Camino minus 19 – Follow the Money and Be the Change

Tomorrow DH and I are giving a dinner party for a friend who is PCS-ing (military moving) back to the States. We decided this person deserved a real dinner, not just the chips and dips normally done for people who are leaving. But it means that most of today was spent shopping and getting ready for tomorrow (tomorrow’s blog should be REALLY short).

But the Camino is never far from my mind.

I had lunch in a little place on base. No one else was there and I was looking over my Camino guidebooks. Someone walked in, someone I knew, and we got to talking about . . . you know what. By the end of lunch, she decided to take her daughter with her on the Camino  next year!

Probably won’t happen.

As part of my errands while party shopping, I took care of one of my biggest concerns for my trip (now that my new passport has arrived).

I finally closed one of my bank accounts and moved all the money into a new credit union account.  I plan to use the ATM card attached to this new account to get cash while in Spain.

Most of the villages along the way, and all the albergues where you spend the night, deal only in cash. That is, of course, euros. Any money I have in dollars has to be changed to euros before it can do me any good. I better be pulling euros out of my security pouch if I want to buy a cafe con leche, because dollars just won’t do.

American credit cards generally do not work in European ATM machines. American credit cards have raised numbers on them and European do not. American cards have a  magnetic strip. European have a microchip.  If I was crazy enough to want to use a credit card to get money from an ATM, the card would probably just get swallowed.

This has happened more than once to unfortunate pilgrims along the Camino.

But why would I even want to use my credit card to get cash from an ATM? That would be a cash advance and, if you don’t know what that means, check your latest credit card statement. Somewhere on there you will find the interest rates for purchases and for cash advances. For example, one card may have an interest rate is 9% on purchases, 20.24% on cash advances. Another, 4.9% on purchases, a walloping 24.99% on cash advances!

My friends, no one uses credit cards to get money on the Camino.

So, then, how DO people get money?

Well, most of the people who walk the Camino are from Spain (no surprise there) so they have local banks. It simply isn’t a problem. The next highest number are from Europe. Most European Union countries share enough of a banking system that there is not much stress in moving money. Europeans have the right ATM cards in their pockets.

For me, getting my money has taken lots of research.

I have my fingers crossed that my new card will work painlessly and inexpensively outside the country. I will pay ATM fees because I will be using ATMs from banks that are not my “home” bank. I will pay foreign transaction fees as my dollars get changed into euros. Finally, I will deal with the ever-changing exchange rate, which conspires to make my dollars worth less and everything in Europe cost more.

So, I closed an account that I had opened in better times to help pay for school expenses for #1 son. It has been sitting there, gathering no interest (thank you, economy) for years and years. You know the calendar you get with the pack of checks? The calendar with this pack was from 2007. May 3 was a Thursday.

And I expect all that money will be gone by the end of next month.

What will I have to show for it?

I hope to be generous with it. I hope to remember that the only value of money is in what you get in return for it. Sometimes, that will be a soft pillow. Sometimes it will be a cold beer. Sometimes it will be a grateful smile.

And I’m a sucker for a talented busker playing an instrument on the sidewalk, be it violin, accordion, guitar, or  clarinet. I always drop some change.

I hope I find some good music along the way.

If not, I’ll just sing. Then I can  keep the change.


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