Couple Aims to Travel Using Only Virtual Currency

Zach Copley, Flickr

For the last two months, Beccy and Austin Craig haven’t spent any cash. Well, they’ve spent money, but all of their transactions are with the virtual currency called Bitcoin. Yes, that’s the same stuff that all the transactions on illegal drug website Silk Road were made in.

But apparently it can be used by a sweet couple from Utah too. They use it for all of their daily shopping, including gas and food, and now they’re taking it international: next week the couple is road tripping to New York City and from there they will fly to Stockholm. And it will all be done on Bitcoin, a decentralized, peer-to-peer digital currency.The Craigs are part of a documentary project, “Life on Bitcoin” and in Sweden they will visit a company that makes “Bitcoin mining machines,” basically computers that manage the Bitcoin, not mining actual coins.

But how exactly does one travel using a virtual currency? Carefully. While the Craigs have found a community in and around Provo that supports the use of Bitcoins and their “online wallet,” in order to survive in other places, they have to hope that they can find the same. If it’s late at night and you’re in the middle of nowhere on a highway, you can’t just go buy a few candy bars and chips at the local gas station.

The Craigs purchased their tickets to Sweden from a German travel agent that deals in Bitcoin. But beyond that, their travels are unplanned, besides hoping to tap into local Bitcoin user communities. Which raises the question: is it really possible to travel using only a virtual currency?

Since it’s virtual, Bitcoin coins don’t represent any actual currency, which means no need for thinking about exchange rates, but how do you buy metro tickets? What about if you have an accident and end up having to pay to see a doctor? What about going out for a local brew?

The Craigs will simply have to wait and see, but we can all hope that they pack some extra provisions with them before they leave.

Venezuela Exchange Rate Magic Brings Free Flights, Cash Payday

Venezuela
Flickr/ jopimalg

Venezuela’s late socialist leader Hugo Chavez set money controls a decade ago that have caused a wacky system of disparity between official and black market rates for local currency. One result has been flights out of Venezuela booked for months in advance as locals take advantage of a loophole to gain financially.

In Venezuela, the disparity between the official and black-market rates for the local bolivar currency is insane. It sells on the illegal market at about seven times the government price of 6.3 to the dollar. To compound the problem, there are strict limits on the availability of dollars at the 6.3 rate.

But a special currency provision for travelers with a valid airline ticket allows Venezuelans to exchange up to $3,000 at the government rate. The result has sold out planes flying half full, tickets bought by Venezuelans who had no intention of traveling. Others are exchanging currency, easily paying for their travel via the financial gain afforded by the special travel provision.“It is possible to travel abroad for free due to this exchange rate magic,” said local economist Angel Garcia Banchs in a Reuters report.

Better yet, those actually flying take credit cards abroad to get a cash advance, bringing back dollars to sell on the black market for about seven times the original exchange rate. Bolivian President to Sue U.S. Over Venezuelan Flight Snub

Who Has Europe’s Dirtiest Currency?

Think about how many hands the average dollar bill passes through; all jokes about “dirty money” aside, it’s practically impossible for the money that you carry in your wallet to be clean. But some bills are dirtier than others.

Researchers at Oxford put European currencies and banknotes to the test, finding that British pounds are actually cleaner than Euros. On average European bills and coins contain 26,000 bacteria, while UK currency has around 18,200.

How dirty is that? According to Ian Thompson, Professor of Engineering Science at Oxford, 11,000 bacteria is enough to pass on an infection. Makes you want to go wash your hands after paying for your souvenirs doesn’t it?

Surprisingly enough, clean and efficient Scandinavia actually tops the list of dirty cash. The dirtiest currency was the Denmark krone, at 40,266 bacteria, with the Swedish crown at 39,600 not far behind.

Maybe it’s another reason to get behind the Euro?

[Photo Credit: Jixar]

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.