Travel Tip - Money and Conversion Rates
A simple introduction to my comedic travels around the world plus travel advice.
Welcome to the launch of a new section of Escape from Clowntown Comics. I call it “The Art of Travel.” This is where I’ll be running once or twice a month cartoons and comics about the adventures, or misadventures, I’ve had in my various travels across America and the world.
Along with my humorous comics, I’ll also be posting useful tips that I’ve learned during each trip.
Today’s travel tip is as obvious as the nose on your face. It’s all about money. Yet some folks, like for example, my wacky wife, fail to observe or be bothered with learning much about local currency, exchange rates, or how to shop smart while on vacation.
These folks would rather set their minds to capturing the beauty and interesting sights instead of the minutiae of monetary policy.
Which is fine if you think you’re Jeff Bezos and you’re swimming in wealth while on vacation. But we regular folks should perhaps take a moment to learn foreign cash basics before jumping on that plane or boat to your distant getaway.
Then again I guess that’s why Chaos Monkeys, like my wife, make sure they bring along detail-oriented Stability Squirrels, like myself, to help keep their confusion in check.
For example, in 2019 we were traveling around Portugal for a few weeks and I swear to God not once did my wife, Deb, understand the conversion rates between the US dollar and the Euro.
I tried to explain it.
Our friend Joanne who we had been traveling with for a week tried to explain it.
But alas, Joanne and I both finally threw our hands up at the matter and let Deb be Deb while we sat back waiting for the chaos to begin.
One of these highlighted “Deb” moments happened during our stay in Albufiera, Portugal.
We were wandering around various tourist shops when at one place Deb spied some lovely scarves that were clearly marked at 8,95€ each.
Deb asked the shop keeper if she could buy two scarves at 20€.
I asked Deb what she was doing and she slyly said, “haggling.”
I informed her, “Your bargaining prowess has confused the shop keeper, but I’m sure she’d be happy with making 2,10€ in profit over her actual price.”
Deb looked more closely at the price and realized her mistake.
Stability Squirrel saves the day once again.
In an effort to help you, or your companion Chaos Monkeys, avoid such embarrassing gaffs in your future travels here’s some helpful information when dealing with currency.
First Tip: Use a Good App
Wouldn’t it be helpful to know how much you’re paying for that meal or tourist shop tchotchke?
Whether you use an iPhone or an Android phone, make use of a currency conversion app to ease that curiosity.
While Google search and Apple’s Siri interfaces can actually return the conversion prices you input into search, there are times when you don’t have Cell or Wi-Fi service. That’s when a local app will come in useful, as long as it returns the latest conversion rates.
Remember, when looking at apps, be sure to look at the ratings, reviews and the security features before you install them.
Here’s a couple of suggestions:
For Android Phones:
Second Tip: Where to get Foreign Currency before your trip
Usually you want to have about $60 to $100 in foreign currency before you arrive at your destination. Consider this “just in case” money. As in Just In case you need to pay for a taxi, or just in case you arrive when local banks are closed.
Depending on where you live, getting your hands on a foreign currency can prove difficult unless you live in a major city with major banks. Even then the banks might not have much foreign cash on hand.
The key is to make sure you order your cash a few weeks ahead of your trip. If you wait until the day before your trip you’ll more than likely have to do your exchange at the Airport with a Currency Exchange which will rip you off with heavy fees on the exchange.
Even worse, you might have to do it at the hotel where you’re staying, which will guarantee being thoroughly hosed on the exchange rate.
This is why I say keep your initial travel money low to cover expenses for a day until you can do an exchange at a local bank.
Use the bank’s ATM to do the exchange. A Visa/Master Card based ATM/credit card will give you the current exchange rates and a minimum of fees.
I used my Visa Based ATM card throughout most of Spain and Portugal without any issue.
However be sure when using an ATM machine at a bank that first time that the bank is open — just in case the machine eats your card!
That’s why it’s also best practice to make sure you have a second credit card with you.
Off The Beaten Path
If you’re traveling to really out-of-the-way places, you might have no choice but to do your currency exchange at the airport when you arrive.
The other option is to pay in US Dollars if they’ll take it.
When traveling in Costa Rica and Belize, most shops and restaurants were happy to take our US dollars.
This works well in countries that have very devalued currency but don’t try this in Europe.
They’ll just laugh at your stupidity.
That’s when you whip out the Traveler's Cheques to really make them chortle at your archaic ways.
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