I made my first million as a currency smuggler.
In 1990 I was travelling in Europe. Northwest Airlines advertised round trip tickets to Frankfort in the paper for $375. Wow, great deal I thought. I’m going to go.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t talk anyone into going with me. So, I decided I go on my own. I planned to land in Frankfort, do a big circle through Europe and then return.
Part of the circle brought me through Yugoslavia. I took an overnight train to Belgrade, rented a car, drove through the countryside and then went dropped the car off in Zagreb. A whirlwind tour of the country.
The country I was in before that was Italy. This was in the time before the Euro became the currency for the countries in the European Union. Italy’s currency was the Lira. When you exchanged money, you got about 1,000 lira for every dollar. When I was done with my sightseeing in Venice, I went to the train station for my train to Belgrade. I wanted to convert my left-over lira in Yugoslavian money, which I learned was called dinar. For every lira I got about 1,000 dinar.
Yugoslavia had been through hyper-inflation, so their currency was not worth much. It worked out to be that close to 1,000,000 dinar would equal one dollar. By exchanging my money, I became a multi-millionaire.
Like many people who become multi-millionaires overnight I proceeded to blow most of my money. On things like ten million dinar to fill up the car’s gas tank.
Driving through Yugoslavia was interesting. It included a section of road where photography was forbidden, getting stopped at a military checkpoint and picking up some hitchhikers. One hitchhiker rode with me for quite a distance. I knew a little French, he knew a little English and he was disappointed that I didn’t speak Esperanto. But we managed to communicate. There was one point where we crossed the border of what would be their equivalent of a state. He pulled out his pass to show me that he was authorized to be able to cross the boundary.
After I dropped off the car in Zagreb, I took a cab to the train station. When the cabbie dropped me off, he told me the fare. I gave him all the dinar I had left but that wasn’t enough. But everyone took foreign currency as it would hold its value better than dinar. I gave him the dollars I had in my wallet. Still short. I had some German Marks left from the first part of the trip, so I paid the rest of the bill with some of those.
I did still have some dinar left that I could have used for part of the cab fare, but it wasn’t accessible. I had read that the government of Yugoslavia had limits on how many dinar you could take out of the country. I don’t remember the exact amount, but it was less than one million. I hid a one million dinar note and took it out with me.
I am no longer a multi-millionaire. However, even if it is in a country that no longer exists,
I am still a millionaire.
Tim Kane's memories, musings and updates.