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

How Much Does It Cost To Build A Metro In Saudi Arabia?

Alan Light, Flickr

If you live in a cosmopolitan city with a good subway system, it can be easy to take your public transportation for granted. Many of the world’s most famous subway systems have been around for decades, and most of us have forgotten the price and political willpower it took to put them in place.

Building a completely new metro or subway system nowadays isn’t only a longterm commitment, it’s a large financial one. Saudi Arabia is the latest place to jump on board the public transportation train. So how much does it cost to build a Saudi Arabian metro? $22 billion apparently. That’s the number attached to the new system proposed for the capital city of Riyadh. Construction will begin next year and trains should be running by 2019.The design alone is a major cost — one of the main stations will be done by Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid — not to mention the construction and other expenses. But investing in infrastructure is smart, even in oil-rich countries of the Middle East. As the president of the Arriyadh Development Authority (ADA) Ibrahim bin Mohammed al Sultan said, the project will be “a major driver of employment and economic development.”

But how does the cost of the new metro system compare to others around the world? Two years ago Africa’s second metro opened up in Algiers, and came in at a final price of only $1.2 billion. But in the Western World, that doesn’t cover a whole lot. In Singapore, the new Circle Line which runs 22 miles, cost $4.8 billion. In New York City the Second Avenue subway line is projected at over $17 billion — and that’s just one line. Meanwhile in Paris, $39 billion is being spent to build 200 kilometers of new metro lines with 72 stations in and around Paris. How long does that take? The project should be finished by 2030. That makes 2019 seem like it’s just around the corner.

Picture Perfect: Why Bolivians Insist Upon Flawless US Dollars

moneyMy first encounter with the Bolivian mania for perfect U.S. dollars occurred at 3 a.m., as I blearily stood in line at Immigration, attempting to pay for my entry visa. I’d been in transit for over 30 hours, and was fumbling in my travel wallet for the stack of twenties I’d set aside specifically for this purpose (they want that $135 in USD, no exceptions).

The immigration agent examined each bill with an anal retentiveness surely rivaled by past appraisers of the Hope Diamond. He immediately tossed two perfectly-fine looking bills back at me.

“What’s wrong with these?” I asked. “They are damaged,” he snapped, and returned to closely inspecting my remaining twenties, running his fingers along each edge, and holding them up to the light. I looked at the offending bills, seeing nothing wrong. “Why can’t you take this one?” I queried, holding out the bill in question. My silly question would have made my fresh-off-the-boat status obvious, even if I weren’t standing in the immigration line.

“There is a crease in it,” the officer said impatiently, pointing to a miniscule dent. Fortunately, the rest of my money passed muster. The final insult? Having my visa photo taken (despite the fact I’d brought passport-size photos with me for this very purpose). I now have a very special souvenir of what I’ll look like in another 40 years. That cabin air is really dehydrating.

Over the next two weeks, I continued to observe the Bolivian obsession with flawless dolares de Estados Unitos. By then, I knew the reason. Counterfeit money is a big problem, but they’re not nearly as concerned about the state of their bolivianos as they are our currency. Admittedly, their paper money is fairly pristine. Every trip to an ATM was an anxiety-inducing event … what if the bills were wrinkled, or torn? What if, while in one of the godforsaken, far-flung outposts I was visiting, someone required U.S. dollars and I couldn’t obtain any perfect ones? In Bolivia, you can often pay in either currency, so some travelers prefer dollars because they find them easier to use than trying to convert bolivianos.

Fortunately, it seems most Bolivian cash machines dispense quality bills. I was even able to bail out a befuddled traveler attempting to purchase a bus ticket. His dollars were simply not up to snuff, so I traded him some of my crisp Jacksons to defuse the escalating shouting match.

After I traveled on to Paraguay, I discovered that they’re almost as strict about the appearance of U.S. dollars. It’s a national joke, however, that this attention to detail doesn’t extend to their guaranies. Never have I seen such woefully limp, bedraggled, filthy paper money. Which is ironic, given all the armed guards posted outside of banks and change houses. Then again, money is money, no matter how pretty. If only someone could tell the Bolivians that.

[Photo credit: Flickr user Unhindered by Talent]

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]