Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Operation Volcano: potential trip plan destroyer's threat is lifted!

I wasn't going to post about it because I felt like maybe there would be some bad karma but I feel a little better YAY for all the flights that are finally being opened again in Europe's airspace!!

Airport Tracking

I've been following that link for the past few days watching slowly as all of the red squares slowly turned to green. Priority is being given to people who have tickets for future flights, which I can't help but feel a little guilty about since I may make it to Frankfurt before someone who has been waiting days will. Hopefully the backlog of passengers will get cleared up sooner than later.

The thing that has bothered me the most about this has been reading all of the comments from people who have been angry at Europe airlines or Europe for how they handled this event. Or pissed in general that there were not more options for them to get home or travel internationally. It's a freaking natural event people, we can't control it! Lost revenue is not ideal for the airlines but flying through volcanic ash and risking the lives of people who are pushy and need to get home is not worth it! I do feel a lot of sympathy though for people who have been stranded and don't have the money to afford staying anywhere and need to make the airport their home. If my trip is delayed a few days so some families can make it home I will understand but, of course, I'll be a little bit disappointed.

I can't believe I leave in a week. I'm excited beyond belief as many of you have noticed from reading all of my blog posts about silly packing lists. I've been trying to keep myself busy! There are only a few more things I need to get before leaving and one is a pair of comfortable open toed sandals. Target makes a cute, affordable pair that I've worn for hours that also looks great with a dress but I'm leaning towards more functional (Teva's) than cute. I also need to really go through my wardrobe and figure out what is the most useful to bring. A pair of pants that fit me last month is a little tight now but would be perfect for the trip... I'm trying to decide if it's worth it to bring since I'm pretty sure walking around all day and eating less will have me dropping some weight. Just more girly things to consider.

I posted on the busabout forums to see if anyone else wants to share the apartment I've booked in Prague for a couple nights. There's been talk about having my best friend Erin fly over and meet me in Dresden than head to Prague but I'm not going to bank too much on that til it's confirmed. I'd love for her to be able to go though and she can fly free on the military flights - it's just a matter of how feasible it will be for her to fly in 2 weeks using their service.

I haven't made any reservations for things to do in any of the cities I'm staying at (besides accommodations) except for in Prague. I'd like to wait for locals to suggest places and go with other travelers, plus where is the fun talking about it all now before I'm even there?

I suppose Prague is the city I'm most excited about visiting. I'll be two blocks from the National Theater in Prague which I'm already enamored with. It's so gorgeous!

I reserved a ticket for Dvorak's Rusalka Opera which was a bit pricey (900 czech crowns = ~$50 USD). The opera is a Slavic mythological fairytale.

Prague is also known for its black-light shows so I found a theater that has a show called "Aspects of Alice" which is based off of Alice in Wonderland and has some great reviews.

So these are some fun things to look forward to! I read that the busabout tour also hands out Lonely Planet guidebooks for the cities we're going to, which is pretty sweet. At this point I'm just busting with energy and I'm feeling impatient. I need to make a list so I don't forget anything and also print out all of my travel plans/confirmation info for hostels, bus and train tickets!

Also, before I forget I'd like to announce that I got a camera so there will be some quality pictures :)
This past weekend I got to use it for a nice rock climbing adventure with some friends. We went to Broughton's Bluff which is really close to Portland. The rock is pretty greasy basalt and there are a lot of hard routes and not much sport climbing (which means you need to have trad gear to clip into the rock wall as there aren't many anchors for the routes). There aren't any pictures of me in this set but some great pictures of friends climbing.
Here is a link to my set on Flickr

Hopefully my next post I'll be on my way to Europe!

And PS, in case anyone was wondering, I got my $80 parking ticket reduced to $6! Yay!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Foreign Currency: when to exchange

If asked to recall my least fond memories I think going over foreign transactions in my accounting classes would rank pretty far up there. When you're used to dealing in one currency it is confusing to compare it to others. What is even more confusing is when you start throwing in questions like "If this happens does it mean the value of the dollar is getting stronger or weaker?" I would have tried to write a scenario but I haven't had my coffee yet and it would confuse you anyways.

The reason why this is confusing is because there are two different rates you are really dealing with when you exchange money. You need to understand how much 1 unit of money is worth in another currency. You also need to understand how much 1 unit of that other currency is worth in your currency. That's two different exchange rates and for many it can get confusing, especially if you're trying to determine other things like transaction fees.

To lessen the brain pain I decided to stick with one figure. How much do I have to pay in USD to have one Euro? The exchange rate is forecasted to rise to around 1.40 or so when I'm in Europe. (US dollar getting weaker) This means $1.40 US = 1 Euro. Currently the exchange rate is at $1.33. Most of this trip is going to be covered in cash so I need to get a pretty firm grasp on what the best options are for me and how to save the most money. Pennies don't sound like they matter but when you have about a few thousand dollars they really do add up!

My options:

US Bank
I called up my bank to see how much of a fee they might charge as many can charge percentages of what you are withdrawing and they actually said "we own all the ATMS in Europe so there is no fee, only the ATM fee". I am not 100% sure I believe this claim but I'd like to at least trust that my bank won't charge me a fee.

The plus is that banks usually have some of the best foreign exchange rates so I know that I'll be getting as close to my money's worth as I can on the day I withdraw.

The problem with using the money in my bank is that it will be intermingled with the other money I have in there that I need to use to cover automatic withdrawals for student loans, car payments, and other bills during the month. The least amount of thinking I have to do with money on this trip the better. I'm already going to be managing my work's two bank accounts.

Credit Cards
I have a plethora of credit cards but all of them but one charge foreign transactions fees. They charge anywhere from 1 - 3% and if I did a cash advance they also charge a 3% fee for that plus a ridiculous APR tacked on for the balance. There's no need for me to take a cash advance on a credit card, thankfully.

I've never used it until now but I have a Capital One credit card that does not charge any foreign transaction fees at all so I will be using them for one or two of my bigger transactions. I don't anticipate charging any more than two hundred euros on this account, but it is nice to know that they do not have any fees. I will not need any other credit cards.


Travelex offers to exchange money before you leave. I will need some Euros in my hand when I get there so I will need to use their services. However, if you exchange under $500 there is a fee and the rate is awful. They are, of course, making money this way but they are taking about 13%. Currently 1.53 USD = 1 Euro. This means you are paying .20 more for each dollar. Ouch! If you exchange over $500 they give you a much better rate but I can't remember what it was as they offered me the option to purchase something called a cash passport card.

The Cash Passport Card is just like a prepaid debit card. It has a Mastercard or Visa logo on it and you can use it at any bank to withdraw up to 700 euros a day. The transaction fees are 1.75 euros for each ATM withdrawal. There are no foreign exchange fees since the money on your account is loaded in the foreign currency.
You can use it at any place that accepts credit cards as well. The money is loaded in the currency of your choice (currently I think they only accept euros, pounds and us dollars) so it is locked in at the rate given on the date of purchase. As long as you spend over $500 they are currently offering 1.40 USD = 1 Euro.

After giving it some consideration I've decided to load my money onto one of these cards. I am not getting the best exchange rate but if I wait until I visit in May to pull money from the banks over there the exchange rate is forecasted to be on par with what they are currently offering. Travelex also offers online access so I can see how much I've spent and they also have 100% fraud protection. If it is stolen they Fed-Ex a new card to you overnight for free to wherever you're staying. I would like to keep my money separate and this is a good way. All ATM fees are fixed so everything is predictable. I'd like to keep the least amount of money on me as possible but ensure that the money I do have is safe. The main reason why I chose this card though was so I wouldn't have to worry as much about the exchange rate fluctuations.

For the math geeks:

Overall I am losing about $86.
2860 x .741 = 2119.26 - this is what I'd receive in Euros at the real 1.33 exchange rate

2860 x .711 = 2033.46 - this is what I will receive in Euros at their exchange rate

Hopefully my calculations are correct.

So, today I took the day off work to run a few errands and this will be one of them! I've also got to dispute a parking ticket ($80!!) and try to get it reduced. Wish me luck!