The Basics: All About the Benjamins

Did you know that the dalasi, the currency of the West African nation of The Gambia, is being updated so that the image of former dictator Yahya Jammeh is no longer in circulation?

Oddly, I would have expected that. Because I’m Hinky….in every way imaginable.

I developed a fascination with The Gambia several years ago and followed its most recent election closely. And now that Jammeh is “in exile” (along with a pile of dalasis he took with him), it seems only natural that the country would want his face off its money.

It’s important to understand how a nation’s currency is structured before you visit. If you can, it’s super helpful to learn denominations and how different coins look so you’re not hunting through a handful of change trying to figure out which ones are toonies and which ones are quarters. And of course realizing that most countries outside of the US use a lot more coin in place of banknotes is helpful too. Otherwise, you’ll forget to spend all those euros as you keep breaking out the bills.

In many cases,  you may find that hard currency isn’t something you want to carry and opt simply to dip and swipe as you travel (aka use plastic). But having a least a little coin is usually a necessity. Gratuities, a quick beer from a beachfront bar, or a pack of gum at a street stall are all often (and sometimes always) best paid for in cash.

Here are some considerations:

  1. How do your financial institutions treat foreign transactions? Some charge both currency conversion fees and foreign transaction fees. Others charge neither. Rates are higher and lower across the spectrum, although according to Credit Karma the most common foreign transaction fee rate is about 3%. That may not seem like much at first glance, but over an extended trip it can add up.
  2. Do you really want to carry cash? My bank doesn’t charge foreign transaction or out-of-network ATM fees, and so hitting the first ATM I see makes sense. But OTOH, you don’t have a lot of recourse if someone scores your stash.

It’s a tough balancing act, and one that I’ve wobbled on more than once. Plus, if you pull too much cash, you could find yourself bringing unused currency home with you. I have a collection of British pounds, euros, and Mexican pesos that, in total, are probably upwards of $100. But I don’t bother taking them to the bank and exchanging them, because the exchange fees would eat into the value and going to the bank is a PITA. So….I look at that pile of money and plan the next time I’ll be in a place where I can spend it.

It’s called INCENTIVE!


I’ve also read a lot on travel forums and whatnot about people who are concerned about the safety of carrying cash (as noted above, losing a stash sucks). I look at it this way: I’m just as careful when I travel as when I’m at home.

  1. Don’t take unnecessary chances. Honestly, there are infinitely more scenarios than I can describe, but at the end of the day this just means BE CAREFUL!
  2. Keep your stash as close as possible at all times. Mine is always with me. I don’t leave it in accommodation unless it’s well hidden in a locked room to which only I have a key. You can’t exactly wear a money belt in a bikini. Or maybe you CAN, but it’d ruin all those hot Insta posts, you know?
  3. Don’t flash your stash. Never, ever pull out more than you need, and don’t go carrying a roll of notes in public. You wouldn’t do that at home…don’t do it anywhere.
  4. Make your stash hard to get to. Don’t trade convenience for risk. Yeah, it’s hard to get to my hard currency when it’s in a money belt wrapped around my upper thigh, but I can spare the time I spend getting to it more than I can spare the cash.

Aside from being careful, redundancy helps, too. Carry two stashes so that, if you lose one, you might still have the other. Keep hard copies of travel documents and passports with each stash.

In the end, probably the most important thing to consider is that, aside from being careful, you should always be prepared to lose things and always have a backup plan.

You will hear horror stories all the time. Just remember that bad stuff happens all the time, and that if you’re careful and rational about security, you’re probably no worse off than you’d be at home.

Unless you live in a monastery. In which case you probably don’t have anything to lose in the first place.


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About the Author Hinky

Hink is an aspiring traveler plotting global domination and looking for the funny.