The Hobo Guide to Foreign Currency
Like prizing a half-full goonie from the embrace of a comatose friend, getting a hobo to part with their money can prove to be a difficult task. If it’s not gonna go towards the elongation of an overseas adventure, then chances are, we don’t wanna spend up.
So, with a certain level of arrogance that all writers must embody when writing a list of travel tips, I’ve compiled a few small nuggets of advice that may help save the average hobo a few pesos.
This is neither a definitive doctrine nor an essential creed, but rather a compilation of information that might come in handy for anyone (everyone) looking to be savvy with their cash on their travels.
Should I get currency exchanged before or after I arrive at a destination?
To be honest, often it doesn’t make a big difference what country you take your money out in. But it does make a huge difference what agency you use. Or rather, the location of that agency.
Places in the centre of a town or city, where there is plenty of competition, are always a safe bet. Supply and demand. That’s basic economics that even an arts graduate can understand.
Similarly, you’re likely to get ripped off if you’re gonna swap currency over in the middle of nowhere. So it’s best to be prepared with at least a little bit of cash before you reach your new destination.
Never change over money at an airport, unless it’s your last resort. The rates are astronomical. The devious hustlers at Travelex and their ilk will prey on the unprepared and those uninitiated in the ways of the Global Hobo.
I recently fell asleep in Barcelona El Prat Airport after a bender and missed my flight to Liverpool. Ten hours and €350 later, I arrived in London with about £12 in cash and the rest of my money tied up in euros. Stanstead Airport tried to give me £62 for €100. You don’t need to check xe.com to know that rate is daylight robbery.
Moral of the story: I fucking hate airports. But also, do not swap your money there.
Is my bank gonna be, like, super chill about everything?
When I set out on my first overseas adventure, all dewy-eyed and ready to face the world head on, ANZ froze my cards. The cards were not authorised for overseas transactions, and thus in my best interests, all spending was ceased from my accounts.
Isn’t it great when banks don’t let you use your own money?
So, basically, I had no cash.
An easy way to remedy this is to get a passcode sent to your phone. Then you can re-authorise the payments. Unless, that is, you’ve lost your phone. Like I did.
Next move would be then to call your bank. But without your own phone, calling a foreign number can be quite tricky, particularly when you have no cash.
Which brings us back full circle.
Eventually, the situation was sorted after a few hours of absolute (and completely avoidable) panic.
Moral of the story: bankers are wankers. But seriously, a little bit of communication with your bank before you leave can help steer clear of any unnecessary sight-seeing stress later on. Make sure to let them know you’re leaving the country.
Should I be paying in local or foreign currencies?
This one has stumped me for ages. It happens in stores, restaurants, ATMs. While working in a hostel in the Basque Country, I’ve handed card machines to guests, they stab in their pin numbers and the non-Spanish speakers stare blankly at the screen.
“It means do you want to pay in (insert foreign currency here) or euros.”
Often those completely fluent in Spanish contemplate quizzically.
“What’s cheaper?” is almost always the response.
Fucked if I know.
So I decided to ask everyone’s smartest pal: Google.
According to Forbes’s Geoffrey Morrison, in paying in our home currencies (AUD, NZD, GBP et al) we’re basically being charged a conversion fee for the privilege of not having to work out the cost of something in our own currency. Basically, the price of being a lazy toff.
“If you have a card that charges international fees, (an extra charge) could be on top of the conversion fee,” says our man Geoff. So your own bank might charge you a fee, plus the fee that the merchant or foreign bank whacks on, just so you don’t have to whip out a bit of Year 9 arithmetic.
Moral of the story: Geoff is a legend. But more pertinently, it’s usually best to pay in local currencies.
Talking numbers for longer than it takes to say ‘una cervesa por favor’ usually makes my head hurt, but if you want to learn a little more from Geoff have a read here.
Bonus Round: Get on TransferWise
Without wishing to be a completely free and unpaid advertisement for the company (I wish it was completely paid and non-gratis, trust me), the UK-based company has totally changed the game in terms of international money transfer. “Get the exchange rate you see on Google. Every time,” says their website. And from personal experience, the transfer is a whole lot quicker than competitors such as PayPal, where a transfer into actual hard cash can take 5-7 working days. TransferWise can get it to you on the very same day.
Give it a crack next time you’re at the end of a bender, in need of a twenty bag and your local dealer doesn’t work pro-bono. It’s a whole lot less hassle than having to wait till the end of the working week.