travel can dumb down the brain: especially with exchange rates

Some years ago I suggested to everyone ‘pull out the sock from under your mattress, in a couple of weeks the national notes of Europe will no longer be legal tender, so convert it now.”

That was when, on 1st January 2002 histories biggest monetary changeover happened and  the Euro entered the world in its final official state. Billions of crisp clean notes and coins were distributed to banks and shops and national coins and notes were no longer be legal tender. And, it made travel a whole lot simpler for people like me.

The trouble it takes me to work out the comparative value of a nations currency, with New Zealand’s, is unbelievable. I usually resort to a bed-for-the-night costs ABC so this purchase is the same as half a bed-night, or ten times a bed-value. And so I make my decision. Yes, I tell myself, this is worth three bed-nights or conversely no way will I pay the same cost for a safe bed as for this meal, trinket, or taxi!

The only time this really failed me was on a Greek island where I’d just arrived and had not worked out the monetary system in terms that made sense to me.

With Turkish currency rates still in my mind, the ATM had delivered me enough cash for two people to survive the next two weeks and now it was time to have a snack – an essential part of travel- sit, eat and watch the locals.

I order a coffee, my daughter a milkshake, and eventually the bill arrives. That small repast cost a weeks accommodation. Now, for those of you who stay in hotels and travel for a week or two, this may seem a weird way of costing a coffee and shake, but when you are staying in a pensione, someone’s spare room or a backpackers hostel, it is eminently sensible. After all, one of the many reasons travellers from all over the world use such places to sleep is to save money and therefore travel longer. So in this milkshake affair, it could mean a weeks less travel and therefore not worth it. Too late, it’s drunk.

This method of deciding costs is not easily worked out by someone as numerically challenged as i. One example only. ( I have some pride as to how far I am willing to let you see my failings).

It was in Laos, I’d crossed the Mekong river border some three hours earlier, it was hot and we were being attacked by school children celebrating the Buddhist New Year with hoses and buckets of water.  Escaping into a shop, we, an English friend and I, order a meal, amazed at the prices. We’d been told that Huay Xai, was an expensive place because it’s on the heroin trail. We’d not yet worked out the exchange rate, we just knew when we changed some money at the border we became instant kip millionaires.  The bill is in our hands, I do some convoluted sums.

“The Malaysian ringitt is x New Zealand dollars, and that is y Thai bhart, so this must be z kip.”  Polly, was doing something similar with the pound.

“It’s xyz pence or x pound” she said which confused me even more. I had no idea of what the strong English pound was worth compared to the weak NZ dollar. I just knew all those zeros for a bowl of food seemed weird.

Travelling can have a dumb-down effect on me and I often wish I had a money converter. Truth is I don’t really know how to work them, so guess I will continue to work out the value of things, to me, in bed night terms.

How do you work out the monetary value of a scarf, a meal or a bed when you travel? Do you compare back to the New Zealand or USA currency or use an different method? What do you do, say or think when a fellow traveller says incredulously “You paid what for that? I got it for half that amount” let me know.

PS another currrency problem was in Zimbabwe when I was told I could not leave without paying the depature tax in USA dollars cash. I had none, the flight was ready to leave, my ticket expired the next day, the banks opened in 12 hours: too late for me.

Read more in my book NAKED IN BUDAPEST: TRAVELS WITH A PASSIONATE NOMAD,  from my website

Author: Heather - the kiwi travel writer

Nomadic travel-writer, photographer, author & blogger. See more on and Amazon for my books (heather hapeta)

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