Imagine you're on a trip, using mostly cash only, in a relatively inexpensive area with inconvertible currency, and have been keeping to a vague budget. You get to having two days left, and you realise you're going to end up with having more money left than you anticipated, but an awkward amount of money - say around US$50. Too much to spend without over-splurging, but too little to make it worth changing back into your home currency without taking a big hit on commission, or the amount you'd get wouldn't really buy you a lot back home (I'm British; so it's very expensive here!).
What do you do with your spare currency? Do you end up splurging in the last couple of days, do you change it anyway, keep it as souvenirs of travel, or something else?
(This tends to happen to me more often than it ought to ... on my latest trip (Ghana), I ended up having 150 Cedis left over (£30) to spend or change in one day; I chose to splash out on a relatively expensive meal and then just buy stuff at the airport. On a previous trip to Chile, I miscalculated the exchange rate and ended up with about the same amount of Pesos, so they ended up as souvenirs to friends.)
Last time I was in Costa Rica I gave $20 to a business owner I had met whose employees were working solely for tips because she couldn't afford to pay them during the rainy season. I told her to split the $15 amongst them and spend the remaining $5 on beer for herself. The night before she had let us come in and cook our own meals while she supervised/helped because she was closed. She knew was there weren't any other restaurants open, so she made an exception. You can't beat experiences like that.
I like saving metro passes because it's a good excuse to go back to places like Tokyo or Seoul - "I've got to spend my remaining $14 credit."
I think tipping/donating/investing in the people or places you had the best experiences with is the most rewarding though.
I usually keep extra cash as a souvenir or pass it on to another traveler, but on my next trip, I'd like to try a tip I read earlier this year. If you're traveling to an international location that has a Starbucks (especially handy if there's one in the airport) have them put your extra cash on a Starbucks card, which you can then use at home. Globalization, yay?
I donate my coins to whoever I can before leaving the country - except for a bunch of them that I keep in my travel journal as souvenirs.
For notes, I'll keep them for the future. You never know when they could help. I had a few thousand yen on hand that I ended up spending in Malaysia a few months ago. I consider leftover money "spent money" so I don't stress about having to change it to the currency of the next country I'm in. Sometimes I may meet someone who happens to be traveling to a country that I have leftover cash for - instant gift!
Plus, its likely I'll return to the country as I'm bouncing from country to country every month or so.
I love going to a conveinance store or market and buying the snackfoods available there. If something super tasty, I would buy more to take home to share or munch on the plane ride home. if there are a lot of coins, I would leave them someplace in my hotel room or local cafe for someone to use.
I like to bring samples home and put them in between framed glass for display.
I spend it down as much as I can and then use the small stuff to put in charity donation boxes at airports around the world. My choice is for international charities like The Salvation Army ( they are in 126 countries around the world).
If I'm planning on going back to a country in the foreseeable future, I hold on to my currency - I have an assortment of little boxes in my 'travel drawer' at home containing various coins and I keep the notes in a separate wallet. If it's not possible to take the currency out of a country (and there are still countries that insist you don't) or I'm pretty sure I don't want to go back, I find various ways of spending it at airports or train stations. One of my favourite things to do is to give someone a big tip, especially in countries where you know people rely on tips to supplement their income.
After a recent trip to San Francisco, I had a fair amount of credit left on a BART card - I gave that to one of the girls working in an airport cafe.
Many airlines/airports have charity donation envelopes/bins too.
If you still have to pay for your hotel, use it to pay cash for part of the hotel, and then put the rest on your card like you normally would have.
I've had this problem before. Mostly I change currency back because yes, you do take a hit but I don't really need a heap of currency I can't spend (have enough of that!)
I actually wrote a post on my blog about the best ways to change currency, etc. here: http://adventurerstacey.com/changing-hard-currency/
I would splurge if I had been roughing it and splurging was more worth it too but prefer currency I can use (that's just me though!)
how about just taking it back and handing it over to a charity? most of the big ones are more than happy to take space currency - and if you're eagle eyed, you'll even see that most airports have collection places for exactly that spare change
or you could use it to buy yourself a treat / save it and hand over to other travelling friends?
If there's nothing I really want to spend it on, I just take it to the bank when I get home and deposit it.
Depending on what currency I have in my pocket, I either save it for my next trip (Euros or COP) or spend it at the airport on a nice dinner, no tax perfume or presents for family and friends. Like Barraud below, I consider this left over currency as "spent money" so one should not get overly stressed about having it in one's pocket.
save the dollars as bookmarks in travel journal or vacation memorabilia. I take the coins and make a charm bracelet.
I like to keep a few small bills and coins as souvenirs (nothing equaling a total of more than USD $10). If I'm stuck with more than that before departure, I'll usually blow it at the airport gift shop or give it to an arriving passenger.
I applaud you initiative to share with others the leftover currency! therefore, I have no further comments. Pura vida!!
PS: Did you enjoy your trip to Costa Rica??
Mentioned in this answer:
My bank buys and sells foreign currency at no extra charge. I am lucky.
When I was younger, I used to collect it. When I have kids I'll give them the spare change as a souvenir. Kids love that stuff.
Nowadays, I try to spend every last bit. If I have extra, I exchange it at the airport.
First thing to do is to put your foreign currency towards your hotel bill before settling it all on your credit card.
If you still end up with some currency, use it at the airport to pay for misc. food, snacks or at the duty-free shop.
I usually exchange them with friends who are going to the same country when I get home; usually coins and smaller notes are more useful than the large notes that we get from the money changers (not to mention more affordable!)
Euro and USD we usually save. Anything else we usually just splurge on an extra drink during our last dinner or something tasty before our flight.
Euros, I keep for my next trip .... any other small value notes and coins, there's a charity tin at my bank (at most other banks & airports, too)
I use them in photo albums (I know, very old school) to indicate the country the photos are from. I put them at the beginning of the photos from the currencies country.
I always try to spend my coins first and also save the bills for a splurge or return trip. If I have coins left, I bring them home for my friends little ones inside a toy or whatever gift they are getting. Small kids love coins.
At different times I've saved some for memories or for a return visit, splurged on something I wouldn't normally do/buy, or tipped big to spread the joy!
I come back to the same countries so often that I just keep the currency for the next time.
I have a wallet where I have more than 35 currencies at the moment.