Travel Tips & Tricks: How to end a trip penniless

Foreign currency is funny; bills comes in all shapes, sizes and colors and coins can take you a whole trip to learn to decipher. Sometimes it can feel like you’re using Monopoly money, except you’re not, you’re using real and valuable money. The problem with this real and valuable money is it loses it’s real and valuable properties the second you step foot into another country or return home. Sure, you can exchange the big bills at a bank, but coins you’re stuck with.

Getting stuck with funny money is a toughie. Tossing it in the trash seems just plain wrong. On the other hand, if you don’t anticipate yourself returning to said country in the foreseeable future, is it really worth saving? Where exactly do you draw the line between planning ahead and hoarding? I know some people give coins to kids they know who are likely to regard them as exciting treasures. Unfortunately, all the kids I know are a bit young for this and probably prefer pacifiers to pesos.

In my possession, I have currency from five countries, six if you count money from the US. Frankly, I think this is five too many and in a perfect world I would end every trip penniless… or penceless or eurocentless or centavoless.

All my foreign money… Mexican pesos, British pounds, Guatemalan quetzales, Nicaraguan cordobas and Belize dollars. (Not pictured: US dollars)

When it comes to ending a trip this way I’ve done it right and I’ve done it wrong. Either way, here’s what I’ve learned:

  1. Plan your ATM withdrawals ahead of time. Depending on global exchange rates and personal spending rates, I’d say start thinking about how much money you’ll need for the remainder of your trip a week or so before the end of the trip. Go about your traveling but keep this thought in the back of your mind and then…
  2. On your last planned trip at the ATM, make sure you do your math correctly and avoid getting out way too much money. If done correctly you will avoid wasting your hard-earned dough on things you didn’t really need or want such as airport doodads.
  3. Also, on your last planned trip at the ATM, make sure you do your math correctly and avoid getting out not enough thus forcing you to make another trip to the ATM, resulting in one more set of outrageous bank fees and the aforementioned wasting of money.

    Too many ATM fees!

  4. Figure out how much you’ll need to get home. Doing the math on how much the metro or taxi ride can be seems like a no-brainer, but in actuality, it can be easy to forget when you’re counting down to your last pennies. Also, don’t forget about the exit tax! Sometimes these are wrapped in with your flight fees but other times you have to pony up the exact amount on the spot. Find this all out ahead of time and plan for it accordingly.
  5. If you plan on splurging on a nice dinner or a big night out, it’s probably best to do that a few days before the end of your trip. If you wait for your last night and have too much money, it could mean you come home with extra or end up doing the aforementioned buy doodads at the airport thing. Or, if you have too little money, it could mean missing out on the entrée you really wanted or regretting not being able to buy that last-night-in-Paris-cocktail.

    We wanted to save the best for last and treat ourselves to Spanish seafood paella and a few glasses of sangria on our last night in Barcelona back in 2011. Unfortunately, after running the numbers we realized if we ordered any more than one glass of sangria each, we’d have to run to an ATM. We were flying out first thing in the morning and getting out an extra €20 would have been a waste. Still, the food was delicious!

  6. After enjoying the last big spend on a night out or a fancy dinner and setting aside money for travel essentials, turn spending that last bit a game. In Dublin before we came home we spent a good 15 min. figuring out how to spend every last cent of our money. We knew we had enough to get a grocery store lunch but not enough for an airport lunch so we added and subtracted the following items until triumphantly we spent everything we had except for the last 2 eurocents: water bottle, bread, cheese, tomatoes, lunch meat and apple juice.

    This meal represents everything we had except the very last 2 eurocents. There was a little self back patting on our part having come so close to having zero left.

  7. If you’ve stashed away money in pockets or suitcase compartments, it’s really best to find it and spend it before you get home. Otherwise, what could have been one last scoop of gelato or one extra round of drinks gets turned in to one big disappointment when those last few bucks turn completely useless once you arrive stateside.

    My clutch that I took to Greece. I came home to discover, like Carrie Bradshaw in the last episode of Sex and the City, the lining has a hole and a €20 bill escaped my attention. Usually finding money is awesome, this time it was inconvenient.

This last trip was a bit of both triumph and failure for me. Having ditched those last two eurocents in a visible place at the Dublin airport I came home with no euros. I thought our time in Scotland and Northern Ireland had ended with such luck too having spent the last of our pounds on an ice cream cone right before crossing into Ireland, but alas, that wasn’t the case. When I got home I found nearly £3.50 when unpacking. There it was, the equivalent of over $5 USD stashed away in the bottom of my makeup bag of all places; much too much to toss and yet not enough that any bank will make an exchange. I guess it will just have to wait until the next time I head across the pond… which incidentally isn’t any time in the foreseeable future; just go ahead and call me a hoarder.

In your own travels, I wish you happy spending and good luck getting down to the last penny or whatever they call them, wherever you are! In my travels, I absolutely plan on spending every last penny when I head overseas again in another few months. Unfortuanatly I’m not headed anywhere that uses any of the five foreign currencies in my possession. If I fail and come home only to find coins in the bottom of my bag, I guess I’ll just have to wait until my friends’ kids are old enough to appreciate the fine art of show-and-tell item collecting.

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5 responses to “Travel Tips & Tricks: How to end a trip penniless

  1. I like to leave coins at the top of tall slides or on other playground equipment at parks. Places that are too tough for the little bitty ones to get to, so they don’t go into little mouths. Also, I leave them sometimes in the shallows of swimming holes. I guess what I would really like to do though is send them back in time to myself, I would have LOVED finding foreign currency as a kid. I remember a certain Canadian penny I kept for years…

  2. Personally, if I have to show up at a foreign airport 3 hours before my flight, I like to have a few whatevers left to spend on stuff at the airport. If worse comes to worst, you can usually at least find some candy to buy to make you sick on the flight. On my last trip, I inadvertently mixed up my U.S. coins and my English money. I didn’t realize it until a cashier at the supermarket looked at me strangely for handing her a seven sided—um, quarter.

    • Good point. It’s funny how you can so easily mix up some coins too… When I got the ice cream in Northern Ireland before crossing the border the cashier actually gave me a US quarter accidentally. I noticed the mistake when I went to put the money back in my wallet but didn’t say anything because at that point I was trying to get rid of the pounds so it worked out best for me.

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