Because travel sucks ... now more than ever.

Like Vegas, but not as fair

Sun, 2008/10/26 - 15:03 by aargh

International travel is a boon for some and a bane for others. I fall into that third camp for which it's a simple reality. It may as well be listed on a calendar, like Halloween and taxes and the neighbors' Sunday afternoon mattress opera.

That hopping the pond is my routine isn't to say I dislike playing Johnny Foreigner. Quite the contrary. There's a certain pleasure in the experience of meeting face-to-face with friends and colleagues. Ordering food in a language I barely speak and hoping to avoid international indicent. Taking in the occasional inescapable tourist trap, the type you visit regardless of entry price, simply because It's What One Must Do When They Visit This Location. (Would you really pass through Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower? Of course not. That's why they charge you 12EU for the privilege.)

Something I do not enjoy, however, is visiting currency exchanges. They are a unique form of tourist attraction, a mutant lovechild of a magician and a pickpocket, to whom I fork over money and they return a smaller amount.

currency exchange: no commission
really, what's the catch?

Admittedly, the currency exchanges are due some fees. It's only fair we compensate the poor bastards who have to sit behind bulletproof glass and endure foreign-language obscenities from people who are simply frustrated that their currency is worthless. Fair enough. But these guys go above and beyond, just a step shy of gunpoint, and we have no choice but to see them. Usually when I am forced to engage a business that I know will rob me in the process, it involves my tax dollars.

For every place that charges a flat fee and grossly exaggerates the forex bid/ask spread, there's another that takes a percentage cut, and then two more that do a voodoo mix of both. All the while you're left with flashbacks of grad school calculus trying to figure out which of these bulletproof booths will leave you with enough money to buy a drink. Which is all you'll be able to afford.

It's a hell of a business when you think about it. Most of them post exchange rates in digital signs that they can (and do!) flip at the drop of a hat. I swear these currency exchange booths are manned by rogues who found trading too civilized and realized muggings required too much moving around. -or maybe they're just former toll booth operators who wanted a more lucrative version of their usual atmosphere.

currency exchange: rates, digital sign
worse than watching the stock ticker

Whatever the case, you're doomed. Ignore the finance journals' currency charts and accept that you're set to lose. Maybe add "currency exchange" to the list of costly and inescapable tourist attractions one visits when travelling abroad.

-or maybe, just maybe, visit the local casino. At least there you stand a chance of breaking even.