For all my foreign trips since 2011 I ended up exchanging foreign currency last minute at the airport! People have always told me that you do not get good exchange rates there but I am usually so busy that I leave myself no other option.
Even though I love to travel I am a master procrastinator when it comes to packing. Usually it is a last day affair. I just make sure beforehand that whatever I need is ironed. I anyway have very little fashion sense. I can do with a pair of jeans and a few shirts on any trip. If it is cold I will add a few warm clothes. Whether they match or go with each-other is something I sort out on the trip!
Things do get complicated when formals are required but then I can manage that too with two formal business suites. But leaving this packing to the last minute is not conducive to peace of mind. There have been countless trips when in the end all I wanted to make sure was that I had the tickets, money and cards if it was a domestic trip. I have to make sure that I have all the relevant documents too if it was an international trip.
Usually at work all the deadlines that I can shove off in different corners when I am at the station, crawl out to haunt me before a major trip. Well on second thoughts they do crawl out before minor trips too, looks like they can’t distinguish between major and minor trips. My long commute ensures that I leave home early and reach home late, that leaves me too little time to buy things by physically going to the market.
So Many Places, So Many Currencies
I have to say I have a lovely daughter who never protests for leaving her and going on various trips. In fact just before one of the trips I was telling her guiltily that I was going away for a week. She was brushing her teeth and I could see her eyes lit up in the mirror. She told me, “You are going away? I will have a lot of fun.” But not always, sometimes that story has to be read to her just when I would love to see her to be in self engaging mode. That often means everything gets postponed past her bed time.
Amidst all the deadlines, procrastination and stuff, foreign currency naturally takes a back seat. That is when online becomes appealing. And if everything fails I can always get it at the airport, right? Anyway when you earn in Indian rupees, currency converter does not feel like a friendly tool. I shudder when I use it for converting pounds; recently dollars are giving the same feeling.
Just before going to South Africa I tried ordering foreign exchange with one of the travel agencies. They do advertise that they sell online and deliver it at home. But they said they were short of people at the moment and I would have to go and collect it. As I work full time and I love to travel, I have to watch my leaves closely. It was not worthwhile to take a day off to collect foreign currency, so I ended up with my last resort, buying it at the airport once again.
That is when I found about Travelex, it felt so appealing. The pity is that I stumbled upon their UAE operations and I don’t think they operate in India. But the concept is made exactly for someone like me, who likes online and airports. Here you can book your currency online and pick it up at the airport. That way you may get a better deal than converting at the airport and yet you get to collect the money at the airport, where you are anyway going. See no extra day of leave required! And anything that can save my leaves for traveling is a good thing!
I never thought exchanging Indian rupees would turn out to be such an adventure in Sri Lanka. I was carrying Indian rupees and some British pounds left over from previous trips to UK. I have a credit card and a debit card that work internationally. I thought this was enough for me to survive in Sri Lanka. I was right on every count except for the ease of changing Indian rupees. I am a little surprised as Indian rupees exchanges favorably with Sri Lankan rupees. You get anywhere from 1.90 to 2.20 Sri Lankan rupees for every Indian rupee.
Our first stop for trying to change the Indian rupees was the Bandarnaike International Airport . My nephew went in search for the hotel taxi that we had booked and I went to exchange money. I casually said, “can I change some Indian rupees?” And I was really surprised when I got to hear, “Sorry ma’am we don’t change Indian rupees, you can change it in the city.” The problem was we were not going to the city but straight to Unawatuna. Then I asked him to change some British pounds and that he readily did.
Galle, Sri Lanka
Galle is a big city near Unawatuna, it is approximately 8.5 kilometers away. We headed there on our second day and we were having a late snack in a restaurant near the fort (which is ruins of the fort actually) area. We asked if we could exchange Indian rupees anywhere in the city? And the young boy who was waiting on our table said he would exchange it but only 5K, they didn’t have more than that at the moment! I was reminded of Shantaram and the illegal money trade in Mumbai but I did went ahead and exchanged the money. We got the rate of 2.20 and I was not complaining.
Then my nephew tried to change the money at the bank at Unawatuna and once again he was told that they would exchange pounds but not Indian rupees! I wonder what was the reason. Informally we were told by many people that the jewellery shops would exchange money. I wonder why this was the case.
Matara, Sri Lanka
Our last try was to try and exchange money at a jewellery shop at Matara, another big city but we once again got a blank. They told us of other places that would exchange Indian rupees but we had money so we did not try any further. In the end my nephew did exchange Indian rupees at a jewellery shop in Unawatuna but overall this made for a strange experience.
I don’t think this would happen in a city like Colombo but it is beyond me that the airport and the bank didn’t exchange Indian rupee when a lot of cars/trucks on the Sri Lankan roads are Indian!
I started my India travel blog, Travel Tales from India in 2005. In 2016 I realized Travel Tales from India and Abroad better reflected my writings. I love to walk and ride in metros around the world. I have not been everywhere, I am not even close, but it is on my list. I also quit my job as a professor in 2015, it was a happening year! I did a Ph.D. from IIT Kanpur ages ago!
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