An official mugging!

Photomouth three – The ramblings and rants of an opinionated photographer raising photography-related issues – hopefully thoughtfully and sometimes controversially. It is one opinion, which will hopefully resonate or entertain, but is only one viewpoint. Feel free to disagree!

I’d consider myself pretty streetwise and an experienced traveller. So just recently, when I started travelling again, and I got caught out I’m left kicking myself for it. A short break in April to Marrakech for my son’s first experience of an African country came the day after the 2022 TPOTY launch and London exhibition install. Needless to say I was exhausted and distracted after finishing all this work.

Arriving at Gatwick for the flight I was in a zombified state. Check in was surprisingly easy and just before going through security and passport control my son, nervously excited, saw the bureau de change and asked to change money so he had some Moroccan Dhirams. Non-zombified me wouldn’t have done this at the departure airport, especially for a weaker currency than the pound. As an experienced traveller I know I’ll get a better exchange rate in Marrakech, even at the airport there. But, exhausted and brain-dead, I went ahead and did it without even checking the exchange rate! I only changed £200 Sterling and accepted that the rate would be worse.

I thought no more of it, had a lovely brunch and flew off. A couple of days later, the penny dropped. I reckoned that I needed about another £40 in local currency to negotiate the last visit to the souk, so thought about changing this locally. The exchange rate varied from 12 to 12.5 dhiram to the pound and my £40 would buy me about 490 Dhiram.

Hang on, when I changed £200 at Gatwick I got 1600 Dhirams, including £6 commission. That’s an exchange rate of 8 to the pound! It had to be an error. Perhaps they should have give me 2600 Dhirams, not 1600?  Understandably I felt a little aggrieved because 1000 dhiram is about £80 short, 40% of what I changed.

There was nothing I could do about it there and then but when I returned to Gatwick a few days later I went back to the bureau de change. I showed the receipt to the man on the desk and he referred me to the customer service information so that I could complain. Rechecking the receipt, he then told me it was correct! Their rate for pounds to dhiram was 7.9 not the 12.5 I could have got in Marrakech.

My jaw hit the floor! Airport exchange rates are never very good, which is why I don’t normally use them, but such a rate is borderline extortion.

So there you have it. Experienced traveller reduced to baseline travel mug and well and truly done up like a kipper! I hang my head in shame. It was an expensive mistake made out of distraction rather than ignorance though.

With so many options for changing money available to travellers these days, this story is a salutary lesson into one of the expensive pitfalls. Hopefully highlighting my stupidity will save you from a similar fate when you travel next, especially if it’s a rather daunting first journey after two years away from travelling.

The takeaway from this avoid being officially mugged like I was – NEVER, NEVER, NEVER change money at a UK airport currency exchange! You’ll get better rates before you travel and, especially when travelling to a country with a weaker currency, even better ones at your destination.


By Chris Coe

Chris is a professional photographer, and the founder of Travel Photographer of the Year. He has been working as a professional photographer since 1992, shooting both editorial and advertising photography, and has published over 50 books. He lectures on and teaches photography, mentors and is a competition judge.