the first time i went to kazakhstan, i entered the country with like 18 bucks or something ridiculous like that. when i had to declare how much money i was bringing into the country, i wondered whether i’d have to open my suitcase and declare all the loose change strewn about.
one thing i’ve learned about traveling, especially in countries where you don’t know the language, is that you should always be carrying some local currency. money breaks down all known language barriers.
i like to create a quick rule of thumb for understanding the local currency in terms of dollars (usually by chopping off a certain number of zeros, and/or dividing by some number). i didn’t really come away with a good understanding of the exchange rate in ghana until i pulled some money out of a decent looking atm with my credit card.
theresa had changed about $300 in the airport, and came away with just less than 3,000,000 cedis in two bricks of currency, literally. so when the atm offered 800,000 cedis as the max amount i could withdraw, i knew that was about $80 (just chop off 4 zeros). seemed decent. what i *didn’t* realize was that the highest denomination of cedis appears to be a 20,000 bill (roughly $2), so this atm spit out a wad of 40 bills! try sticking that in your wallet. talk about walking away from an atm feeling like a marked man.
understanding the exchange rate in dollars is useful to prevent getting swindled out of an unfamiliar currency. especially because things usually cost a lot less than they would in the US. for instance, the canteen at usaid is staffed by locals who cook all types of local ghanaian dishes like banku and fufu. and they usually cost about 12,000 cedis, plus 2,500 for a tall glass bottle of coke (my favorite), and 5,000 for some ice cream—or around 20,000 cedis.