Short changed - a lesson in how not to change money on the road

Shane and I traipsed our way overland from Australia to Europe on a budget of ten Aussie dollars a day. We were happy to rough it. Bed bugs, sure. Street food, you bet. Scrimping and saving, we didn’t so much see the sights as walk around the walls of the sites trying to find a free way in.

So after five months on the road, crossing into northern India after a stint in Nepal we felt like world travellers. We’d brawled with monkeys in Malaysia, been pick-pocketed in Bangladesh, hiked in the Himalayas – we were streetwise campaigners. Except that no bank in India would change our Nepalese Rupee for anywhere near a good price. We were both lugging bricks of Rupee, worth around a week's travel to us. After three days of unsuccessful negotiation, I caved and took the bank rate, feeling like I’d been fleeced, but Shane held firm.

A week later in Varanasi I stopped one morning for a cut-throat shave alongside the Ganges. Shane kept walking and was approached by a money changer. They quickly agreed on a better-than-fair rate for his Nepalese Rupee. Shane was over the moon. He followed the guy and soon they were winding through back streets and courtyards, down alleyways, up stairs until finally they entered a room with a desk and two chairs.

Once they sat down, the price plummeted. Shane was handed a measly wad of Indian Rupee. He refused the deal and almost on cue three men arrived. They crowded around and advised him to rethink the offer.

Now Shane is not a small guy. And being a worldly traveller he crossed his arms and told them their offer stunk. The room exploded. One man pointed to his watch, telling him he would be arrested; that the police were on the way. The money changer screamed that Shane was a liar who had broken his promises. A large bearded man yelled ‘are you crazy?’ over and over. The fourth man leaned forward and graphically explained what the bearded man would do if he did not get his way. But now far beyond reason or logic, Shane would not cave in.

The men stopped and went into a serious huddle at the back of the room, muttering. After some intense glances three returned to the table while one suddenly ducked into a back room. Shane later said he believed he was about to die. The money changer moved forward, demanding quietly that Shane take the money – plus (he swept his hands back, grinning) a pair of silk boxer shorts held aloft by the man now emerging from the back room!

The situation was so farcical Shane could do nothing but accept. Hands were shook, backs were slapped. Smiles and nods all round.

The shorts fell apart a few days later.

Lonely Planet produced this content for our partner, Visa.

Ever changed money on the street? How far have you gone in search of a good deal?