money management travel

Money Lessons from the Big Easy

After spending 2 1/2 days in New Orleans (or, NoLa, for those hip readers), I learned my fair share about the city and how it works.  New Orleans is a beautiful, strange, eccentric, captivating city – especially if you ignore the bathrooms that are so dirty that they’re unfit for use and the slight stench that you encounter as you meander through the French Quarters.

Most of these lessons were learned in the small confines of the French Quarters.  I didn’t have time to see the other sites of the city, so things probably vary from place to place.

No shame in their game.  G and I have retired from the nightlife scene, so we went to Bourbon Street for the experience – not to end the nights face down in one of the city’s dirty toilets.

But, the shot girls didn’t care.  For the most part, they left us alone (maybe because I gave them a death stare every time they looked our way?).  But, it never failed, when I returned from the restrooms (and the visits always took extra long, what with all the balancing acts and using my elbows and shoulders as my hands and the sanitizing ritual that followed all of that nonsense), the shot girls were swarming G.  They’d pull completely unnecessary tricks like putting the test tube shots in their mouth (yes, because THAT makes me want to buy the shot).

There was even one girl that jumped me after I returned from the restroom with two test tubes in her mouth trying to force them down my throat, claiming that they “were already paid for” by G (which, I will admit, is quite a talent, being able to talk with two test tubes down your throat).  When I said “No, thanks” to her saliva and her shots, she looked dumbfounded and said, “but you’re on Bourbon Street!” like it was a fantastic reason to take shots from her mouth?  Ah well, I’m guess I’m just getting old. 😉  The point of this long story is that the girls were up for anything if it made them a couple bucks – even if it meant trashing it up for the evening.

People want your money.  In no other city have I noticed people, workers, cabbies, and the like so hard up for my money.  The waitresses at Cafe du Monde were pretty tip-hungry (although, it was totally worth it because a cup of the best coffee I’ve ever had and 3 beignets landed on my table practically before I finished ordering).  My cabbie ignored me after I told him I’d be paying with a credit card.  Street performers harassed us until we were out of ear’s reach or had already handed over a couple bucks.  Shot girls practically sold themselves for a $1 tip (as mentioned above).

A new meaning for dirty.  I was actually pleasantly surprised by how clean Bourbon Street was compared to what I had expected it to be.  The other streets in the Quarter were not quite as clean, but still better than I expected.  What I was shocked by were restrooms and bars.  Especially the restroom at Cafe du Monde.  I don’t think the bathroom had been cleaned since, well, ever.  It was traumatizing to say the least.  I had to put the thought out of my head as I munched on sugary beignets, but the bathroom will henceforth hold the title as the dirtiest bathroom I have ever used in my life.

The restaurants around the Quarters were much better, but all the bars, taverns, jazz joints were dirty.  Luckily, our hotel was on the cleaner side.  It was almost like a safe zone for my germaphobe-side which let out a huge sigh of relief every time we returned.

They’ve heard of Dave Ramsey.  Cash was king in NoLa.  Whenever I waved a credit card someone’s way, they gave me a confused look and nodded towards the nearest ATM.  And when they did accept my credit cards, it was a long, caveman-like process.  They had to take down all sorts of information from my driver’s license (which just makes me nervous) and consult with about a million other workers at the bar like I’d just handed over some new-age form of money that they’ve never seen.  Maybe they’re all on the Dave Ramsey plan?

Hot dogs are expensive.  There’s nothing better than a tasty dog with mustard and onions after a long night out on the town.  On our way home to the hotel one night, G and I ordered up two hot dogs from a street vendor.  As he loaded onions onto the first one, I looked at G and told him “this better be under $10 because that’s all the cash we have left”.  Even though the thought of two hot dogs costing more than $10 is just ludicrous, we asked the vendor about the cost anyway, just to be sure.  “$11.50,” he said.  Eleven fifty?!  For two hot dogs?!  Does this guy know I can buy a 10-pack at Wal-Mart for, like, a buck fifty?  Needless to say, we had to share just one dog that night.  Apparently, the recession hasn’t affected the hot dog vendor industry so adversely.

(Some) transportation is free…  Whenever I visit a big city (or, at least, a city that is walker-friendly), I’m so much more appreciative of my ability to move.  The only downside of Kansas City is that it is NOT walker-friendly (sometimes G and I will walk to a restaurant near our apartment and we practically risk our lives every time we do so because the drivers are so unfamiliar with the phenomenon of walking).  In NoLa, I walked everywhere.  The only time I got into a car was on the drive to and from the st-louis-cathedral-new-orleans-exteriorairport.  Some walks – like to the Cafe du Monde – were longer, but that was okay.  I’m so used to being cooped up in my cubicle, car, and apartment all day, I welcome the automatic exercise, stretching, and fresh air. 

In addition to eating too much fried food, people-watching, and checking out Bourbon Street, I was able to attend Mass at the beautiful St. Louis cathedral since I was there on a holy day.  The cathedral is the most beautiful church I’ve ever been to and the Mass was one of the best I’ve ever attended.

The people in NoLa were nice, friendly, and entertaining, too.  Although, the city was a bit dirty, indulgent, and money-hungry, it has a strange charm – I’m definitely happy I went!

Have you ever been to New Orleans?  What was your favorite thing about the city?


  • Oh this is cool! My husband and I are going to be in New Orleans Jan 2 till Jan 8. Any recommendations on what to do/see/eat? I am a little hesitant now that you’ve mentioned how dirty the restrooms are…that’s something I have a problem with too!

  • Nope but it’s in my top 5 US cities!!! Eeek! The bathrooms sound scary, and if i encounter thos shot girls I won’t be happy. Ah well, travel is an experience 😀

  • I live about 2.5 hours north of New Orleans, and have several friends who live there. The restrooms in the Quarter are pretty much a living testament to the tragedy of the commons; even if they were cleaned every five minutes, they’d still be disgusting because of all the drunk people there 24/7. If you’re traveling to New Orleans, it’s worth it to get a hotel in the Quarter, just so that you can go back there to pee.

    I’m glad you enjoyed your trip!

  • I have not, unfortunately, been to New Orleans since 1995 (!), but I did love my short visit then. I don’t recall the money-hungry vibe, but then, the economy was good and obviously 1995 was way pre-Katrina. I am sure people are still hurting there and perhaps they are more desperate than they used to be, which might explain your experience. If you email me I’ll tell you a really neat story that might restore your faith in humanity and/or NO. 🙂

  • Hi, I just came across your site randomly and read this entry. I currently live in New Orleans, so I was really interested in your experience. I know you mentioned at the beginning that you didn’t get a chance to leave the quarter, so I’m sure that influences your experience. If you ever get a chance to come back, I highly, highly recommend riding the St. Charles streetcar out to Audubon Park. It will give you a broader perspective of New Orleans and show off some of the beautiful homes here. While certainly local people live and work and recreate in the French Quarter, my experience is that it’s about 90% tourists who treat the place like their personal garbage can for the weekend.

    • I completely agree wtih Katie. As a resident of New Orleans, I can attest to the quarter being a ‘personal garbage can’ for tourists. Most locals hardly go there unless they have friends in from out of town. Next time, I’d recommend heading Uptown or just crossing Poydras Street into the Warehouse district. There are many great new and fun restaurants with very clean bathrooms.
      If you head out to Audubon park, be sure to check out the zoo right next door. It’s one of the top five in the country.

  • This is a city that survives on it’s tourism industry. This means most people work for a tiny wage and we try to survive on the tips from a bunch of ungrateful jerk tourists who expect exemplary service and then think they are doing us some huge favor when they give us a tip. I don’t how you can be so condescending towards people trying to earn an honest living. Shot girls especially have enough to deal with without having to put up with petty, threatened tourists being unnecessarily rude. Try a polite “no, thank you” next time. God how can people be so ignorant of real life?

    • But I did say “No thanks”. 🙂 I even wrote that in my article. They were just very overwhelming. I love fun shot girls, but a couple of them would not take No for an answer.

      Also, I said several nice things about NOLA in my article. I hope you noticed those, too. I thought NOLA was an awesome city — this article was just some observations about money that I had.

      Have a great day!


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