5 Reasons to Quit Your Job and Move Abroad

When you're unemployed, it's easy to drop everything when a friend is in town and just say, "Sure, we'll visit the highest point in Thailand tomorrow."

When you’re unemployed, it’s easy to drop everything when a friend is in town and just say, “Sure, we’ll visit the highest point in Thailand tomorrow.”

Kevin and I have come to realize that many of the things we enjoy the most about living abroad probably have more to do with being unemployed than they do with actually being abroad. We love having flexible schedules and being able to work on whatever interests us the most at the moment. We love being able to work whenever we want, wherever we want, and have completely lost track of the concept of a “weekend”. Our days are categorized as gym-days and non-gym-days now, which means I don’t hate Mondays anymore. Hooray!

There have been many moments where we wish we could’ve had this mini-retirement period from the comfort of our home in Seattle, where we’d be near to all of our family and friends. Here’s the thing though – moving to a city with such a low cost of living is a lot less scary than being out of work in a pricier place like Seattle. We had a mortgage back home in Seattle to worry about, and food costs a lot more than the $1/meal we’ve gotten used to here, and don’t even get me started on how much it costs to foot the bill for your own health insurance in the States. (Don’t worry, we have traveler’s insurance, it’s just a lot cheaper than health insurance in the States.)

While we’re definitely not planning to pick up and move abroad ever again after we get back home to Seattle, we’re thankful we got the chance to do this. We’ve spent a lot of time this Thanksgiving week thinking about things we’re thankful for, and we came up with a list of the 5 Reasons to Quit Your Job and Move Abroad.

It Could Save You Money in the Long Run

Nearly all of our worldly possessions are stored in a single portable storage unit.

Nearly all of our worldly possessions are now stored in a single portable storage unit.

The number one lesson you’ll learn when you spend a year abroad is that you need a heck of a lot less than you thought you did. Less space. Fewer clothes. Less jewelry. Less money. Fewer pairs of shoes. In fact, you realize that having fewer possessions can actually make life more simple. Let me tell ya, I sure get dressed a lot faster with only a handful of outfits to choose from! There’s something really refreshing about simplifying your life. I think that’s an important lesson to learn, and living out of a duffel bag for a year forces you to learn it.

There’s also something magical about an extended period of unemployment that makes you really scrutinize every Baht (or every penny?) that you spend. Do I really need the higher quality hand soap? Can I wait to buy sunscreen because it might go on sale next week? Should I walk the 25 minutes to the cheaper store to save a few bucks? Do I really need to order bottled water with dinner? I hope this habit sticks with me after we go home, because maybe I’ll finally, finally be able to make a trip to Target without spending more than $60.

All these small things definitely do add up, but we think this trip has saved us a boatload of money because we’ve shifted our mindset on how big our home needs to be. Our apartment here in Chiang Mai is only 41 sq. meters (441 sq. feet). Before we signed our lease, I was pretty nervous about renting a place that small. I thought we’d kill each other! Since moving in, however,we’ve realized that 41 sq. meters is plenty of space for the two of us. When we were in Vietnam, we met one family of four who lived in an apartment this size and considered it to be plenty of space. I’m not saying I could peacefully share 441 sq. feet with three other people, but it did get me to thinking a little bit and makes me look at our 1000 sq. ft. house in Seattle a little bit differently.

That change of perspective is what can save you money. Before we left Seattle, we had been saving up to put a big addition on our home. For an old home, and with Seattle’s construction prices, a big addition is going to be in the 6-figures range. If we can avoid spending that money by doing with a smaller space, this trip will have paid for itself. Hurray!

You Will Finally, FINALLY, Catch up on Sleep

One of the most amazing things about moving abroad is that you suddenly find yourself with a lot more free time on your hands. While this is probably mostly due to the fact that neither of us has a “job” in the traditional sense right now, it’s also due in part to the fact that we don’t ever cook or clean anymore and also due to the fact that our social life is, um, pretty subdued now.

This is what happens when your social life is too subdued. Look at these weirdos. Sheesh.

This is what happens when your social life is too subdued. Look at these weirdos. Sheesh.

The only chores we have to do now are laundry and dishes (a maid service is included in our rent). We definitely don’t have any yardwork since we live in a condo. It’s so cheap and quick to go out for food that the only meal we ever cook is breakfast. We also both ditched our previous 1-hour each-way commutes. (Don’t get me started on commute times… what a waste of precious hours in our lives!)

Naturally, since I have some extra time on my hands, eight-hour nights of sleep have made a big come-back in my life. According to my Fitbit, I averaged 8 hours and 47 minutes of sleep per night this week. We have used an alarm clock exactly four times since moving to Thailand in late April. I probably haven’t regularly gotten this much sleep since I was an infant. When I worked at Boeing, I had to be out the door every day by 6:10am on the dot so I wouldn’t miss my vanpool. I’m finally working off the Boeing sleep deficit! YAY!

You Will Have Time to Make a Dent in Your Books Backlog

So like I said above, we have a lot more time on our hands. What do we do with all that time? Well, we do work for about 6 hours a day, 7 days a week. We’re not just being bums over here! But when we’re not working, we read… a lot. Before leaving Seattle, I was lucky to get through more than one book per month. Since we moved here almost 7 months ago, I’ve read 39 books, five of which were fairly dense programming books. I still have a pretty hefty backlog of books I want to read (140 titles and growing…), but there is finally time for it! Hurrah!

You Will Appreciate Things You Once Took for Granted

I know I’ve talked a lot about how I miss things like being near family and friends, wide sidewalks, reliable electricity and reliable internet. But there are a few things I really miss that surprised me.

I miss the smell of the Pacific Northwest. Pine, moss, freshly mowed grass, rain. Ah the smell of rain. I miss it.

I can ALMOST smell the pine through this photo. If you're reading this from the Pacific Northwest, go outside and take a big whiff of the wonderful air for me!

I can ALMOST smell the pine through this photo. If you’re reading this from the Pacific Northwest, go outside and take a big whiff of the wonderful air for me!

I miss seasons. Before you move to a tropical paradise, you get this idea in your head that the hot weather is idyllic, wonderful, perfect in every way. Once you get here and “swamp ass” becomes your biggest daily problem, you realize how much you love the seasons. (Sidenote: In Chiang Mai, where the daily high in the hot season is regularly over 100 degrees, why does everyone seem to favor leather chairs and cushions? I’ve have more than a few close calls where I’m pretty sure I almost lost half the back of my leg because my skin was SO stuck to the leather.) It really is true that a cold Winter makes those hot Summer days a whole lot more special.

Aside from just missing seasons, I miss the typical seasonal foods in the States. Spring Asparagus. Fall Butternut and Acorn Squash. Summer sweet corn. Oh lordy, the Fall peaches and Summer cherries… I am literally drooling at my laptop typing this. Since I’m missing out this year, will you please do me a favor and try out some of my favorite cold weather recipes? Butternut Squash and Caramelized Onion Galette. Acorn Squash Quesadillas. Winter Squash Soup. You will not regret it.

When we get back, I’m going to make a point to truly appreciate these things. I will be that lady. The lady on the hiking trail who keeps yelling “Doesn’t it smell amazing out here?! NATURE!” The lady who is grinning like an idiot at the Farmer’s market, smelling all the produce, buying ALL THE SQUASHES. I’m going to make myself sick off of cherries. Twice.

Personal Growth

There is no denying the fact that living abroad will change you.

Wandering around a loud, dusty bus station in Bangkok at 6am after getting off of an overnight bus in a complete daze (before coffee!) forces you to learn to just go with the flow. Figuring out how to explain to a bus driver that you need to be let off two miles before you reach town is an exercise in communication skills when you only speak English and he only speaks Thai. Simply living in a country where you don’t speak the native language forces you to learn to rely on the kindness of others, and is a daily exercise in patience. It also makes you realize the power of a simple smile.

Communication 101: If the signs are all in Thai but the food looks good, just walk up and say "One please!" and see what they give you.

Communication 101: If the signs are all in Thai but the food looks good, just walk up and say “One please!” and see what they give you.

I’m also fairly certain that walking past a Durian truck every day has hardened me against bad smells, which I hear comes in handy once you have kids. (Don’t know what durian is? It’s a fruit that smells like death. It’s banned in the subway systems in Singapore as well as in many hotels across Southeast Asia due to the odor.)

Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone!

Alright, I’ve laid out my list of the top 5 things we’re thankful for from our last 7-months abroad. What are you thankful for this Thanksgiving holiday?

Overcoming Your Fears Of Moving Abroad

The beautiful temple in our front yard: Wat Suan Dok.  Paradise, right?

The beautiful temple in our front yard: Wat Suan Dok. Paradise, right?

We moved to Southeast Asia, and you can too!

Since arriving in Thailand, Kevin and I have realized that we made a huge mistake in waiting so long to quit our jobs and move to Southeast Asia.  We got so hung up on questions like “what will people think of us?” and “how can we consider moving abroad since we just bought a home?” and those things nearly made us miss out on what is going to be one of the greatest experiences of our lives.  In hopes of helping out others who may be on the fence about making a similar change in their lives (or explaining this crazy change in our lives to friends, family and blog readers), we’ve put together this post to try to put some of your worries to rest.  Here’s a list of some of the things we worried about before moving abroad, and how we feel about them now that we’re here.

Let’s bust those fears!

Our beloved home in Seattle

Our beloved home in Seattle

What if renters destroy our home?  This was one of our biggest worries!  We’ve done a lot of work on our house – we completely gutted and remodeled the bathroom, built a deck in our backyard, painted the exterior a fabulous purple color, worked tirelessly on the landscaping, and painted nearly every room inside the house.  I can’t believe we almost decided not to spend time abroad because I was worried about whether or not tenants would clean our grout lines.  I have news for you, folks, renting out your home will be good for you.  It’s liberating to let go of the material possessions in your life and become more experience oriented!  At the end of my life, I know for certain that I’d regret missing out on experiences much more than I’d regret a few scrapes some renters made in our hardwood floors.

Kevin's working hard at a Cafe

Kevin’s working hard at a Cafe

What if we sink into bad work habits once we arrive?  I have an addictive personality – when I loved the TV show “Friends” during sophomore year of college, I holed up and watched all 10 seasons in about 2 weeks.  It’s true, ask my roommate Holly.  Kevin and I were afraid we’d sink into terrible work habits once we arrived here, since we’re managing our own schedules and projects completely independently for the first time in our lives.  Luckily, it’s quite motivating to work on projects you love, and this hasn’t been an issue.  We use a few methods to keep us motivated and on track, which I detailed in my previous post about Maximizing Productivity with the Pomodoro Method.

Will friends, family, coworkers, and strangers think we’re crazy?  When we started telling people we were moving to Southeast Asia, the resounding response was “Woo hoo!  Awesome!”  (Although our favorite response came from our friend Erik who blurted out, “You Assholes!”  We loved that.)  When I sent out my “farewell” email at work, the responses I received were along the lines of “I wish we had done that when we were young” and “you’ll never regret this”.  We’ve also received a surprising amount of support from random Craigslist people we sold some things to when we were clearing out our house.  Craigslist people can be oddly supportive!  Not a single person has expressed doubts to us about this adventure, so don’t let that fear stop you.  Thanks, family and friends, for being so supportive! :)

Spending 24-hours a day with your spouse: so far so good.

Spending 24-hours a day with your spouse: so far so good.

Will this be good for our marriage?  Kevin and I spend every minute of every day together now, except for when we hit the gym separately or are in the bathroom.  That’s a huge increase over the amount of time we used to spend together in Seattle when we both had jobs outside the home.  After getting over my frustration that I’ll no longer be able to secretly eat a candy bar every now and then, we’ve settled into a good routine.  The trick is to establish boundaries – one of our best is to not bother the other person if they’re wearing headphones.  Because our marriage is in good shape, I don’t mind sharing that we’re also finally going through a book we bought before our wedding titled The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.  I’m also doing my best not to talk to Kevin through the bathroom door when he’s in there – boundaries, Melanie!

Will this throw us behind in retirement savings?  Yes, it will.  But that’s ok, because we spent the last 5 years working hard to get a little bit ahead.  If you want to do something like this down the road, max out your 401k plan with your employer right now!  Open a Vanguard investment account and funnel as much money into it as possible!  In the end, for us, we went into this adventure knowing that we’re probably pushing retirement out by a year or two.  But that’s something we can accept – we want to travel now, before we’re too old to enjoy it.  We’re just trading time later for time now!

Getting my Rails Learning on at a Starbucks in Singapore

Improving my Rails skills at a Starbucks in Singapore

Will we get bored?  Sometimes, yes!  A person can only visit so many Wats (Buddhist temples) in Thailand, castles in Europe, or beaches in Bali before they all start to look the same.  This may sound like blasphemy, but traveling full-time is not awesome; we both had travel fatigue after spending just one week in Singapore.  Our best advice is to slow your travel way down, try to spend at least a month in each of your destinations, and get into a routine.  Become your own project manager.  Make your time abroad a time of intensive learning and set some goals – this will combat boredom and give you a sense of purpose.  My goal is to become a full stack web developer, so I’m currently working on my Ruby on Rails skills.  Kevin and I are both improving our HTML/CSS skills.  Kevin is kicking butt at several different projects in the iPhone app development world.  We both have resolved to always be reading both a fiction and nonfiction book.  We have very quickly figured out that if you place your focus on learning with travel as a secondary focus, you’ll never get bored.

Will this kill our careers? Hopefully not!  Because we’ve both resolved to learn so much during our year abroad, we are hoping this year will be a selling point to employers when we return to the States and start looking for jobs.  I mean, if you can pair program with your spouse, you can probably pair program with anyone, right?  We’ll be sure to put up a follow-up post on this particular topic after moving back home.

Our Story

Not many people know that our idea of moving abroad actually hatched in the Summer of 2010, just a couple months after buying our home in Seattle, and before we even got married.  It’s funny how doing something to anchor yourself in one location (like buying a house) can make you want to run away!  When we came up with this crazy idea, I actually set a calendar reminder for May 2013 that was titled “Seriously consider moving to Thailand.”  (The reason we waited 3 years is because we didn’t want to have to pay back the massive $8,000 first-time homebuyer tax credit we got when we bought our house!)  In May 2013 when that calendar reminder popped up, we both sort of laughed it off as just another one of our crazy ideas from the past, and went on with our lives.

Obligatory Wedding Photo

Obligatory Wedding Photo.  What a happy day. :)

It turns out that the idea actually took root and began to grow, nourished in part by the ideas we read about in Tim Ferriss’s book The 4-Hour Workweek.  So we planned a super secret 3-week reconnaissance vacation to Southeast Asia in November and December of 2013, and we visited cities in Vietnam and Thailand with a “could we live here?” mindset.  We decided that Chiang Mai was a great spot to start our time abroad because of the low cost of living, the friendly Thai attitude, and the big expat community.

Visiting Baan Chang Elephant Park outside Chiang Mai during our Reconnaissance Vacation in 2013

Visiting Baan Chang Elephant Park outside Chiang Mai during our Reconnaissance Vacation in 2013

After our vacation ended and we knew that we’d be able to handle living in Southeast Asia, we were faced with actually making the decision of whether or not to move overseas.  We agonized over the decision, we made pro/con lists, we read books, we subscribed to expat podcasts, we talked about it nonstop with each other until we were blue in the face.  Eventually, we set a deadline (New Year’s Day) and made our final decision to move overseas while we were walking around Greenlake.  Now that we’re here, we’ve realized that a lot of the things we cared about were materialistic things that don’t really matter in the long run, and that we should’ve made the decision to move much earlier!

We want to hear from you!

We’re always looking for blog post suggestions!  Leave us a comment with any topics you want to hear about, especially if you’re getting tired of all the food pictures I’ve been posting lately.

Packing for a Year in Southeast Asia

What do you pack when you’re going to spend a year traveling Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, Singapore, The Philippines, and Indonesia?  We’re still not 100% sure about the answer to that question, but here’s a peek at what we brought along with us for our year-long adventure.

Folks close to us might be familiar with how picky we are about things we purchase.  When we registered for our wedding, we spent weeks researching and agonizing over the best products, appliances, housewares, etc, and we do the same with our travel gear.  Almost everything we linked to below (except where noted) absolutely has our endorsement and should be considered Kevin-and-Melanie-approved.  If you choose to buy any of these things for your own travels, we hope they serve you as well as they have us!



The Bags - this is everything we brought!

The Bags – this is everything we brought!

Our goal was to be able to carry everything we brought on our backs.  No roller bags allowed!  We also didn’t want to bring so much stuff that it’ll be annoying to change locations every few weeks.  We are based initially in Chiang Mai for 7 months, then we’ll be hopping around Southeast Asia, so we need to be mobile.  We’ll be getting rid of the black bag in the back when we leave Chiang Mai and will each have just our North Face duffel and our laptop bag.  The black bag in the back was filled with sunblock, half-used shampoo and soap bottles, and other toiletries we knew we’d use up during our 7 months in Chiang Mai.

The Bags:

  • North Face Base Camp Duffel Bags (Size Small) – We absolutely love these bags, and have taken them to Europe, Belize, and now all over Thailand.  They hold up great and are fabulous in somewhat wet environments (after a boat ride in Belize, we were the only ones in our tour group with completely dry clothes in our bag!)  They fit well in overhead bins on most airplanes.
  • Melanie’s Timbuk2 Laptop Bag – Perfect for a small laptop, can carry everything but a small child.
  • Kevin’s Laptop Bag – More manly, sans the sassy pink stripe that mine has


The Electronics

The Electronics

What can we say?  We love electronics…  Here’s what we brought and what we wish we had left behind:

  • Computers: 13″ Macbook Air & charger and 13″ Macbook Pro & charger.  (Very happy we brought these guys – their 8+ hour battery life is fantastic)
  • Reading: Melanie’s Kindle Paperwhite with awesome case, Kevin’s Basic Kindle
  • Kevin’s Sony Headphones (best headphones ever) & iPhone Headphones
  • Melanie’s Bose Noise Canceling Headphones and In-ear Headphones (I got killer deals on both of these sets of headphones, but would still only give them lukewarm reviews.)
  • Melanie’s Fitbit One – An awesome clip-on pedometer that syncs to an app on my iPhone.  This thing tracks steps, mileage, flights of stairs, calories burned, and can even track your sleep. It has been put in the washing machine and dropped in the toilet and still survives.
  • Apple TV & Remote (wish we had not brought – even our upgraded internet is too slow to use the Apple TV)
  • HDMI Cable (Kevin’s Macbook Pro has an HDMI port, so we can hook it up to watch online TV Shows and Movies through the TV in our apartment)
  • Mighty Mouse
  • Two iPhones (we got Thai sim cards so we have local phone and data plans), with cords & chargers.  These also act as our camera.
  • Voltage Adapter/Converters


The Shoes

The Shoes

The List:

Melanie’s Clothes

Melanie's Clothes

Melanie’s Clothes

Quick-dry is the name of the game for clothing in a tropical country.  Have you heard of swamp ass?  If you haven’t, where do you live, Alaska?!  Well, if you come over here with only cloth underwear and non quick-dry shorts, you’re going to be living in your own little swamp ass hell.  Trust me, quick dry is the way to go.  Plus, you can wash laundry in hotel sinks, hang it up, and you’ll be ready to roll the next day!

The List:

  • A hat, because I’m the whitest person ever
  • 3 quick-dry dresses – I searched all over the internet for other travel dresses, but nothing can beat these, so I just have three different colors.  Please don’t judge me.
  • 3 pairs of quick-dry shorts
  • 1 pair of quick-dry pants that roll up into capri pants (definitely will need these – you should have your knees covered to visit temples)
  • 2 quick-dry t-shirts & 5 quick-dry tank tops
  • 2 normal bras & 3 sports bras
  • 5 pairs of socks (3 would’ve been plenty)
  • 3 pairs of quick dry underwear (5 would’ve been better) & 5 pairs of cloth underwear (these are nice to have to just feel normal every once in awhile, and better for sleeping, in my opinion)
  • 2 running outfits, plus 2 extra pairs of gym shorts
  • 2 hoodies (because how could I come over here without at least one piece of Seahawks gear.  Turns out 2 was definitely overkill, though.)
  • A long-sleeve white mesh shirt rated at SPF 50, for snorkeling
  • 2 swim suits, a one-piece for snorkeling and a bikini for beach lounging
  • Rain jacket
  • Scarf (for covering my shoulders if we visit any temples)
  • Pajamas
  • Beach skirt

Kevin’s Clothes

Kevin's Clothes

Kevin’s Clothes

The List:

  • 2 pairs of quick-dry shorts with a hidden zip-up security pocket
  • 1 pair of pants, with zip-off legs to turn into shorts
  • 2 pairs of swim trunks
  • Rain jacket
  • Hoodie
  • 5 pairs of socks (too many!)
  • 4 quick-dry t-shirts
  • 4 regular t-shirts
  • 1 cotton polo, for “dressy” days
  • 3 quick-dry boxers
  • 3 regular boxers
  • 2 pairs of gym clothes
  • 1 pair of jeans (only wore ‘em on the flight here, it’s too hot here for jeans)
  • Leather belt with a bottle-opener belt buckle



The Drugs & Toiletries

The Drugs & Toiletries

“Western” toiletries are a little bit tough to find here, and you have to pay a premium when you do find them.  We brought along a LOT of toiletries, mainly because we couldn’t bring ourselves to just throw them away when we moved out of our house.  If you’re willing to use local brands, you’ll save a lot of money.  For example, you can find a Thai brand of deoderant for just $0.60 US!

The List:

  • Sunblock (7 bottles) – bring as much as you can fit!  It’s so expensive here!
  • Deoderant (Kevin brought 3 of his fave Old Spice brand, which we have yet to find in any stores here)
  • Electric toothbrushes and chargers – can’t go a year without these puppies
  • Daily Multivitamins – these are impossible to find here, and counterfeit versions run rampant. Best to bring along if you rely on these for your nutrients.
  • Birth control, 14-month supply – because seriously, WHO could stand to be pregnant in 90+ degree temperatures.  Birth control pills are available over the counter here very cheap, but it was also cheap and easy to stock up through my health insurance before we left.  I’m glad I did.
  • Bonine, the best motion sickness medicine out there.  Best to bring this along, I don’t think it’s easy to find here.
  • Ciproflaxin (prescription antibiotic for traveler’s tummy, we never, ever travel without this.)
  • Allergy medication
  • Excedrin, ibuprofin, and immodium
  • Chapstick, because Burt’s Bee’s isn’t sold in Thailand, so sad.
  • Electric Razor
  • Misc. lotions, shampoos, soaps
  • Hand sanitizer, because not all bathrooms here have soap
  • Melanie’s makeup
  • Foot scraper – really glad we brought this.  Wearing flip flops everyday doesn’t promote soft feet, need to keep those calluses in check!
  • Bug spray
  • Cortizone cream for bug bites
  • Bandaids and antibiotic ointment
  • Hair brush and comb
  • Note: don’t even think about bringing a hair dryer.  If you must have one, buy it here so you don’t have voltage compatibility problems, but you should know I think you’re crazy for blow drying your hair when it’s 90+ degrees outside.


The Miscellany

The Miscellany

The List:

  • Keen travel purse, with about six hundred hidden pockets
  • Bag for dirty laundry (someone gave me this for High School graduation a decade ago, it is finally having its 15 minutes of fame)
  • Vacuum pack bags, for maximizing your bag space
  • Sunglasses
  • Steripen, a UV light pen for sterilizing tap water if we’re in a pinch.  Highly recommend!
  • Head lamps (We brought 2, one would’ve been fine.  Power outages are fairly common everywhere we’ve visited, and these serve us well when that happens!)
  • A hat for Kevin
  • Travel journal, moleskin notebooks for writing down ideas, and pens
  • Kevin’s snorkel goggles and mask (Prescription masks are tricky to find here, but if you don’t need prescription lenses, you can easily borrow or rent them at any beach destination.)
  • Dry sack (small size)
  • Day pack (we swear by these day packs, they are cheap and awesome)
  • Travel lock and cable, to secure our bags to a stationery object in hotel rooms
  • Platypus pack-flat water bottle
  • Super portable external hard drive that doesn’t require an external power source
  • Money purse for occasions where we feel like we need to wear our valuables under our clothes (haven’t used it yet, you could easily skip this if you have clothes with a security pocket)
  • Travel kleenex, for those “Oh no, there’s no toilet paper in here!” moments
  • 2 books Kevin wanted to read: RESTful Web Services and Into the Wild (we will leave these in Chiang Mai)
  • One piano music book
  • Passports
  • 2 credit cards, 3 debit cards, $1,000 US Currency (for emergencies) and our driver’s licenses

It’s definitely easier to pack for a year-long trip when you’re facing just one climate: HOT.  We hope this list will be helpful to others thinking about making a similar trip.  If nothing else, we hope this list makes you understand why we seem to be wearing the same four outfits in ALL of our photos.

We want to hear from you!

What’s the one thing you never travel without?  Sunblock?  Ambien?  Chocolate?  Let us know!

Minimizing Your Losses When Obtaining Thai Currency

That's Some Legit Thai Currency $1 USD is roughly 32 Thai Baht, depending on current exchange rates

Thai Currency
Today, $1 USD is roughly 32 Thai Baht

Did you know that a typical ATM withdrawal fee in Thailand is 180 Baht (about $6 US)? Did you know that many credit cards charge a 3% foreign transaction fee? Or how about that many establishments charge an extra fee for you to pay with plastic?  Aside from hotels and nicer restaurants that we don’t tend to frequent very often (such is the life of the unemployed), Thailand has mostly a cash-based economy, and you may get laughed at if you try to offer up a credit card when it comes time to pay.

So how can you minimize your losses when obtaining Thai Currency? Here are a few tips.

For Short Term Travelers:

  • Get a little Thai currency before you leave home, if possible.  Check with your local bank to see if they offer a reasonable exchange rate for Thai Baht. If they do, we recommend changing about $30 USD for Thai Baht. This should get you through your airport connection, and pay for any early transportation costs in Thailand. (This is especially true if you’re traveling to Chiang Mai – Taxi fares in Chiang Mai from the airport to any hotel in the city are currently pegged at a cost of 120 Baht, or about $4. So cheap!)
  • Identify at least 2 credit cards and 2 ATM cards you can use abroad, and call those banks to:
    1. Ask what fees apply to card usage / ATM withdrawals in foreign countries.
    2. Ask the bank to place a travel notice on your cards. Banks may suspect your cards were stolen and freeze them if you use them in a foreign country without notifying them of your travel plans! We all know they do this for our own good, but in a foreign country where calls to the US are expensive and confusing to make, this can be a nightmare!
  • Typically, the best exchange rates are obtained at an ATM.  The fee most foreign ATMs charge tends to be a flat rate regardless of the amount you withdraw, so you should take out as much as you can per transaction.  Many Thai ATMs can distribute a maximum of 20 bills at a time, which means a maximum of 20,000 THB (about $600 US).  This will last you a LONG time in Thailand.
  • In addition to figuring out how which ATM card is best to use in Thailand, it always gives me a warm fuzzy feeling to travel with a little extra U.S. cash.  Withdraw some crisp, new $100 bills from your local bank to bring over from the U.S. to exchange. There are places to exchange currency nearly everywhere you turn in Thailand, and they almost always offer a better rate for $100 bills than for $50s; some will even refuse old tattered bills.  The best currency exchange rates can be found if you go into a bank, rather than the kiosks on the street.

For Long Term Travelers and Frequent International Travelers:

  • Get an ATM card at a bank that refunds foreign ATM fees!  This is the single most important thing you should do if you spend extended amounts of time abroad.  We have a Schwab High Yield Investor Checking account.  In order to open one of these accounts, you also have to open a a Schwab One Brokerage Account and link the two accounts.  With these accounts opened and linked, neither will have any fees or minimum balance requirements.  ATM fees are refunded automagically at the end of each month.  Some helpful tips:
    • Start the application process for these accounts two months before leaving home so you can receive your new cards in the mail with plenty of time to spare.
    • Before leaving home, link the Schwab checking account to one of your other bank accounts so you can transfer money easily.  This requires mailing in a paper form. (I know, what is this, the 80’s?!  Is it time to bust out my stirrup pants and t-shirt rings?!)  Allow ample time for this step!  We sent in the wrong form the first time, of course.
    • As a rule of thumb, we aim to keep a zero balance in the Schwab account most of the time in case our ATM card gets skimmed/stolen.  When we need money, we schedule a transfer (which usually takes 4-5 days to complete) and withdraw the money as soon as its in the Schwab account.
    • Be sure you understand your daily ATM withdrawal limits and what happens if you try to overdraft.  This is important to know, especially if you need to take out large amounts of money each month to pay for apartment rent.  We specifically ensured that transactions would be rejected if the account balance was zero.
  • Get a credit card with no foreign transaction fees!  We use the Chase United Plus card, which comes with perks like bonus miles, free checked bags, priority boarding, and 2 United Club passes per year.  The annual fee of $95 is waived for the first year, but Kevin has been successful 2 years in a row at getting this fee waived by calling and threatening to cancel the card.

Safety Tips

Here I am, acting suspicious at the ATMs.
If anyone sees this, I’m now in a Thai Jail. Please send money. (KIDDING)

  • Because ATM card skimming can happen anywhere in the world, you should follow a few precautions when withdrawing money.  Pick a non-sketchy-looking ATM, however you choose to define that.  We like to find newer ATMs that adjoin a bank, or look for ATMs the locals seem to favor using.  We avoid dark alleyways and ATMs near packs of young hooligans.  Always give the card reader a little tug before inserting your card, to make sure nothing extra has been attached to it to steal your card info.  And always, always, always cover your hand when entering your pin number at the ATM!
  • If you bring over lots of cash, protect it!  At hotels, we like to use a cable and luggage lock to lock up our bags up and secure them to something in the room.  This sure beats carrying a thousand bucks in your purse when you’re walking around unfamiliar places.


Future Posts

We want to post about things that interest you!  I know I’ve talked a lot lately about chapped asses and bathroom escapades, but blogging about those topics alone is not sustainable.  It also makes me feel like a huge weirdo.  In the future, we’re hoping to blog about what we do in a typical day, going to the dentist in Thailand, what we packed, and preparations we made before leaving Seattle.  If you have suggestions for future blog post topics, please leave us a comment to let us know!