First World Travel Problems - Part Five

On my first trip to Germany, the "Dad" in our group was a seasoned veteran of overseas travel. The first thing he did after we got through security was to find an ATM to get Euros. I made note of that for this trip because I could see us taking a cab to the hotel and the driver saying upon our arrival, "No, I don't take credit cards." and us trying to persuade him to take USD off of us.

We did look in Houston at a currency exchange place in the airport and, well, let's just say you'd have to be really desperate or so rich you don't care about money to use one of those. The exchange rate and fee were wack.

So, after we collected our luggage and went through customs in Frankfurt (fastest custom inspection ever, btw), we were in search of an ATM. We found what looked like one but we couldn't figure it out. Fortunately, there were also people at a teller station right next to the ATM so we decided to go with a human assist.

How much to get was our first decision. I think on the first trip, Dad only drew out 100. But, we really weren't going to have a lot of opportunity to spend on the specific trip so I didn't think that was enough for this time. We ultimately decided to get 200 each. I figured I could always use it on my next trip if I got too much.

Seemed simple until we started the transaction. My companion offered up his AmEx. No go. Then he went through a MasterCard and a Visa before we figured out it needed to be a debit card. He got his 200 then it was my turn with another teller. I handed her my debit card and she fiddled around with it before saying she couldn't process it.

Yikes. Moment of panic there.

However, she said her colleague would be able to process it. Whew.

Euros in hand, we headed out thinking we had plenty of paper cash.

We were wrong.

The first thing we encountered were a lot of places that didn't take plastic. I expected that with the cab and I was right but we even found it at what I would call medium sized businesses. We're so used to the USA where you can buy a can of pop from a corner store with a credit card that it didn't occur to us that a restaurant where the final bill was over 50 Euro that they expected cash.

The second thing we found was that many places that did take plastic couldn't take our plastic. I saw this in Canada a few years ago where banks were adding a chip into their cards and that was being used by the machines instead of reading the mag stripe. There was also a PIN tied to those cards which we don't normally use with credit cards.

We would ask ahead of time if a place took credit cards, but they wouldn't always get our "without a chip" situation and would tell us it would work. It wasn't until processing the bill that we would find out they couldn't take our cards.

So, despite trying to use plastic whenever we could, we went through our 400 Euro in 5 days and had to pull out another 200.

The best, or most embarrassing depending on your comfort level for looking foolish, incident was when we invited a German colleague out to lunch to a local pizza place and found out at the end of the meal that they didn't take plastic. The bill was almost 60 Euro and between all of us Americans, we probably would have covered it but it would have been a "here's all our money from every pocket, is it enough?" moments.

Our colleague paid for the bill. Thanks, Theo!

Clearly, the US needs to get on this chip in the card bandwagon.

And, clearly, we dumb Americans need to manage our cash better.

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