On the surface, a discussion about currency exchange rates may sound simple. There are best practices for how to get the best rates and how to access foreign currency when you’re on a trip. Those seem like the nuts and bolts of any discussion and best practices do change from time to time.
I remember when a really cool thing to do for Euros was to go to your local AAA office where you could buy Euro starter packs at a pretty decent exchange rate. For people who were just beginning to travel abroad, it was a great idea. I used to get them as gifts for couples going to Europe on their honeymoon! I have no idea if AAA still does that, but they used to sell out quickly.
How Our Philosophy Changes Over Time
As we become more experienced travelers, I think we adopt a more relaxed approach to currency exchange rates and find a system that works well for each of us. For instance, I never mind returning home with a stash of foreign currency because I know I’ll use it again during an upcoming trip.
But recently, a conversation I had with a friend, not so much about where to exchange currency, but more about the value he was getting for his exchange rates, sorta shocked me. It made me think about how I approach spending when I’m abroad and I gave him some advice that really opened his eyes and relaxed his anxiety, so I’m wondering what you all think. Maybe there are other viewpoints we can add to this conversation too?
My Friend’s Approach
First, let me tell you his approach. Do keep in mind he’s not particularly well-traveled and hadn’t been on a trip by himself in many years. He’s also a generally nervous guy. He was keeping track of the exchange rate every single day and with every transaction! To my way of thinking, he was much too focused on the small picture and driving himself and the merchants crazy. He wasn’t using credit cards, as most of us do, but that’s a different topic altogether!
He exchanged some dollars when he first got to his destination. Then every day, he’d calculate that day’s exchange rate and decide whether it was a good day to shop or purchase anything. He said sometimes even for purchases he’d stand at the register and calculate the exchange rate before deciding to buy or not. I could just see the shopkeeper’s eyes rolling and his impatience growing as my friend did all this. Not to mention the growing impatience of the other customers lined up behind him. I listened rather patiently, though I couldn’t believe anyone did all these calculations. I said, “Wow, that’s a lot of work. You must have been exhausted doing that all day everywhere you went.” Then I said, “Let me tell you what I do when I travel.”
Being a much more experienced traveler than him, I was hoping he’d listen. But I had no idea my approach would astonish, for all the best reasons. I told him when I get to my destination, if I don’t have any currency left from a previous trip, and when I need some more, I use an ATM machine. OK, basic enough. And then I don’t fuss about the exchange rate at all the rest of the trip! For me, the exchange rate I get on the day I exchange my dollars is the exchange rate I go by. And even then, I’ll round it up or round it down just to get a general sense of the rate I pay for items, so I can say to myself, “Hmm, an espresso today in Rome is .90 Euro. That’s amazing, I think I’ll have another!”
I’m not at all looking at the day to day fluctuations like my friend does. He couldn’t believe I’m not interested, once I get my cash, about the minutia of exchange rates. A light bulb went off in his head and he realized how much he was stressing about exchange rates instead of enjoying his travels. All that math was a real downer and the anxiety about not getting the “best price and rates” was exhausting. Of course, he started laughing and it was as if he couldn’t wait to travel again and not be so stressed, and dare I say, BE a bother to so many merchants. At the very least, he can turn off the calculator function on his phone!
So I’m wondering if I gave him good advice. Did you stress out about exchange rates when you first started traveling? Am I more relaxed about currency fluctuations than I should be, or than most people are? Now more and more we’re seeing cashless destinations. On one of my recent trips to Scandinavia I didn’t pull out any cash from the ATM at all. What a pleasure! But of course there are still plenty of places where this isn’t the case.
Shelli Stein is a health and fitness entrepreneur who travels the world in search of culture, food, and fun! Besides contributing to PointMeToThePlane, you can find her at Joy in Movement.