Money & costs
As in most large cities, expenses in Seattle can vary depending on your interests and means. With a little strategizing, it’s possible to scrape by on a backpacker’s budget. Accommodations are the main sticking point here. Cheap sleeps are limited, but always easier to find if you book in advance. Planning to visit during the off-season will also ensure lower rates, even at midrange and top-end hotels.
A dorm bed in a downtown youth hostel runs at about $25; a double room in one of Seattle’s European-style hotels will go for $50 to $65. Midrange doubles are between $80 and $150, usually including a free continental breakfast.
To get the best value out of meals, eat in the bar section of a restaurant rather than the main dining room. Seek out happy-hour food specials; or share a few starters or small plates rather than going for a full entree. Several of the nicest Seattle restaurants are handily designed to work this way already, allowing diners to sample a wider variety of dishes.
For discounts on sights and entertainment, consider buying a Go Seattle card (www.goseattlecard.com) or a Seattle CityPass (www.citypass.net), both of which offer free or discounted admission to a number of the city’s top attractions.
Bartenders and wait staff should be tipped 15% to 25% if the service was good. Hotel porters expect $1 to $3 per bag. Tip taxi drivers around 10% to 15%.
The US dollar is divided into 100 cents. US coins come in denominations of one cent (penny), five cents (nickel), 10 cents (dime), 25 cents (quarter), the practically extinct 50 cents (half-dollar) and the not often seen golden dollar coin, which was introduced in 2000. The latter features a picture of Sacagawea, the Native American guide who famously led the explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark on their expedition through the western US. The new coins are often dispensed as change from ticket machines and stamp machines.
Notes come in $1, $2, $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100 denominations.
In recent years the US treasury has redesigned the $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100 bills to foil counterfeiters. The portraits of the presidents on each bill are larger and clearer, and Hamilton in particular looks extra fetching after the makeover.
ATMs are easy to find in Seattle. There’s practically one per block in the busier commercial areas, as well as one outside every bank. Many bars, restaurants and grocery stores also have the machines, although the service fees for these can be steep. Getting money this way saves you a step – no need to change money from your own currency – and is a safer way to travel, as you only take out what you need as you go.
Banks and moneychangers will give you US currency based on the current exchange rate.
Two other options are as follows:
American Express (206-441-8622; 600 Stewart St; 8:30am-5:30pm Mon-Fri)
Travelex-Thomas Cook Currency Services (206-248-6960; Sea-Tac Airport; 6am-8pm) The booth at the main airport terminal is behind the Delta Airlines counter. There’s also a branch at the Westlake Center (206-682-4525; Level 3, 400 Pine St; 9:30am-6pm Mon-Sat, 11am-5pm Sun)
This old-school option offers the traveler protection from theft or loss. Checks issued by American Express and Thomas Cook are widely accepted, and both offer efficient replacement policies. Keeping a record of the check numbers and the checks you’ve used is vital when it comes to replacing lost checks. Keep this record in a separate place from the checks themselves.
Bring most of the checks in large denominations. Toward the end of a trip you may want to change a small check to make sure you aren’t left with too much local currency. Of course, traveler’s checks are losing their popularity due to the proliferation of ATMs and you may opt not to carry any at all.