In January I had a business trip to Europe that took me to three countries in five days. I don’t travel overseas that often, but I do travel a lot, and I think that made me too laid back about some of the details of my trip. I know that money makes the world go round, but I didn’t give any thought to getting foreign currency in advance, although I did bring about 30 Euros I found in an old wallet.
My first day in Germany I used a few of those Euros to buy a snack and a bottle of water, but I didn’t need to spend much because I had dinner with one of my clients. While I was exploring the city I didn’t think to stop at an ATM, which led to a moment of panic the next day when the cab driver picking me up at my hotel didn’t take credit cards. Luckily the hotel was able to add extra to my bill and give me cash for the fare.
The next country on my itinerary was Denmark, where I learned that they don’t take Euros. Or my chip-less VISA. At least not at the airport train station. I tried to use my ATM card instead–after all, it has a PIN–but that didn’t work either. The ticket agent asked if I had an American Express since that would work without a PIN–luckily I had brought that card too, just in case!
When I got to my hotel, I did a double-take when I saw this price tag on the water bottle.
I think the exchange rate was about 7:1, so it still wasn’t cheap!
I traded Tweets with my bank to make sure it wouldn’t cost me an arm and a leg to get money out of the ATM, and took out a few hundred DKK which I hoped would last me through my two day stay. (Seriously, Capitol One has the best customer service on Twitter!)
I had another issue with my train tickets the next day, when I was going out to the suburbs to visit a client. While I could buy a ticket to my destination at the main station using my AmEx, the ticket agent warned me that I would not be able to use it to buy my return ticket–only the airport and central train stations accept AmEx cards. They don’t offer “round trip” tickets, and single ride tickets are only good for a few hours, which wouldn’t be long enough for my all-day meeting. We finally decided that my best option was to buy a 10 ride ticket, which was not subject to time restrictions and didn’t cost that much anyway (150DKK, or not much more than $20). Phew.
For my last destination, I was spending less than 24 hours in Sweden, which also is not on the Euro. I handed the woman at the Stockholm airport Travelex all of my paper DKK, and hoped I would get enough back for a snack and a water bottle. (I know those places have horrid exchange rates, but I didn’t have time to find a better deal, and didn’t want to go home with DKK anyway.) The Swedish cab drivers did not like accepting my PIN-less VISA, but we got it to work. (I preferred using that card instead of my AmEx because it doesn’t have foreign currency fees. Now, why a VISA touted for its international travel benefits doesn’t have a chip + PIN option is beyond me!)
The other money issue I had on this trip related to the “free” wireless at the hotel I stayed at near the Frankfurt airport. I am sure that the log-in screen is designed to cheat you, and the hotel refused to give me a refund when I fell into its trap. Knowing that there was free wireless, I filled out the “Guest Room” information and hit “verify.” Apparently I was supposed to scroll down for the Free” log-in option instead. Ugh! If you ever stay at this hotel, don’t be fooled by this free internet trap!
I know these were all first world problems, if that. Everything worked out fine in the end, and I’m pretty sure my work reimbursed me for those foreign currency charges. Still, it made me realize how much I take for granted being able to swipe my credit card whenever I need to, wherever I may be.
Do you have a stash of foreign currency from a trip abroad?
Have you ever fallen victim to a “free internet” trap?