What? My $3 Guatemalan iPad Bag Cost $30?


My $3 Guatemalan iPad Bag Cost $30

I’d been looking for awhile for a smaller bag to carry just my iPad and maybe a journal. There are times when I don’t want to lug around my day pack with the laptop and SLR — I just want to have a coffee, read the news and catch up on email.

I found the perfect solution while roaming through the market in Antigua — it was just the right size, lightweight and easy on the eyes. Unfortunately, I somehow dropped a zero while juggling numbers and spent 10 times more than I thought. And I wasn’t even drunk.

I was starving, making my way to a nearby cafe when I spotted it. I’d been out shooting early and had skipped breakfast. The vendor asked for 300 quetzals (the current rate is 7.75 quetzals to the dollar) and instead of dividing in my head by 8, I divided by 80. Umm… Yeah… Bit of a difference there…

Considering that I’m only spending 50 quetzals per night for my hotel, you think I might have caught that. But in my defense, I’d gotten used to dividing by 20 in Honduras, so dropping the zero came naturally. And I’m not very smart.

Also, I’m pretty sure she hypnotized me.

Convinced that she was asking for about $4 US, I still hesitated, thinking I could get it for even less in a smaller town (Yes, I’m a cheap bastard). Antigua is the main tourist destination in the country and one of the most expensive. Sensing my waffling, she dropped the price to 225 quetzals and I went for it. What a deal! Can’t go wrong for 3 bucks!

Except that I had actually handed over $29.

So what’d I get for my money? It’s handmade, stitched suede leather, which allows the whole thing to roll up fairly well in my main pack when not in use — just right for travel. Best of all, it’s double-sided, with main pouches on each side — I can fit my iPad in one side and my SLR in the other — perfect for that early-morning coffee run and doesn’t scream “I’m carrying valuable electronics!” It’s just what I needed.

Back home I wouldn’t think twice about spending that much –I spent $39 on a ‘smart cover’ that only covers the front– but here… well… Had I realized the real cost, I’d have waited and bought it elsewhere for probably $15 or less.

Each country is different and after awhile, they all start to meld together in your head. In Thailand, I dropped a zero and divided by 3. In Cambodia I dropped 3 zeros and divided by 4, while Laos required you to divide by 8 — the one thing I hated about Laos. Vietnam was easy — drop 3 zeros and cut what’s left in half.

It’s not the first time I’ve made bad decisions based on shoddy math, many of them more costly. I’d like to say “lesson learned” but I know it’s not — I’ll do it again eventually.

At least I really like my bag.

Now, c’mon and fess up: what’s your worst currency conversion screw-up?

{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

julie comfort December 14, 2011 at 4:45 am

I once almost tipped a waiter $180 instead of $18, but thankfully he was an honest man and pointed out the mistake to me before I left the restaurant. I had had lots of wine, naturally.


Amanda December 14, 2011 at 4:54 am

Well, I suppose it could have been much worse! At least it’s a nice bag that you like!


Bethany December 14, 2011 at 4:54 am

I SUCK at money conversion! I don’t know what it is but I just can’t do it. This is something that could definitely happen to me and has many times but fortunately never for anything too large. Whenever the conversion starts to involve multiple zeros I become a total idiot it in .2 seconds. It’s tough! Bag looks great Wes!


wes December 14, 2011 at 6:33 am

Zeros are tools of the Devil. Just sayin’…


Natalka December 14, 2011 at 4:56 am

I can’t count the times I’ve left something behind and later sorry for not buying it because I just couldn’t give someone that extra buck or two for something that would cost a fortune at home…You’d think one would learn after so many trips but once you get into bartering it’s hard to get out of the “get a deal” mindset. I’m embarassed to say I once made my kids walk miles in the scorching heat in Bangkok absolutely refusing to pay the extra buck on the tuk tuk….yeah..something just takes you over….and so stupid and cheap when you look back. I always try and remember not to do it the next time but I do. By north American standards you got a heck of a deal Wes…if that make you feel any better.


Natalka December 14, 2011 at 5:01 am

I descretely carry cards with money conversions in my wallet for each country I plan to visit to avoid confusion.


wes December 14, 2011 at 6:28 am

That’s because you are obviously smarter than I ;)


Marsha December 14, 2011 at 5:18 am

Nah, I just travel to countries where the conversion math isn’t too hard, lol! A hand stitched suede satchel for $30? It’s a pretty sweet bag. If you want that $29 back, I’d buy it off you…


wes December 14, 2011 at 6:32 am

It’s getting good reviews so far, Marsha. Price may go up ;)


Elise @ Positive World Travel December 14, 2011 at 5:26 am

I’m really bad with currency conversion too and usually let Ant do all the work with that! While we were in Vietnam I always thought the money looked so similar especially the 10 000 and the 100 000 notes. I had handed over the wrong note a few times before whilst there, but we had really honest people hand the note back saying it was too much!


wes December 14, 2011 at 6:27 am

I did that once too. Too many zeros and my head explodes. And like you, they handed it back :)


Linda December 14, 2011 at 6:12 am

Back in the days of the peseta, and also before ATMs were common, I slide my debit card from my English bank over the bank counter at my Spanish bank (in my first year of living in Spain) and asked for around 200 pounds sterling. I was aghast to find that the cashier slide back 2,000 pounds sterling (yes, that was in the days when you could actually withdraw that kind of amount without a problem in a foreign country too!). I actually terrified to be carrying around that amount of cash, and even more terrified at what my husband would say!


Linda December 14, 2011 at 6:13 am

AND btw – I LOVE that bag! I would easily have paid 30$ for it!


wes December 14, 2011 at 6:28 am

Make it 40 and we might work a deal ;)


Rachel December 14, 2011 at 12:39 pm

Converting in your head can be really difficult. But I am more often victim to mixing up bills once there’s too many zeroes, like Elise. Here in Korea I have trouble with the 5000 and 50,000 won notes – one is light brown and the other is dark yellow – but luckily it has always happened in stores that had change, plus people are quite honest here. Once I even tried to say they gave me too much change… bad brain day.


wes December 15, 2011 at 1:53 am

I did the exact same thing with the 5k and 50k bills — they really look alike…


Jessica December 14, 2011 at 9:54 pm

Wait, you mean other currency is real money? I always considered it Monopoly money…


Robin December 14, 2011 at 11:46 pm

I was once traveling from Iceland to Sweden- at the time Iceland exchange was 70 to 1 and Sweden’s was about 7 to 1. Well I went to the ATM in Sweden and forgot which country I was in and withdrew the equivalent of $1000US instead of $100. I don’t think I even had 1k in that account. Math lesson learned.


Jillian December 15, 2011 at 12:22 am

Bought a big bag of old coins from shipwrecks in Lamu – did the math wrong and thought we got it for $20 when in reality it was $40. Didn’t matter too much, we love them to this day.


April Neylan December 15, 2011 at 6:07 am

I’d have happily paid $29 for that bag. It looks great and is a lot cheaper than anything like it in the land of OZ!


Carla Humphries December 15, 2011 at 2:26 pm

You didn’t really lose anything since you love your iPad bag. :-) I like it, as well.


leon December 16, 2011 at 8:45 am

thrifty nickel foiled again!


Dyanne@TravelnLass December 16, 2011 at 12:01 pm

After nearly 2 months here in Vietnam, I still can’t seem to figure out the colors (for that’s the only viable way to wade through all those zeros) of the wad of crumpled bills in my pocket. But the good news is the Vietnamese have all been squeaky-honest and I can always count on them to give me the right change or point out that I have the correct smaller bill amid the waded chaos.

That said, I LOVE the bag – a handmade beauty at any price! But what I wanna know izzz…

How on earth do you fit an SLR in the side pouch??? Must be a mighty slim SLR – what brand?


wes December 16, 2011 at 10:16 pm

Believe it or not, it’s a fullsize Canon Rebel SLR. The bag is just really deep and flexible — I slide the iPad in the pouch on one side and the SLR on the opposite. It sits low enough that I can close and buckle the flap — sweet!


ayngelina December 19, 2011 at 3:07 am

That happened to be a few times too, at least it’s a nice bag.


Gray December 19, 2011 at 6:57 am

That’s a beautiful bag, Wes. I wouldn’t feel bad about how much you spent. And hey–at least you can do math in your head, which is more than some us (me).


neavilag December 20, 2011 at 1:59 am

Looks Nice bag, where did you got it in Antigua? have the name of the store, will see If i can catch one ;-)



wes December 20, 2011 at 9:58 pm

I got it from one of the stalls in the artisan area of the main market. There are 2-3 stalls selling pretty much the same one so it should be easy to find.


Lily December 23, 2011 at 1:12 am

I started giggling when every comment was ‘oooh what a nice bag/colour/stitching/suede’ looks like your readers share your immaculate bag style!


Amir December 28, 2013 at 1:50 am

For Vietnam you meant drop 4 zeros (~21000:1)


wes December 29, 2013 at 9:51 am

I was coming from Honduras.