MONEY

CURRENCY INFORMATION

We recommend having at least a small amount of local currency when you arrive in each country.  Exchange rates vary daily and by location.  You’ll not get a good rate in tourist-heavy locations.  It’s better to have some currency on hand, and then get more if you need it late.

Larger banks can get foreign currency for you within a few days.  They may or may not charge a fee for the transactions.  Also, there is a resource called Currency Exchange International  (ceifx.com) which specializes in selling foreign currency.  You’ll have to specify the delivery, because an adult over 21 must be home to sign for it when it arrives.  

During the tour, you’ll need American dollars for meals and snacks in American airports. 

Upon arrival in the United Kingdom, you’ll only use Pounds Sterling, which is the fancy name for British pounds (£).  No one accepts dollars, and since it’s the first day, you’ll want to have some cash for snacks & incidentals as we visit Windsor.

When we leave Britain and transfer to France, we will enter the European Union.  All EU countries use the Euro (€).   Switzerland is not a member of the EU, so they have their own currency which is the Swiss Franc (CHF is the symbol for it).  

Any veteran staff is happy to share how they prefer to do it, but for information’s sake, Mr. Massey buys from CEI.  He gets £200, CHF 100, and €500.  This is too much for some folks, but sharing with the family and making sure the group has cash on hand…   Based on the exchange rate on that day, you’ll be charged the dollar equivalent of whatever you purchase.   

You’ll amass a lot of coins in Europe.  The smallest note (folding money) in any country is the 5.  £5, €5, CHF 5.  Anything smaller is a collection of coins.  When you come home, you can exchange your notes for dollars, but hardly any place accepts coins for exchange.  Try to spend them - they also make cool souvenirs, especially for younger kids.  

In Europe, ATM machines accept your cards in most places.  It’s odd to see the local currency pop out, but you’ll get a fair exchange rate and your account at home will be charged in dollars.

We recommend using a Visa or MasterCard as much as possible.  Your card provider will do the exchange rate automatically.  Other cards are problematic.  Almost nobody accepts American Express, and while they’re growing, Discover isn’t accepted many places.

Consider opening a joint checking account for you and your child.  Many banks offer free checking for students.  Send the ATM Card (or debit card) with your child, and you can monitor spending from home since you’ll both have access to the account.  If you want, you can certainly close the account after the tour.

SPENDING MONEY

We know you want guidance on how much spending money you should bring.  Frustratingly, there is no correct answer because everything depends on your spending habits.   We can, however, share the process behind figuring out what to do.

Remember that you’ll be responsible for one meal a day.  Depending on what you want and where you go, you could spend the equivalent of $10-25 or more based upon your choices.   For the included meals, water is included, but other drinks aren’t.  Plan to purchase a soda if that’s what you want.  I’ll break it to you now…. You’re not going to see either Iced Tea (sweet or otherwise) or Dr Pepper.  And unless you have a taste for carbonated water, specify “still water” when ordering a bottle or you might just end up with “fizzy water.”  

 To avoid the confusion I just caused, there will be pitchers of still water on the tables that will be refilled during the meal.  My reference is for purchasing bottled water at a store or restaurant.

Note:  It is customary in Europe, especially in the EU, to charge more for table service than for take away orders (to go orders).  Culturally, they take their time at meals.  Look at it as real estate.  Since folks will stay longer at a table, the restaurant will use it less, so they make up for it by “renting the space” with higher prices.  

Souvenirs are everywhere, and you’ll certainly want to shop.  Consider what kinds of things you’ll want, and assume things are more expensive than they are at home.  The most popular items among our students have been Swiss Army knives.  You can have them custom-made with only a few gadgets all the way up to a ridiculous gadget setup.  Normal knives ran around the equivalent of $35 or so in 2019.  The shops in Zermatt have Ambassador discounts, and most will throw in engraving.  We recommend waiting until Zermatt to purchase them, but they’ll be available all over Switzerland.  

Switzerland is famous for timepieces.  Handmade cuckoo clocks have been popular items forever.  Again, you could spend less on a smaller one (around $60), all the way up to major works of art (hundreds of dollars).  Watches (Swatch and Swiss Army are popular with our kids) are extremely popular.  There are lots of Rolexes on display…. 

Everywhere we go, something will catch your eye — from t-shirts to sweatshirts to jewelry to posters to unusual stuff, and everything in between.  Folks like souvenirs from the London theatre shows.  

Consider having a discussion about what gifts might be brought home.  Lots of kids want to share with folks at home and spend more than they originally intended being thoughtful.  

Another expense to consider is admission tickets to places not included in the Ambassadors tour.  For example entry to Westminster Abbey is about $40, depending on the exchange rate.  This is why we’re recommending that folks buy entry to Windsor Castle and the Eiffel Tower before we leave home.  London museums are free admission.  A small expense will be purchasing a day pass so small groups can take the “tube” around London.  

It’s fun to find unexpected things while exploring.  We’ll be attending the Montreaux Jazz Festival, where vendors from around the world will have food items, crafts, clothing, and more.  Our young musicians sometimes feel compelled to get a jazz festival t-shirt, if only to make their band directors jealous!

Some won’t believe this until it’s too late, but lots of public toilets are “pay as you go.”  Many have admission fees, but the facilities are clean.  (That’s literally where the expression “spend a penny” came from).  Convenience stores in the EU and Switzerland often charge to enter their toilets.  Most, however, give you a paper ticket.  Pay attention, because you can use the paper ticket as a coupon in the convenience store and get your money back.  They make their money off the folks who go without making a purchase — and American kids who don’t pay attention and fail to take the ticket.

Snacks!!  In town, for the room, on long driving days - lots of opportunities to spend.

All of those reasons are why it’s hard to tell folks how much to bring.  We’re frustrating because we don’t have a good answer, but all those variables are why.  It’s pretty normal for folks to plan on $700 give-or-take.  Some spend less, some spend much more.  Refer back to the handout about joint bank accounts, or consider pre-paid credit cards from your bank.