22 August 2007

Foreign currency reserves

Years ago I was on a small group press trip which went astray on its return to the UK - for some reason (bad weather or something) our flight was diverted to Frankfurt late on a sunday evening, where we had to spend a couple of hours on the ground in transit. On the bright side, there was an enticing bar. On the gloomy side, none of us had anticipated going to Germany, this was pre-Euro, and there didn't seem to any money exchange facilities in operation.

Before we could start exploring the possibilities of setting up a credit card tab, one of the journo's (a well-organised travel editor I had travelled with a couple of times before) pulled out a large wallet thing with fan-folded plastic pockets packed with international banknotes. With a flourish she ran her finger along to the pocket containing Deutchmarks and bought a round of drinks.

I remember being impressed (and grateful!), but I wondered if it wasn't 'overkill', wandering around the world with an emergency multi-national piggy-bank!

Nevertheless, I was clocking up between 15-20 overseas trips per annum at the time and had built up a substantial stash of foreign notes and coins at home, some of which - US dollars in particular - I was able to re-use on return visits.

Tip: Always keeps small denominations of US dollars. They are invaluable for tipping when you arrive in the USA or Caribbean again. Likewise Euros.

... nothing usual in that. Many of us hang onto small quantities leftover foreign cash on our return. After all, nobody feels comfortable with the concept of throwing away real money!

I mention it, because it appears we are hanging onto larger amounts these days. Lastminute.com have been asking their clients about their foreign currency habits.

It turns out that, with many of us taking more than one holiday/break in a year, we are even more inclined to hang onto major currencies. Four out of ten people polled by Lastminute admitted they have up to £35 in Euros in their sock drawer and just over one in ten has more than £35 worth.

Interestingly, the weakness of the dollar means that holiday makers are not hanging on to them as much, with only 11% surveyed hanging on to between 1 and 50 dollars and 14% keeping more than fifty dollars.

Almost 20% of lastminute.com’s customers also collect other lesser used currencies such as the Moroccan Dirham and the Thai Baht as these are also considered as souvenirs.

Lastminute have been doing their sums and they reckon that there is approximately £170m worth of foreign currency lying around in people's drawers in the UK.

Not much of it is mine though. I still keep small supplies of US Dollars and Euros, but I got rid of my huge collection of Malaysian ringitts, Australian dollars, Lebanese pounds, Zambian kwachas (great wadges of them!), etc...to a charity.

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