American travelers often complain about the current money situation in Europe. With the Dollar/Euro exchange rate sitting around $1.40/1, along with inconvenient credit card PIN requirements, making a purchase in many European countries is downright inconvenient. But there was a time it was far more complicated – namely any date before 2002, when Europe’s common currency, the Euro, was first introduced.
My first taste of European travel came in the waning years of Deutsche Marks, Guilders and Pesetas. Every time you moved to a new country, you had to exchange your money for a new currency. For a young backpacker like me experiencing several countries for the first time, it was a confusing and expensive proposition, particularly when you were in transit among several of them at once. Traveling from The Netherlands via Belgium to France? Best not try to buy something in Brussels: that would require you to exchange money. And forget about keeping the notes, coins and exchange rates straight – each brightly colored pink note and strangely bearded head of state was a new lesson in geography, history and politics and quickly calculated math.
Europe has grown up since then. Today, I can use the same money for a pizza in Rome as I do to buy a sweater in Dublin. But despite the simplicity of the Euro, I still find myself pining for those days before the single currency began its monetary dominance. Maybe it’s no more than the naivete of youth – a simpler time in my life when those first exotic breaths of foreign culture and the feel of strange currencies in my palm suggested all the possibilities of travel and adventure.
Is travel easier in Europe now? Yes, absolutely. But with that ease of use, a distinct piece of national identity also disappeared along with it. Our globalized world marches on.
[Photo by Flickr user viZZZual.com]