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Smart chip credit card bandwagon – American Express finally jumping on

Posted on 10 July 2012 by David

Smart Chip Credit Card - Gold

In the market for a smart chip credit card?  Here’s a bit of news for you.

American Express has indicated that it will offer smart chip credit cards towards the latter half of this year (2012).   This may actually happen as planned, since AMEX has indicated that by April 2013, all credit card processors must be able to handle EMV cards.

American Express’s press release follows Visa, Mastercard, and Discover who have already announced planned support for EMV cards in the USA.   We can thus expect to see that smart chip credit cards will be increasingly accepted at merchants all across the USA in the coming years.

For now, as the AMEX smart chip credit cards are still a few months away, we all will have to get our smart chip credit cards from the few banks and credit unions that offer them.  Check out our post on available chip-and-signature as well as chip-and-pin cards.

For more information view the American Express press release on EMV cards.


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Trip to Tibet – Why Tibet Must Be On Your Travel List

Posted on 09 July 2012 by onthegroundtravel

Trip to Tibet - Potala Palace


We’ll be highlighting our trip to Tibet this month.

The Controversy of Encouraging a Trip to Tibet

Before we start, we want to address a legitimate question raised by @Tibetans, one of our Twitter followers: “How can you promote Tourism to occupied Tibet where Tibetan are suffering under Chinese brutality?”

Whether the accusation above is true or not, we want to start answering this question by first clarifying why we travel and most important of all and why we believe everyone should get out of their comfort zone and travel to understand the world around them.


If All You Want is a Picture, Stay Home Instead

Sometimes, travelers get a bad rap.

They go to a new place, pack the top tourist sites in the morning hours, snap a bunch of pictures, get back on the bus and go to the next place.  To them, traveling is like a social proof that they have “seen” the country and they have all the pictures to prove that too.

That is NOT why one should travel.  Honestly, if the only objective you have to travel is to snap pictures in front of the  “Eiffel Towers” of the world, then there are tons of photo software you can leverage to do that.  Don’t waste thousands of dollars to go there.

An Example of Power and Danger of the Media: a Victim or Murder Suspect

To travel (as opposed to vacationing), in our opinion, is only worth the money if the journey enhances your perspective of the world in some way.

If there is one thing we confirmed from our decades of traveling around the world is this:

Do not trust any media or anyone to tell you what is happening on the ground elsewhere.

Why?  Because every article is influenced by the viewpoints and opinions of the author.  Every word on the article has implied meanings that can sway how you think about a situation.

For example take the case of a recent story about George Zimmerman who was accused of murdering a black teen.   Was he the “victim of media persecution” or a “a murderer”?

Depending on which of the labels you saw the media assign to him the most, you would have formed an opinion about who Zimmerman is, regardless of the real truth.   You’ll begin to believe one side of the story based on the ‘facts’ the media reported.  It would not be until a verdict in a competent judicial court (and sometimes even after that) that you will start to understand the real course of events.  Unfortunately not all events go through the rigor of due process in a justice system thus leaving you to form an opinion on the information you get from whoever reports it.

And that is the danger (and power) of media.

Trip to Tibet - Ganden Monastery

Our Right to Informed Opinion of Tibet

Now, going back to why we promote taking a trip to Tibet.

We strongly believe everyone should go there to see and determine for themselves the condition of Tibetans under the Chinese rule.  If we didn’t believe in that, who are we to criticize those who blindly follow what state-controlled and supposedly free-speech media outlets say about any situation at all.   Everyone has the right to see and make that decision for themselves.

We Encourage You to Visit Tibet!

If you have the opportunity, you should visit this amazing land and its people!   It was an eye opening and intriguing visit for us.  If you are planning a trip to Tibet, have a look at our Tibet itinerary that we will share on our next post.  Hope it helps you out!

We know this is a very passionate topic for some.  What’s your view on taking a trip to Tibet?

Trip to Tibet - Barkhor Circuit

Interested in Tibet?  Then check out our other stories:


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Guest Post: Travel the world, just don’t get scammed in Havana!

Posted on 28 June 2012 by Danica

travel the world - havana scam - street band

In this week’s “Travel the World, Just Don’t Get Scammed” series, we are very excited to have Tammy Lowe to share her experience in Havana with us.  It is a story of cigars, a muscle man with lots of bling, a few mojitos and a diamond ring.  Intrigued?  Read on…

That’s Where I am From Too!

“Where are you from?” we were asked by a friendly young Cuban during a stroll through Havana.  “We are from England”, we replied and he got very excited and told us that his friend lived in a town called Bedford.  “No way! What a coincidence, we are from Bedford”, we said.  We chatted for a while and found out that he was an English student.  He asked us what we were planning to see that day and we mentioned a few famous sights.  He asked if he can join us and be our tour guide, free of charge of course, so he can practice his English.  We agreed and had a really nice time with him.  At one stage he asked us if we wanted to go to a local market and if we like cigars?  Not one to miss out on a shopping opportunity at local markets we agreed.

travel the world - havana scam - me with cigar

The Man Nobody Wants to Mess With

So off we went to the outskirts of Havana in what looked like a much poorer district, where he led us into a flat.  That doesn’t look like a market I thought to myself, but then I thought maybe some people just run illegal markets in communist Cuba to make a bit more money.  Inside was a young woman with hardly any clothes on who puffed up the cushions on a mattress on the floor, which was turned into a sofa.  We sat down and all of the sudden this big guy (and I mean really big!) with gold chains and muscles that would make Arnold Schwarzenegger look tiny, entered the room, shouted at the woman to leave, and sat down opposite us.  At that stage we started to feel a bit uncomfortable.  Where are all these colourful, charming handicraft sellers we were used to seeing on the streets?  He asked us if we wanted to buy some cigars, but we weren’t really interested.  He looked a bit puzzled and shouted at our ‘tour guide’ who in a panic said to us that he thought we wanted to buy cigars.  We explained that we were more looking for souvenirs like handicrafts, but inquired the price for the cigars as we felt this situation could soon turn ugly.  The big man said $50 for a big box.  We said that we only have $20 on us, which was true and asked him what we can get for that?  He pointed to a mini packet with five cigars that usually comes as a free gift if you buy a big box.  He looked a bit angry and at this point we started to feel a bit nervous, locked in his house as we were.  Chris was holding on to our backpack very tightly and we looked at each other and said that we will take the small cigars as we only had $20 on us.  He sulked a bit, but led us out of his flat after we paid him.  Our tour guide didn’t follow us.  As soon as we were outside we quickly made our way through the back streets towards the more civilized and touristy part of town.

How I Really Knew You

After that shock we went to the nearest bar, ordered some food and a few mojitos to celebrate our escape.  We reflected on the day and couldn’t quite work out how we fell for the scam.  We kept thinking what a huge coincidence it was that this guy knew somebody in Bedford and was able to describe the sights and how beautiful the river was.  I mean Bedford is not exactly a well-known town in England.  And then it struck us that a few days before we had been asked by some other locals where we were from.  When we told them they just smiled and told us to enjoy Cuba, so we didn’t really think much off it and just thought the locals here are very friendly and curious.  But now we know that they must have all worked together and told each other the intel they received about us.  So when the guy asked us where we were from and we said England he knew full well that we lived in Bedford and had had a few days to research the town online.  So to gain our trust he made up the story about his friend studying in Bedford.

Then Comes the Surprise!

It was our first holiday together, so we put it down as one of those experiences you have as a traveler and decided to enjoy the rest of the night.  We sipped some mojitos and listened to a Cuban band when all of the sudden Chris started to look very serious.  He told me that he was glad our backpack hadn’t’ been stolen by the guy as there was something special in there.  I had no idea what he was talking about and thought maybe he couldn’t handle the strong mojitos very well, but then he took out a small box containing a ring and he popped the question.  Of course I said yes.  If we survived being locked in a gangster’s menacing flat, we can survive anything…

travel the world - havana scam - engaged

About Tammy Lowe:  Tammy is one half of Tammy & Chris on the move.  She hails from Germany, and is therefore both mighty and efficient.  Chris is the other half, hailing from the UK which means he likes to talk about the weather, be polite, or sometimes even both at the same time.  They both have civil service backgrounds, but have left their bowler-hats back in London to go and work on justice and human right issues in Cambodia, and, whenever they get some time off, travel around the world.

Thank you Tammy for sharing your story.  Congratulations, and what an adventure you two survived together!

Like this story?  Check out our other story in the “Travel the world, just don’t get scammed” series.

If you want to share your short story about a time you have been scammed, leave us a comment below.  We’d love to hear from you!


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Top Tibet Travel Questions Answered – Part 2

Posted on 27 June 2012 by Danica

Tibet Travel - Nechung Monastary

Last week, Pazu Kong, one of our favorite local hosts on our round the world tour, answered the top Tibet travel questions regarding the best places and time to go.  Today, we will review the logistics of getting to Tibet, and share with you a sample travel itinerary.

Disclaimer:  We did not receive any compensation, discounts, or benefits for highlighting Pazu Kong, owner of the Spinn Cafe and Tours in Lhasa, Tibet, nor will we receive commissions for this post in the future.  This is purely a post to help you travel to Tibet as well.

Tibet Travel Regulation and Sample Itinerary

Tibet Travel - Pazu Kong - Spinn Cafe

OnTheGroundTravel: One of the most mind-boggling thing about traveling to Tibet is the constantly changing entry regulations.  What are the requirements now? (Note: ALWAYS check the requirements prior to planning your trip, and prior to entry into Tibet)

Pazu: The situation right now is complicated and probably changing very fast. So let’s make a quick summary.

  • March 2009: no permit is issued.
  • March 2010: some permits are issued.
  • March 2011: no permit is issued.
  • March 2012: no permit is issued.

The permit is usually resumed on 5 April every year.  But, this year, the Tourism Bureau implemented a new rule that a group must have at least five people of the same nationality during May and June (probably July as well).  So if you come as two people right now, you cannot get the permit.  This is out of the ordinary and we hope the situation will get better in the next few weeks.

Tibet Travel - Drepung Monastary 0

OnTheGroundTravel: Once in Tibet, are there any regulations that travelers need to be aware of?

Pazu: Always listen to your tour guide for advice.  To the extent possible, we always hope to give travelers more freedom.  I can assureyou that the tour guides are not monitoring you, and they are not the same as the tour guides in North Korea.  However, the tour guides would not be very happy if the travelers broke any rules that seem offensive to the government.  You should be aware that both the tour guides and the tour agencies will be held responsible for any offense made by the travelers.  For example, if the travelers were found walking around the Barkhor wearing t-shirts with political messages, the tour guide and agency would be suspended.

OnTheGroundTravel: If someone can only stay in Tibet for a short period of time, what are the must-see sights?

Pazu: If one only has five days, I think it would be nice to spend most of the time in Lhasa, then one day as a day trip to the nearby lakes, e.g. Namtso Lake or Yamdrok Lake.  If one has six days, then adding a day trip to Ganden Monastery would be a great idea as well.

Tibet Travel - Yamdrok Lake

OnTheGroundTravel: For folks who want to visit Tibet and the Everest Base Camp, what’s the best route to get there?  When should they visit, and how many days would they need?

Pazu: A trip to the Everest should take at least 8 days, but better be 10 days, including the time for acclimatization in Lhasa, this is extremely important.

A sample Everest tour is as follows:

  • Day 1: Arrive in Lhasa, pickup service, with tour guide
  • Day 2: Lhasa for acclimatization, relax (suggested sights: Norbulingka Summer Palace and Sera Monastery), with tour guide
  • Day 3: Lhasa (suggested sights: Potala Palace, Barkhor Circuit and Jokhang Monastery, Tsamkhung Nunnery and its teahouse), with tour guide
  • Day 4: Landcruiser trip: Lhasa – Yamdrok Lake – Gyantse (suggested sights: Pelkhor Choeden), with tour guide
  • Day 5: Landcruiser trip: Gyantse (visit Gyantse Fort)  – Shigatse – Sakya Monastery, with tour guide
  • Day 6: Landcruiser trip: Sakya – Everest Base Camp, with tour guide
  • Day 7: Landcruiser trip: Everest Base Camp – Shigatse (suggested sight: Tashilunpo Monastery), with tour guide
  • Day 8: Landcruiser trip: Shigatse – Namtso Lake, with tour guide
  • Day 9: Landcruiser trip: Namtso Lake – Yangpachen Hotspring – Lhasa, with tour guide
  • Day 10: Lhasa, leaving Tibet by train or plane, with tour guide to send you to the airport or train station

Tibet Travel - Drepung Monastary 1

Most people would actually be okay if they spend at least three nights in Lhasa before going to the Everest, but do not attempt to go on the second or third day.  It’s not a good idea to be too “ambitious.”  And as I mentioned before, there is actually quite a lot to see in Lhasa.

OnTheGroundTravel: Perfect.  Thank you, Pazu, for all your insights on traveling in Tibet.

Are you planning a visit to Tibet?   Want to learn more about our adventure there?  Then stay tuned for our destination review on Tibet in July.  Comment and let us know if you have any other questions.

Or… if you have been there already,  we want to know how it went!

Tibet Travel - Barkhor Circuit

About Pazu Kong: Pazu is the owner of the Spinn Cafe and Tours, located in Lhasa, Tibet.  His company has been organizing tours in Tibet since 2008.    The best way to reach Pazu is via the email address located here:


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Comparison of Smart Chip Credit Cards in U.S. – Chip & Pin

Posted on 26 June 2012 by David

Smart Chip Credit Card - Blue

Today is a quick one. There are only TWO chip-and-pin smart chip credit cards available in the USA.

If you are interested in the chip-and-signature smart cards, we have a detailed comparison table created to help you decide.

For a comprehensive list of all the smart chip credit cards available in the U.S., you should refer to the post here.

Not sure if you even need a smart card?  Then you must read this post.

Chip-and-pin Cards Compared

Below are all the chip-and-pin cards at a glance.

Card Name Issuing Bank Annual Fee Foreign Exchange Fees Rewards Sign Up Promotion
GlobeTrek Visa® Rewards Card Andrews Federal Credit Union None! 1% Visa Platinum Rewards

  • 1 point per $1 everywhere else
5,000 points after first purchase
The Elite Credit Card UNFCU $50 None Rewards

  • 2 points per $1 at supermarkets and dining
  • 1 point per $1 everywhere else
LOUNGE CLUB™ cards allow access to over 350 VIP lounges worldwide

** Please refer to comments box below on how to apply for the GlobeTrek VISA Rewards Card.  We will write a post shortly with detailed instructions.  In the meantime, if you have questions or run into any issues, feel free to drop us a note!

Smart Chip Credit Cards from trips around the world - using credit cards


How to Decide Which Chip-and-Pin Card to Apply


The best smart chip credit card for you depends on your lifestyle and spending habit.


This is because everyone places a different value on the various benefits offered by a credit card.

For us, first and foremost, saving money is key.  So, anytime we can save cash or get more rewards to subsidize our travel, we like that smart chip credit card a little bit more.

Let’s look at the easy stuff first.

On Sign Up Promotion, the GlobeTrek Visa Card wins because we will get 5000 points after 1st purchase.  Staying in lounges at the airport is a luxury that we will trade 5000 points for.

On Rewards, we think the Elite Credit Card wins, although not by much.  This is because while the rewards program of the Elite Credit Card is slightly richer, we have another card we use for grocery and dining spend, so we will not likely take advantage of the 2 points per $1 at supermarket offer.  It will be a nice backup card though in case we forget the other card.

Now, the tricky part is how to evaluate annual fee and foreign exchange fee.  It depends on how much you plan to spend overseas.

Essentially, you are trying to compare $50 vs. 1% of foreign spend.

If you think you will put more than $5000 on your new credit card from overseas, then apply for the Elite Credit Card because you will spend more on the foreign exchange fee with the GlobeTrek Card than the annual fee on the Elite Credit Card.

On the other hand, if you think you will spend less than $5000 overseas, then by all means, apply for the GlobeTrek Visa Card because the 1% you spend on foreign exchange fees on that card will be less than the annual fee on the Elite Credit Card.

**Caveat Emptor? We noticed one inconvenience on the Elite Credit Card in that it will automatically enroll you in a 60-day complimentary term life insurance product and the cost of this product will be automatically billed to your Elite Credit Card starting on the 61st day.  If you don’t need term life insurance you can opt-out before the 61st day, but you must call a designated number on the fine print of the application to cancel.  We think this is a very questionable practice to automatically opt-in everyone to this (eventually) paid product.  So all else being equal, we will sign up for the GlobeTrek Visa Card instead.

Everyone has different spending habits, so think about how you spend, then decide on the card you want to apply.


Which smart chip credit card are you planning to apply for?  Any questions, drop us a comment below!


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photo by: 4nitsirk

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