation and admin to run smoothly. This article barely scratches the surface. In some ways, the invention of mobile phones and the Internet has made it much easier to travel, but in others it’s created false barriers because rather than companies reinventing themselves for this new technological phenomenon, they’ve just fudged old processes into it.

There are over one billion people who travel outside of their own country each year. For the longer-term travellers within that group, they are unlikely to have a fixed address, unlikely to have concrete plans of where they are travelling to, likely to have a bank card lost or stolen, likely to need to claim on insurance, likely to want to post on social media, and likely to want to buy electronics. Why, when we have global internet companies like HSBC, Google, Facebook, Sony etc, are there not easier solutions to these things?

The most success we have had with a company is Three’s ‘feel at home’. We’ve been able to use our phone in multiple countries at no extra expense and it has made our lives a million times easier. In some cases, that one little service provided by Three has made up for inefficiencies in others (like needing to call for banking). I think other companies that are all about life admin should be looking to these initiatives and working out how they can provide a similar experience. After all, they should be providing a service to make your life easier not harder, that’s why they are in the life admin game!

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