I love going on holiday, and I look forward to my annual break as much as everybody else. If you are travelling abroad, however, it does involve quite a lot of planning and preparation, particularly on the financial front. Even the most seasoned and well-prepared traveller can suffer annoyance, frustration and downright muddle when it comes to dealing with foreign currency. I should know; in my time I’ve experienced them all. Here are my personal top 5 holiday money gripes.
1. Top of the list has got to be that stomach-churning moment when you insert your card into an ATM in some god-forsaken foreign airport and wonder if you will ever see it again. What fun it would be to spend the entire week trying to subsist on the 30 Euros in my back pocket left over from last year’s holiday!
2. Foreign Exchange cards. They are useful, I must admit. But how I loathe having to remember a whole new set of PIN, password, user-id & security questions to use my FX card. I’m on holiday dammit; I should be relaxing, not doing a blooming exam. There are only so many of these things a person can remember, especially when they are getting on a bit…
3. Having to separate out my good solid British cash from my new stash of Euros/Dollars/whatever. Colour-coded wallets help a lot with this procedure, I find. But no matter how assiduously I try get everything organised, there is always one pesky maverick coin that ends up in the wrong pile and gets me into all kinds of trouble. You try presenting the typical British bus driver with a 2 euro coin and see what happens…You’ll be back on the pavement before you even know what hit you.
4. Stopovers. Ever had to endure a stopover in country with a different currency from your home country and your holiday destination? Travelling in Europe in the days before the Euro was invented, this was a common occurrence. What if you are stuck somewhere for an hour or so and desperately need a drink of water/coffee/to use the loo?
It happened to me years ago when inter-railing around Europe. Emerging from the toilettes on a railway platform at the Gard du Nord after a much-needed pee, I committed the heinous crime of failing to tip the concierge. Now if she had been British, she would just have given me a dirty look and made tut-tutting noises. But being a Frenchwoman, she actually gave chase and pursued me right down the platform and almost onto the train. My, but that old lady could run. And shout. Loudly. How mortifying. If I had more presence of mind I would just have tipped her with a British coin. That’s what the French call l’esprit d’escalier; happens to me all the time.
5. These days I am better organised and have a little more cash to spend, but I still get into trouble. A common problem on holiday nowadays is the denomination of the notes in the cash dispenser. When I finally make it to my holiday destination and manage to find a functioning cash point machine, what happens? I request my 100 Euros. It spews out just two notes, both 50s. All I want is a small glass of white wine. The waiter looks daggers at me when I present him with 50 Euros to pay a 3.50 bill. Perhaps I should just stay in this bar and get blind drunk, it’d be a whole lot easier.
And one thing I love…
No more Italian Liras! Holidaying in Italy in bygone years, I found it hard to get to grips with the Lira. To be honest, I was never entirely sure if the item I wanted to buy cost £1.00, £10.00 or £100.00. Rather than rack my brains figuring out how much 10,000 Lira was in pounds sterling, in the end it was just a whole lot easier to hope for the best or simply take a chance. Rather like playing Russian Roulette with your spending money. Thank God for the Euro Zone!