Mental Math: Easy Rules Of Thumb For Converting Currency

Being in a new country is full of enough culture shock – trying to remember how many dollars to the krona doesn’t need to be part of it.

After all, constantly whipping out a calculator (well, a cellphone) and spending five minutes trying to figure out if that sandwich is really a good price is a waste of your valuable vacation time.

To make things easier on you, here are some basic rules of thumb to help you guesstimate the exchange rates in a sampling of different countries.

It’s important to note that currencies fluctuate all the time, so these rules of thumb should not be used as actual foundations for financial transactions. They were based off the most recent exchange rates as of midweek on the week of November 5, 2012. If you actually want to know what the exchange rate is for a given country, look it up. And if you want to know again a week later, look it up again.

These rules of thumb are intended to help you quickly do the mental math required to figure out if, yes, that sandwich is a good deal. Or, when you withdraw 400 pesos from the ATM, roughly how much you’re taking out in US dollars.

Disclaimer: this post is admittedly America-centric, but the reality is that’s my perspective as a traveler. I hope this will help others as it’s helped me.

Asia
China: Divide all prices quoted in yuan by about 6 for a dollar estimate.

Japan: Divide all prices quoted in yen by 100 and then tack on about 25% for a dollar estimate.

India: It’s slightly more than 50 rupees to the dollar.

Thailand
: Roughly, divide the prices you see in bahts by about 30 and you’ll get the dollar value.

South Korea: Divide Korean prices by about 1,000 for the USD estimate.

Europe
Eurozone: Add a 25% premium to all the prices you see.

UK: Multiply pound prices by 1.5 and then round up to guesstimate the dollar amount.

Switzerland: Roughly 1-to-1 with the US dollar.

Russia: Divide prices by about 30.

South and Central America
Mexico: Divide the prices you see by 13 for a sense of the USD price.

Guatemala: Divide prices by 8.

Belize: Cut the prices you see in half.

Colombia: This one’s a little tricky. First, divide the Colombian price you see by half. Then divide by 1,000. If you’re lazy and on the go, that’s very rough. For a slightly cleaner conversion, do that and then add back 20%.

Argentina: Divide Argentine prices by about 5.

Ecuador: Trick question. Ecuador uses the USD as its currency, so no conversion needed.

Dominican Republic: Divide prices in the D.R. by 40 for a sense of US equivalents.

Jamaica: Divide prices by 100 and then add back about 10%.

Africa & Mideast
South Africa: Divide prices by a little less than 9 for the US equivalent.

Kenya: Divide by 100, and then add back about 15%.

Morocco: Like for South Africa, divide by a little less than 9.

Israel: Divide by about 4 to estimate the US price.

Turkey: Divide by 2 and then add back 25%.

Egypt: Divide by about 6.

Oceania
Australia: For estimating purposes, roughly 1-to-1.

New Zealand: Take a 20% discount on the prices you see.

[Image credit: Flickr user Images_of_Money]

Correction: A previous version of this article mistakenly said to “divide by half” rather than the correct “divide in half” or “cut in half,” and has been amended.

10 Cultural Experiences To Have In Buenos Aires, Argentina

graffiti Traveling to Buenos Aires in Argentina? Add these experiences to your itinerary for a better view of local culture.

Graffiti Walks

Walking around Buenos Aires, it will immediately become clear the city has close ties with the arts, specifically graffiti. While many associate street art with vandalism, the works adorning the streets in Buenos Aires are created by talented and thought-provoking artists, many who are trying to send messages about politics and government. Porteños, or the people of B.A., are very passionate about politics, and you can often see protesting happening on Avenida de Mayo and in Plaza de Mayo. The city’s graffiti is a symbol of these amorous locals. You can either wander around on your own or opt for a Graffitimundo Graffiti & Street Art Tour.Visit An Estancia

An estancia is a large rural estate, similar to an American ranch. These stationary ranching ventures feature workers on horseback, or gauchos, and crop farming due to the area’s healthy soil. Travelers can visit estancias right outside Buenos Aires in the Pampas region and take part in activities such as eating typical Argentinian food like empanadas and asado, sipping local wines, drinking mate, horseback riding, riding in colonial carriages, watching traditional folk dancing and taking part in events like ring races and troops rides. You’ll get to learn about the gaucho lifestyle, and experience an important agricultural region in the country.

tango Do The Tango, Or At Least Watch

Argentina is thought to be the birthplace of tango, which is a big part of the culture. In Buenos Aires, you’ll catch free impromptu acts on the streets as well as on Sundays at the weekly San Telmo Market and Recoleta Fair. Other ways to experience complimentary tango include going to Museo Casa Carlos Gardel, which regularly features free tango shows and lessons and at many of the city’s cultural centers on Sundays. If you have money to spend and want a lavish experience, many venues offer dinner, wine and a show and/or classes, such as La Ventana, Rojo Tango and Complejo Tango. Another option is to go to a milonga, a place where tango is danced. For instance, La Glorieta offers free entrance to their open-air milonga on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 7 to 10 p.m. Even when these venues are not free, they are usually inexpensive and allow you to watch some of the city’s best tango dancers.

Go To A Peña

While most people know Argentina for its rich tango culture, a lesser-known facet is peñas folklóricas. These rustic dance halls feature wine, food, singing, dancing and traditional guitar music. Originating in the 1950s, they started when people from rural communities moved to Buenos Aires and began to long for the traditions and laid-back atmosphere of the country. You can expect live performances, impromptu jam sessions and improvisational dancing. While typically located in Salta, peñas are also located in Buenos Aires. Some venues to check out include La Peña del Colorado, Los Cumpas and Los Cardones, which also offers folk dancing classes on Fridays from 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.

coffee buenos aires Have A Coffee In Argentina’s Oldest Cafe

In Buenos Aires, cafes and coffee play a large role in the culture. It’s not simply a place to grab a quick cup and go, but to leisurely sit with friends and chat. It’s also a venue for people to enjoy a breakfast of cafe con leche y medialunas, or coffee with milk and croissants, while reading the morning paper. The cafe culture in Buenos Aires is so strong, 53 of the oldest have been declared part of the cultural and historical heritage of the city. To experience history and culture, head to Cafe Tortoni. Located on Avenida de Mayo, it is the oldest cafe in Argentina. Opened in 1858, the lighting, furniture and interior design have remained the same, and you’ll see paintings, artwork and newspaper clippings that make the cafe seem like a museum. They open at 5 p.m. when locals typically have a snack, as dinner isn’t until around 11 p.m. and sometimes after midnight.

To order like a local, remember a few tips. First of all, if you want a small espresso shot make a “c” shape with your hands (shown above). No talking is necessary, although if you’d like you can say “cafe” while doing the gesture. If you’d like a larger beverage with 3/4 coffee and 1/2 milk say “jarito.” If you say “lagrima” to your server, you’ll get the opposite, 3/4 milk and 1/4 coffee. To order a large cup of 1/2 milk and 1/2 coffee, say “cafe con leche.”

See A Protest

Like I said before, Buenos Aires’ locals are passionate about politics. In fact, don’t be surprised to see three or four protests a day in the city. Most occur on Avenida de Mayo, a road connecting the city’s political buildings of National Congrass and Casa Rosada, as well as Plaza de Mayo, located right in front of Casa Rosada. At Casa Rosada, you’ll notice a makeshift fence separating the building from the plaza. While technically a temporary fence put up only during protests, city officials got tired of constantly having to put it up and take it down and just left it there. In 2011, angry locals protested so hard, then-President Fernando de la Rúa resigned from office and exited the building via rooftop helicopter.

At 3 p.m. on Thursdays in Plaza de Mayo, you’ll see the silent protesting of Madres de Plaza de Mayo, or Mother’s of Plaza de Mayo, circling the square’s May Pyramid monument. During the 1970s, Argentina went through a period of military dictatorship, leading to over 30,000 people going missing, ending up in torture camps and being killed. These women have been asking for answers as to where their children are ever since. While Argentina now enjoys a democracy, knowing the story of these women will make you truly appreciate your freedom and rights.

malbec Have A Glass Of Malbec

While Malbec production has declined in France, it is prominent in Argentina. Although the vine cuttings were originally brought over from France in the mid-19th century, the wine differs from its European relative as the grapes in Argentina have tinier berries that grow in smaller, tighter clusters. Expect fruit flavors like currants, plums, cherries and raspberries, as well as notes of spice, vanilla and sometime tobacco. Although Mendoza, San Juan and La Rioja are the most prominent wine-producing regions in the country, vineyards have sprouted up in the southern part of the Buenos Aires province since the 21st century. You can also visit a local wine bar for a taste of locally-produced Malbec, like Finca, a modest wine bar focusing on rare Argentine wines from boutique wineries, Terroir, a hip venue with an exclusive wine list from top estates and La Vineria de Gualterio Bolivar, which features an affordable tasting menu and extensive wine list with all bottles available by the glass.

Browse The Markets

Wandering through the markets and fairs of Buenos Aires, you’ll find everything from leather goods and antiques to yerba mate dispensers and gaucho wear. If you visit the San Telmo Market on Sunday, you’ll find millions of antiques, as the neighborhood is a hub for these items. You’ll also find artisanal goods, typical foods and tango performances. On Saturdays and Sundays you’ll find an artisanal fair in Plaza Francia near Recoleta Cemetery, with over 100 stalls of traditional pottery, leather products, traditional foods and street performers. In the Palermo Soho area, you’ll find numerous markets, like the one at Plaza Serrano, which has a hippie vibe and is great for finding unusual clothing items and alternative jewelry. You can also stop by Plaza Armenia for handmade goods, keepsakes and clothing.

mate Drink Mate With New Friends

You’ll often notice locals walking around Buenos Aires carrying hollow gourds filled with yerba mate, or mate. In Argentina, mate holds the special meaning of sharing, and people often get together to hangout and pass around the infusion of proteins, caffeine, herbs and hot water. It’s often passed around in a circle, with the “ceba el mate,” or the person who prepared it, being the first one to take a taste. When someone says “thanks” after sipping it means they don’t want anymore, which is why you shouldn’t thank everyone who hands you the drink. While you can easily have a drink of this by yourself, mate is best shared with new or old friends.

Check Out Street Performers And Live Music

The pulse of Buenos Aires beats through its upbeat song and dance. Explore the fairs and markets or ride the subway or train and you’ll be almost guaranteed a free show. Additionally, Museo Casa Carlos Gardel hosts live performances on Wednesdays, as does the Palace Notel on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at 7 p.m. For a daily dose of performance culture, head to the Street Museum Caminito in La Boca any day from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. for outdoor art, singers, dancers and one-of-a-kind acts.

[Images via Jessie on a Journey, prayitno, Jessie on a Journey, Ed Yourdon, Jorgealfonso]

Cruise Line Adds Focus On Learning And Self-Discovery

cruise linesCommon thoughts about a standard cruise line experience include bellying up to the buffet, ’70s Vegas-like entertainment and non-stop bingo with a few thousand strangers sailing through the Caribbean.

That experience can still be found, but these days, cruise lines are focusing on engaging passengers in a variety of new ways. From a focus on destination immersion to revamped onboard programming, today’s cruise experience can be a voyage of learning and self-discovery.

Luxury line Crystal Cruises has a 74-day world cruise coming up this winter. Like other lines offering world cruises, Crystal allows travelers to sign up for what they call “segments” of the world cruise, shorter journeys in specific areas of the world.

The February 2, 24-day segment from Lima to Buenos Aires is one of those experiences where passengers can choose from dozens of classes, hands-on lessons and interactive workshops in everything from golf to global affairs, Pilates to painting and memoir writing to magic.Via Crystal’s Creative Learning Institute curriculum, guests can learn how to make a movie of the Chilean fjords with an iPad through USC’s School of Cinematic Arts’ Digital Filmmaking classes. They can learn how to cook a traditional Peruvian meal at a Lima culinary school or learn to tread lightly in Antarctica, with a choice of two excursions to the remote continent.

This kind of cruise vacation does have its price though. All-inclusive fares for the 24-day segment start at $12,760 per person.

Overview of Buenos Aires



[Flickr photo by d[-_-]b Jonathan d[-_-]b]

Stressed Out? Try A Walk In A Cemetery

cemeteryCemeteries get a bad rap in the United States. The only time of year we really pay attention to them is Halloween, and then, it’s to equate them with fear or evil. I suppose Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day give cemeteries a little love, but those holidays are more about who’s in the actual graves, and not about the places themselves.

Unlike many of the world’s cultures, which celebrate or dignify death, we avoid it. So it’s no wonder that most Americans find cemeteries creepy. That said, I’ve met a number of people like myself who enjoy exploring cemeteries when they travel. Some enjoy the religious, spiritual, historical, or cultural aspects, others like visiting the gravesites of famous people. Many find wandering through graveyards peaceful and relaxing, a place for quiet contemplation.

The latter is the primary reason I enjoy visiting cemeteries, although I also use them as a way to find out more about the city, village or country I’m visiting. I look at the names on headstones, trying to discern the immigrant origins of the residents, or imagine what circumstances led to the death of, say, so many townsfolk in a given year. I also like looking at surnames, especially in 19th century American cemeteries, because they’re often (forgive me) amusing.

%Gallery-165496%cemetery Boulder, Colorado’s, Columbia Cemetery was established in 1870. It’s filled with pioneers, Union soldiers, miners, even an infamous 19th century “lady of the evening,” and a recently identified Jane Doe from a 1954 murder case. There are also lots of great surnames: Goodnow; Sex; Belcher; Hussie; Slauter, and Liverhaste.

Built on 10.5 acres near Chautauqua Park, and overlooked by the famous Flatirons, the cemetery is a favorite spot for locals to run, walk their dogs (how many other cemeteries have dog waste bags at their gates?), or go for a quiet stroll. I live right up the street, and visit at least once a week, using it as an interesting detour on my walks downtown.

My favorite cemetery of all time is Telluride’s Lone Tree, which I’ve written about previously. Located toward the end of a box canyon with waterfall, it’s not only beautiful, but historically fascinating. The Telluride Historical Museum occasionally offers tours of Lone Tree, but you can just as easily visit yourself.

While I find many small-town graveyards interesting and a good place for a mental time-out, some big-city cemeteries are bona fide tourist attractions, yet remain peaceful oases. I highly recommend Paris’ Pere Lachaise, for its elaborate tombs and grave markers, many of which belong to the likes of Frédéric Chopin, Edith Piaf, and yes, Jim Morrison.
la recoleta
At La Recoleta Cemetery (Cemetario de la Recoleta) in Buenos Aries, you can visit the tomb of Evita Perón, as well as those of many of Argentina’s most famous political and literary figures. It’s worth a visit regardless, for the architecture of the mausoleums, which range from Baroque, Art Noveau and Art Deco to Neo-Gothic.

[Photo credits: fall cemetery, Flickr user JamieSanford; Chiloe, Laurel Miller; La Recoleta, Flickr user pablo/T]

‘The Perennial Plate’ Partners With Intrepid Travel For Online Food Documentary Series

food documentariesI’ll be the first to raise my hand and say I despise most of the food shows currently on television and online. That’s why I got so excited when I heard about “The Perennial Plate,” a weekly online documentary series, “dedicated to socially responsible and adventurous eating.”

That angle by virtue does not a good show make. But Daniel Klein and Mirra Fine, the team behind the show, have the ideal background to make this concept work, which it does. Throw in a collaboration with well-regarded Australian adventure company Intrepid Travel, and you have the makings of a cult classic.

In case you’re thinking this is another “No Reservations,” or “Bizarre Foods,” the focus is different in that the duo explores the increasingly connected global food system, minus the machismo. That said, there’s plenty for those more interested in armchair travel.

Klein has an impressive resume as a chef, filmmaker and activist, while “camera girl” Fine has a background in graphic design and writing, and has previously released short, food-based films. Together, the two have completed two seasons. The first took place over the course of a calendar year in their home state of Minnesota. The second was filmed across America, taking viewers on a journey of “where good food comes from, and how to enjoy it.”

Season three, which premieres in October (check their site for dates), is the first since joining with Intrepid Travel. The season kicks off with a tour of Vietnam. Future episodes will include China, Japan, India, Argentina and Italy.