Sunday, March 3, 2013

Dolla dolla bill y'all

It's not hard to imagine that many of the people and companies one works with at a travel magazine are located abroad. Whether they're natives of a country we're writing a story about, or Americans (or Europeans, or Africans, etc.) who get sent on location, business is being conducted in a country different from where we are headquartered.

One of my regular duties at Traveler is to process money wires to vendors overseas. Depending on the contract agreed upon prior to the trip, we will usually pay for/reimburse expenses accrued, such as meals and a hotel, in addition to payment for services. Wiring money simplifies the payment task, as crossing borders (and often times changing currency) can get a little complicated.

Luckily, the internet makes money conversion a lot easier
A few days ago, for example, I had to process the payment of a British photographer who had been sent to Italy. I was supplied with the invoice for his work, as well as his receipts of personal expenses we had agreed to pay for. Because all of the money exchanged in Italy was in Euros, I had to convert the final costs of each receipt into US Dollars, so I knew how much to pay him. (Cond√© Nast uses American banks and American currency, so naturally all of our payments are in USD, regardless of where the money is being deposited.) After I knew the correct amount, I completed a form to have the money wired directly into his account at a bank in London.

While figuring out the conversion wasn't particularly difficult, I did find it a bit of a nuisance and couldn't help thinking how, after all the advances we've made with globalization, we do not have a universal currency. I suppose the USD serves as a somewhat unofficial one, seeing as it is largely accepted around world, but imagine if there was one specific monetary policy for all seven continents.

15 Israeli shekels (~$4 USD)
I am not implying that it would necessarily work (especially considering the current trouble with the Euro), but it would certainly make life easier. I remember traveling to Hawaii in 2005 and being completely marveled that I could use American money there. (Yes, of course I knew Hawaii was a state, but I was so wrapped up in the local Polynesian culture and the vast time change, I would find myself forgetting.) It made all of my purchases, and essentially the entire trip, much less stressful. It's hard enough to control your impulses to buy souvenirs and experiences when visiting a foreign place, but having "Monopoly money" (a currency you're not familiar with) in your pocket makes it all the more easy.

I remember specifically my trip to Israel in 2010; my first time out of the United States without my parents.
Me: Cama ze ole? (How much is this?)
Vendor: 80 shekels.
Me: Uhh, okay... here you go. *hands over foreign money listlessly*

Whether or not the idea of a universal currency will ever gain popularity and come to fruition, I do not doubt that many people will attempt to make it happen. If it does indeed become a reality, I wonder if we would be more prone to globally adopt an already existing currency, or create a new one entirely. Regardless, the United States will probably be the most difficult country to get on board... we have still yet to embrace the metric system, after all.

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