Travel tip: Save your $1 and $5 bills for vacation use

Travel tip: Save your $1 and $5 bills for vacation use
Keep plenty of $1 and $5 bills when you're traveling. (Catharine M. Hamm / Los Angeles Times)

On the dresser near where I change my clothes is a ceramic jar. It's a convenient reminder, as I empty my pockets, to add $1 or $5 bills.

It is an excellent emergency cash fund, of course, but I try to keep it for travel, especially for tips. Before a trip, I dip into the jar and take what I think I'll need for hotel housekeeping, luggage handlers (at the airport and at the hotel) and small purchases.


Except this time. In a rush, I left without grabbing anything from my stash.


At LAX, I bought some water, thus breaking a $20, and had tip money for the shuttle driver at the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., airport, the hotel bellman and housekeeping. I broke another $20 for successive days of housekeeping and other tips.

By the time I arrived at the Greyhound station near the Miami airport, I had a $1 bill and three $20 bills. (That Greyhound ride will be the subject of a future post.) It was 96 degrees, I had walked several blocks and, yes, I ate bacon for breakfast -- very salty bacon.

The vending machines, which sold soft drinks and the water I now craved, took $1, $2 and $5 bills. They did not take $20 bills, and the water was $2.

I asked the desk agent whether she could break the $20. No dice. There were no open shops nearby.

The waiting area had a drinking fountain, from which I slurped frequently. Then came a 30-minute lineup to get on the bus in subtropical heat, and it was as though the drinking-fountain water had never passed my lips.

Three and a half hours later, I arrived at my destination. My greeter/sister had a big glass of ice water waiting for me, and I thanked her as profusely as I cursed myself.

Moral of the story: Keep small bills (and, as she reminded me, a $1 bill is 6 inches -- so it also becomes an emergency ruler). Hide them from yourself. I carry a second secret wallet with one emergency credit card, a $10 Subway gift card (in case I've lost all my money and credit cards or to be used as a small thank-you to someone who has done a kindness) and a blank check.

Those items now will be joined by some small bills for just such an event.

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