Chapter 8: Money matters

Even after the introduction of the Euro as a single European currency, the European Union is still using the previous currencies until enough money can be printed and minted. So every country still has its own currency at present, although the rates of the participating countries are fixed to the Euro. People certainly do not expect to be proffered US dollars or even the currency of the neighboring country. There are exceptions to this rule in border areas - Gibraltar for instance will take Spanish pesetas, although its own currency is Gibraltar Pounds. It is usual however to exchange money on arrival in a new country. The idea that US-dollars are "discounted" in other countries was a new expression for us when we visited Canada. The difference in buying value corresponds simply to the difference in the exchange rate.

When you collect a foreign currency for the first time, it is a good idea to write out an exchange table, converting the currency to dollars (or whichever currency you are accustomed to) and vice versa, until the prices mean something to you and you can spot a special offer without first having to convert to dollars. By the time you can think in the new currency, it is time to move on to the next country and the next currency, and the game starts over again!

The exchange rate table in The EuropeanThe exchange rates of the local currency to foreign currencies are on display in every bank, usually in the window, and are printed in the daily press. The weekly English language newspaper "The European", which appears every Monday, has a very useful table showing the cross rates for all the European currencies and the US-Dollar.

The European Exchange Rate Mechanism kept the member currencies in line with each other for many years but fluctuations in the value of the US-dollar amounted to about 15% during our 5 year cruise - it pays to have an eye on the exchange rates, and to collect cash or make major payments at the right moment.

There is little point in keeping cash or traveller's checks on board, where it earns no interest. The only country that we visited where US-dollars in cash were preferred to the local currency was Israel, where the dollar has a special role in the economy of the country. Similarly, for a while after Croatia became independent the stable German Deutschmark was preferred to the Croatian dinar - an understandable preference until the new currency (called kuna) and the economy of a struggling new country could stand on their own feet.

Getting money is no problem these days with the widespread use of credit cards. Visa and Mastercard are particularly common. However, the commission charged by the various credit card companies for cash advances abroad vary considerably. Check before you leave that you have the best offer on the market. Our Visa account, for instance, permits cash advances abroad with minimal commission as long as the sum is covered by the account. Moreover, interest is paid on the account. Not many credit card companies offer conditions like that. A particular advantage is the PIN-number (Personal Identification Number) that enables you to withdraw cash from cash dispensers outside banking hours. If you have two credit cards, they should expire in different months, just in case there is a mailing problem. They should also be kept separately, to ensure they do not both get lost together.

Try to use up the currency you have in cash before you leave a country. Coins will end up in the coin collection that you will have started after the third country at the latest! Left over bank notes can be exchanged at the bank in the next country, but the commission charged for this service is often a flat rate and therefore for small sums exorbitant. The money is better invested at the supermarket before leaving. Obtain currency on arrival in a new country and do not get currency for the next country in advance. The difference may not be big, but each country tends to assess its own currency slightly more favorably than its neighbor does and generally you will enter a new country at a port of entry and not some backwater, so there would be no problem to get cash.

A very common means of payment in Europe is the Eurocheque. This check is guaranteed for a sum of approximately $250 (the exact sum varies from country to country as it is always a round figure). Because of this guarantee it is accepted by tradesmen and banks alike and is comparable with cash. It is issued in the currency of the country where it is spent and then sent back to your bank where it is deducted from your account with the usual delay. A Eurocheque card is issued with the Eurocheques and this is presented with the check so that the tradesman can compare the signature and confirm the card number that has been filled in on the back of the check. This card with a PIN-number can also be used at a cash dispenser and its use as a means of payment like a credit card is becoming more and more widespread. Eurocheques are accepted not only in all European countries, but also in many neighboring countries with close contacts to Europe. So if you are thinking of opening an account in a European country, bear this advantage in mind.

The amount of money required for the trip has little to do with the prices in the individual countries. However surprising it may sound, it depends largely on how much you are prepared to spend. Some cruisers manage on a shoe-string, others can afford to eat out and go on spending sprees frequently. Costs are such an individual matter, that I do not intend to go into comparisons in depth. Nevertheless I will point out that in comparison with Europe we found the US reasonable for food, clothing, electronic equipment and fuel. However, our housekeeping money has remained stable over the five-year cruise by adapting to the situation in each country. Former Jugoslavia, for instance, was a good place to eat out, whereas in France we enjoyed the enormous diversity of high quality food in the hypermarkets and tried out the recipes on board. We stocked up with diesel in Gibraltar, canned tomatoes and pasta in Italy and spices in Morocco. Meat is particularly reasonable in Turkey, fish in Tunisia. Travel by bus in Tunisia, train in Morocco and dolmus (communal taxi) in Turkey. It's an old adage, "when in Rome, do as the Romans do", but for the cruiser it is not only a way of experiencing the local culture, it is also the key to how to live reasonably.
© Dianne Reichart 1997, updated 1999

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