May 22, 2008

The Don't Have Change Game
Miami Beach, United States

Something that every traveler has got to get use to the idea of occasionally playing is the I don't have change for your bill game. You offer up a (reasonable) note to pay your bill, and the person taking your money claims to not be able to make change—leaving you in the position of either giving them the difference, walking away from the purchase, or somehow getting a hold of some smaller notes/coins.

One of the more annoying variations of this game is found in developing countries, where storeowners give you candy as change, instead of actual coins and notes. It would be like going to a mini-market here in the U.S., and instead of giving you a twenty cents back from your transaction, they give you two little mints instead (on sale next to the register for a dime a piece).

…I don't want candy, I want my damn change!

There's a big part of me that thinks if you're in the business of taking people's money, you should be prepared to dispense change for reasonable dominations. Problem is that folks are greedy and lazy the world over. I'd sooner walk away from a purchase than play games with someone who I know is capable of making change and tells me otherwise.

Savvy travelers quickly learn to give exact change for routine or researched purchases, and to carry around a pocket of smaller denominations of currency. It saves time, and your sanity.

But the game even happens here in Miami. Taxi drivers love to claim lack of change as an excuse for you to leave them a tip, or a larger tip than you'd normally cough up. No change of a $20 for a $15 fare? …Please.

Abroad, travelers withdrawing money out of an ATM are often placed in a hard spot of getting rid of high-value bills. Bank tellers, 7-Elevens, and large supermarkets are a few of the best places I've found to break up big notes without resistance.

But even when you're spending small currency denominations—or notes which, to you, seem perfectly reasonable to hand over—loads of storeowners and vendors still seem to inevitably ask if you have a smaller amount.

Argentina is the only Latin American country I can remember visiting and not getting asked smaller currency when purchasing items—and even put the refreshing oddity to the test on more than a few occasions. I could probably buy a lollipop with the equivalent of a $100 note and not get a request for a smaller bill.




May 23rd, 2008

Argentina is the only Latin American country I can remember visiting and not getting asked smaller currency when purchasing items

That doesn't sound typical here. True that the Chinese managed grocery stores will gladly break any bill (while still giving small change back in candy rather than coins) but almost every other place I go in BA whines about having needing something smaller. But it is good to know the chinos are dependable for breaking a 100.

The United States


May 24th, 2008

This issue is always a problem for us. We travel by bicycle, so spend most of our time in small villages way off the beaten track. I've gotten quite good at making sure I have small bills, but I've gotten stuck a few times.

Fortunately, we are a family of four, so need to buy quite a bit of food - so we end up spending enough to be able to pay with those larger bills. But I still plan ahead and try to make sure I've got the small bills in case I need them!

We are now riding from Alaska to Argentina, so will have plenty of time to perfect the fine art of small bill hoarding!! You can read about our journey at

The United States

Renee in AZ

May 28th, 2008

It's not just Miami, Craig! My bf and I were in a cab just this past Saturday night coming from a night club to my house. What was only a $7.00 cab fare, my bf gave him a $10. We were happy, feeling generous and were going to give him $5.00 as a tip cause he was fast and friendly. But once he didn't hand back our $3.00 we were quite disgusted. They should always at least offer back the change. It's lazyiness all over the world. You're not alone.

The United States


June 1st, 2008

Yes. Great post, Craig. Glad somebody brought this up. I cannot tolerate people trying to keep my change. When this happens to me I just stand in front of the clerk and refuse to take anything but my change, and I don't move until I get it. After a few minutes a miracle usually happens, and I am given my money.

Stores take money, so they have money. Give me my change!

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