Gullfoss Iceland

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I'm an expat whose goal is to visit every country in the world.

93 countries and counting!  

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5 Reasons to Collect Banknotes

5 Reasons to Collect Banknotes

A mix of foreign banknotes

Souvenirs are excellent ways to remember your trip to an exotic destination.  However, getting a souvenir is probably one of the easiest yet difficult parts of traveling.  A visitor has no shortage of choices since many souvenir shops sell everything under the sun, such as coffee mugs, keychains, shirts, football jerseys, playing cards, shot glasses, magnets, pens, and pencils to name a few.

Admittedly, many of these aforementioned souvenirs are often very cheap and kitschy items that have little aesthetic or monetary value.  When I first started traveling, I usually found myself scouring souvenir shops or markets for the best item to bring back home as a memory of the trip or as gifts for families and friends.  Before I became wiser and more discriminating in terms of what to look for, I was quite naive in my early days of travel. 

Today, I am about 99% sure that the snuff bottles and opium pipes I got in Taiwan and Laos in the early 2010s are cheap Chinese-made products that were just made to look old.  However, in my naivety, I bought them because I liked them.  In addition, they added a certain appearance of a well-traveled and worldly person to a bookshelf.

10000 Indonesian Rupiah banknote

However, one thing that I became very interested in was collecting banknotes (notaphily).  When I was still very much a "travel virgin," I did not actively collect banknotes.  Instead, I would keep whatever currency I had left from a trip as a souvenir, and I didn't really care too much about the condition it was in.

For me, it was a quick reminder of where I had been.  I also had the idea that if I ever returned to the destination, I would have some extra money to spend.  Yet, the more I traveled, the more I began to realize that I really started to enjoy trying to acquire the banknotes from the different countries.  I now truly believe that banknotes and even coins are some of the best souvenirs a person can get from a foreign country.

Here are 5 reasons why banknotes are the best souvenirs:

1) Easy to Acquire

50 Emirati Dirham banknote (Detail)

In today's hyper-globalized world, it is entirely possible to go to your local bank and order currencies from most countries in the world without ever having to leave your home country.  Thus, many currencies, with a couple exceptions (North Korean Won), can be very easy to acquire with relatively little effort.

Personally, I prefer to collect the money while I am in the country.  However, for a person who enjoys the hobby but is not in a financial position to go overseas, it might be a bit more affordable to go to a local bank and have them order some banknotes for you if you can afford it.  The upside to this is that you will quite possibly get some new crisp banknotes and not used and worn ones which tend to be much more common if you go to the actual country.  This is an issue that I frequently run into since I generally opt to acquire different denominations by chance.

2) Small Size

Most banknotes tend to be more or less the same size, and they can usually fit into most wallets or plastic protective sheets very easily.  The generally small size is particularly useful for people who like to travel light.  Plus, banknotes by and large are small, weigh almost nothing, and they can fit on your person without typically any issues.  For a traveler who enjoys collecting banknotes, there will never be a worry about how it will fit into a suitcase, be a weight issue, or wonder if it will get damaged or stolen by baggage handlers since it will most likely be in your pocket and on your person at all times.

3) Cultural Importance

An old 5 Maldivian Rufiyaa banknote

One of the key reasons I love collecting banknotes is that banknotes typically show figures and pictures of things that are important to the country's culture and history.  For instance, it is well-known that US money features images of particularly noteworthy presidents and other notables along with famous landmarks that played an important role in the country's history.

Other countries are very much the same.  Sometimes they feature historic figures and places, and sometimes they feature the current ruler, such as in Brunei (Sultan of Brunei), Saudi Arabia (King of Saudi Arabia), and many countries in the Commonwealth of Nations (Queen Elizabeth II).  Because of the dearth of figures and places featured on banknotes, they can make for fascinating ways to learn more about a country's culture and history in a relatively easy and fun way.

4) Representative of an Entire Country

When people travel, they often try to buy souvenirs that represent the country as a whole.  What better way to do that than by bringing back some currency from that country?  After all, the banknotes play a major role in the country's economy, and they are used by millions of people in that country in every region on a daily basis for their livelihoods.  In addition, it can be reasonably guaranteed that the money is genuine and not counterfeit since that would be illegal.  What other item could you get that represents a country so well?

5) Easy to Maintain

1000 Macedonia Denar banknote (Detail)

Unlike larger items that a person might buy during their travels, banknotes are relatively easy to take care of and take up a small amount space in a wallet or purse.  If you want to preserve the banknotes for longer, I would recommend buying plastic sleeves from Amazon or Ebay and put the banknotes inside to protect from dust and oils.  Plus, it will keep the banknotes from getting folded and creases (assuming they are not already in that condition).

Before I purchased protective sleeves, I kept my banknote collection in about 3 different large envelopes that were tucked away in a filing cabinet for several years.  The more banknotes I acquired, the more unmanageable it became to keep them organized in envelopes.  In order to make my collection look more professional and better maintained, I made sure to make use of protective plastic sheets.  My personal preference is for the "100 BCW 3-Pocket Currency Size Binder Pages" from Amazon since all of the currencies I have fit comfortably in the pockets.

100 Saudi Riyal Banknote (Detail)

Overall, collecting banknotes and bringing back banknotes from an exotic trip is truly a wonderful hobby and a great way for a tourist, expat, armchair tourist, adventurer, a fledgling notaphilist, or any interested person to learn about a country's culture and its people in an easy and fun way.

For someone who is interested in learning more about banknotes and collecting them, I would recommend checking out Banknote World, which is a great website where one can learn about currencies from all the different countries.  In addition, it is even possible to buy banknotes from many different countries for reasonable prices.  If you're more interested in general about the hobby of notaphily, Banknotes.com is an excellent website with several good articles about the hobby of collecting.

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