I opened up my bag to get ready after a long flight to Mainz, Germany and my heart sank. I had forgotten to move my wallet from my purse, which I don’t carry when I travel, to my flight bag. I have a few bags with various currencies that I keep in my suitcase, so I dug around for the one containing my Euros. I was in luck. I had a few, €10,57 to be exact, in my coin purse. I was ecstatic, I had some money. I faced a daunting fact though, could I eat three meals in Germany on ten euros, about roughly the equivalent of $14 Canadian? I was going to have to find out as I didn’t have any other option.
I finished showering and getting ready for what was sure to be an interesting layover. I tend to do a lot of shopping when I am in Germany. I love bringing back the face and body products, mustard, beer and chocolate. I hadn’t visited in a while and had a list of things I wanted to get that was as long as my arm. It was painfully obvious that I was not going to be shopping unless it was the window shopping variety. I couldn’t really afford to eat let alone shop. Luckily, Mainz is small in size and pedestrian friendly so I did not have to spend any money on transportation whilst getting food. I used the cheapest mode of transport I could think of, my feet, to go in search of something to sate my rumbling tummy.
My feet pounded the pavement in my sneakers as I wound through the old streets of the city. Envious of the diners basking in the spring sun at cafés, and restaurants beckoned me with their cloying smells of cooking meat, I felt sort of like I was a on a diet. Everything I wanted I could not have and it made me want it even more. I passed heritage sites unsure of exactly where I was going as I had forgotten the guide-book I usually carry for Mainz detailing each building and statue of note. In my haste to leave the hotel and find cheap sustenance I also forgot the map I had asked for at the front desk. Fortuitously I had added a Mainz map to the offline map app I use on my phone.
I came upon the super markets, Rewe and Penny Mart, where I could secure food for the day and a bit as I figured I would start there for affordable nosh. I noticed that the grocery stores here do not sell a vast variety of sandwiches and salads like they do in USA, Canada and the UK. There were a few but none I would have liked let alone could afford. Trying to figure out a cheap alternative. I opted to buy Yogurt 0.49 and a pretzel for breakfast the next morning 0.35 Euros. Not bad an entire meal for under a Euro. I also procured a bottle of water as the usable one I bring from home was, you guessed, it forgotten at home. I was in such a rush to get here that I am lucky I remembered to bring myself.
I looked at the salad at Rewe it was 1.79, and sandwiches that ranged from 2.99-3.49 but nothing really appealed to me. It was tough looking as I had to guess the contents of the goo between the slices of bread. I have been really spoiled by the sandwiches available in London at even the boots drug stores, they are fabulous with a wide variety. I thought maybe if I broke it down and made myself something it would be cheaper and I would know what was in it. However it was 1.79 to buy lettuce so no point in making a salad. The salad bar charged by the weight .99/100g in Rewe thusly could get pricy quickly and wasn’t going to be a good option as I did not want to take more than I could pay for. I can only imagine how that conversation would have gone with the German language only cashier. My charades skills are not good enough to keep me out of jail. Bread loaveswere .85 /250g but add cheese and meat and you were looking at 4 Euros a sandwich and more food than I could eat in a few days. It would be cheaper to purchase lunch from a deli. The ready-made and freezer meals would have been a great full meal option at 3.99 euros each but the problem being I needed a microwave at the hotel and most hotels will not allow guests to heat up food in the staff microwave. Understandably so. They want you to buy their food from their restaurants instead.
I could have had a nice looking sandwich from a bakery for €2,59 that I passed on my wandering after I left the supermarkets. I opted instead for a pretzel with cheese and meat on it for 1.90 from Ditsch pretzel makers stand and drank the bottle of water I had purchased earlier for 0.90 with deposit. I took my lunch and sat in the sun watching the pedestrians stroll through the shadow of the grand Dom cathedral. Nuns passed by very excited at their first glimpse of the majestic building and squealed with delight. I ate while a set of street performers serenaded the crowd with their accordion and clarinet music. Gazing upon market square and the half a millennium old fountain nearby I saw that money doesn’t make one have better experiences. It is all in what you decide to do with your opportunities.
It would have been very easy for me to get a couple of yoghurt tubs and pretzels and go back to my room am wallow in the fact I had forgotten my wallet at home but a park bench and a great view are free. I am not in Germany often and the 22 degree weather was too good to pass up. I realised I can have a great time and enjoy myself whether I had spent a hundred dollars or less than ten today.
I figured that breakfast for the next day had cost 0.84, lunch 2.80 and I would get a couple of sandwiches from the shop I had seen. That would bring me to 9.34., not bad. It turned out I could subsist on a meager budget. something I hadn’t had to worry much about since I had first started flying. I do get a per diem to eat but the monies are paid out after I return from the trip rather than at the hotel upon check in as some airlines have done in the past. This meant in my early days of flying a decade ago, I would have to be very frugal eating at various world destinations on a shoestring budget as I was making an entry level wage and needed most of my food budget to span when I was at home too. Normally I pack a lot of food but passing through various customs check points understandably and rightfully restricts what I can bring.
I had an idea as I sat in the square. I walked back to the hotel knowing the crew was going to meet for dinner. I could have always asked them for money but that over steps so many of my personal boundaries as they are co-workers and I had just had a thought. I had just been in London and Tokyo this month and may have had had some cash left over from those trips in my various currency wallets. I was right, I had a fair amount from japan, 7000 Yen and 10 UK pounds left over. I wondered if one of the banks or the front desk would change the notes for Euros. I opted to try the hotel first and lo and behold they do. It would have been a better exchange rate had I tried a bank but it was nearing the end of the business day and with language being a bit of a barrier I decided I would try the hotel staff first as they spoke English well. the funny part was how perplexed the staff was when I asked if they were able to exchange Japanese Yen. I explained my predicament and the girl went and checked with the manager for me. When she came back and told me she could accommodate me without any problem her eyes bugged out of her head when I stated I had seven thousand yen to exchange. It really does sound like a rather large amount. I made another 61.50 euros, enough to go shopping and head out for dinner with the crew. I felt good though as I left the lobby my newly gained funds. I knew I could survive on less than 10 euros a layover, not that I would want to or have to now.
I met the crew for dinner and regaled them with the tale of my forgetfulness. They were all lovely, offering to help lend me money or buy me dinner if I needed it. I was doing well though. No longer as skint as I had been a few hours before having changed all the foreign bills from my stash in to euros. I knew either the front desk or a bank would have been able to change the money. A worse exchange rate at the hotel than at most banks I am betting but they did not charge a service fee like most change desks do and they spoke English so I was able the communicate without a hassle. Though Germany is very catered to the English speaking traveller the town we stay in is primarily German speaking and I would have possibly had to struggle to find a bank with whom I could explain my needs. There was always the option of getting money wired from friends and family back home but I knew I wasn’t going to be here long enough. I was however cursing the fact that I had some where along the line taken out the emergency money I carried in my bag. When I first started flying experienced FAs passed along the info that you should always have an extra bit of cash in your bag or an emergency credit card. The first thing I did when I arrived home reunited myself with my wallet was to stop off at the bank and procure myself an emergency fund just in case.