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News & Advice

Sarah Barrell: Why are Brits so rash with their holiday cash?

Travel View

It's amazing when money is so tight that British travellers seem to be so foolish with it.

Recent research from sunshine.co.uk found that two-fifths of tourists carry all their spending money around with them on holiday at all times rather than leaving some at their accommodation. The average amount found lurking precariously in the pockets of summer dresses and Bermuda shorts is £300.

Now, unless those two-fifths carry that not insignificant amount in one of those backpacker's money belts (unlikely, given that they are as uncomfortable as they are downright unattractive), these travellers are being rash with their holiday cash. On home soil, who but Del Boy or a drug dealer would carry two weeks' worth of readies around with them?

What do these statistics reveal about us as travellers? Are we lazy (can't face fighting with the hotel safe)? Or are we mistrustful (don't trust the hotel safe, staff, security)? I suspect it's a combination of both that prompts us to step out into the great unknown with fists full of dollars, yen or euros.

Almost three-quarters of the survey respondents claimed they didn't trust ATMs and banks abroad, although more than half still used them to access money while on holiday. I always use local ATMs to fund my travels, even though on several occasions they have left me penniless. Stranded in a crowd of carnival-goers once in Brazil, I managed to hail a taxi only to find that every ATM in a five-mile radius was refusing my perfectly serviceable bank card. My taxi driver, perhaps fuelled by carnival spirit, simply smiled and drove me to the airport for free. Desperate situations sometimes deliver rewarding experiences.

I'm not suggesting that we make a sport of getting stranded just to see what heart-warming lifelines the world will throw at us, but I've got to admit that it can produce memorable travel moments. Backpacking in Australia, years before any respectable ATM would give me cash, a broke companion and I were contemplating sleeping rough and hitching back to the airport, when a colourful Californian gave us his tent, camping stove and a tin of beans. Another time, my Canadian husband, returning home after his first Euro-trip as a penniless musician, eked out his last 48 hours in the UK by sleeping in Heathrow airport while waiting for his flight. His long hair and dubious status didn't stop a plummy-accented British Army officer, bound for duty in the Falklands, from taking him to dinner and giving him £20.

Just this week I saw one of the most glowing examples of unconditional kindness for travellers in a crisis. The crew of the Lyubov Orlova – a ship on which I sailed around the Arctic last summer to produce a story for these pages – was recently seized by Canadian authorities while off duty in St John's. The ship's owner allegedly owed big money to a Canadian expedition company, and its 50 Russian and Ukrainian crew also hadn't been paid. In fact, they'd been toiling without recompense for months.

These workers, many in their early twenties and away from home for the first time, not only found themselves without the means to get home but without funds for food or basic toiletries. On hearing this, a former passenger set up a bank account and got a number of Orlova's previous passengers to put money into it.

Donations instead of payment: not a solution by any means but at least the crew know that we loved them...Orlova.

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