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So you lost your bank card while traveling..... now what?
This post is written by someone (me) who was penniless, stranded in the middle of Laos, with no obvious way to get money. Let me tell you something: I made it out okay, and you will too.
In some regards, it was completely inevitable that I would end up in the middle of an abandoned air strip in Vang Vieng, Laos, attempting to call Charles Schwab on the satellite phone that, up until that day, had sat untouched in the depths of my backpack.
The fact that I had never encountered bank troubles in my travels up until that point... was actually pretty impressive.
Unfortunately, that fact didn't make it any easier when I watched my card get swallowed into the depths of a garish ATM that looked more like a slot machine than anything qualified to dispense money.
And, of course, I had waited until I was down to my last $20 to get more money.
I didn't panic or falter in the hours after the incident. I accepted my fate immediately as If I had been waiting for it my whole life.
A tiny voice said to me, "Okay Maddie, and now the financial difficulties chapter of your travels begins."
So, what happened from there? Truthfully, even though I will give yall a break down of everything thing I have purchased over the past 3 months, I'm not going to go into the details of this.
I hit some new lows: asking strangers for money, debating water vs. food, and of course, the largest backpacker faux pas of all time - calling Mom and Dad for help.
5 days later, I am back on top: belly full, backpack stuffed with newly acquired gifts, and the best sight of all - a wallet fat with foreign monopoly money. Even though I was only without money for 48 hours, 3 days ago... I still haven't gotten over the sight of money in my wallet. Ah, sweet bliss.
Unsurprisingly, I learned more than a few lessons from this situation. Furthermore, I have also thought of just about every single way this situation could have been avoided.....
WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU LOSE YOUR CARD WHEN TRAVELING ABROAD:
Don't worry - it is going to be okay.
CALL YOUR BANK
Fill them in on the situation. If your card/wallet is gone because it was potentially stolen, the card needs to be cancelled immediately. If you think you misplaced it, a lot of banks can place it "on hold" until you find it.
With the time difference between Asia and the USA, I was under the impression that my bank would be closed (it was midnight back home). I was wrong, and most banks have a 24 hour service for this purpose. No excuses - at least try to call your bank.
How much of your trip do you have left? If it is just a few weeks, it may be easier to just get some cash instead of waiting for a replacement. If it is a few months, it is time to pick a place and stay put. Find a address you trust to have your card shipped to- an embassy, a hotel, a friendly local, ect.
GAUGE HOW MUCH MONEY YOU HAVE
How long can you live off of what you have? Budget for just the necessities - food. water, and a place to stay. In many parts of the world, it is easy to spend less than $10 a day on a bottle of water and street food.
Is your hostel already paid for? Can you extend your stay and pay for it when you leave? A lot of hostels will allow you to run up a tab in exchange for holding your passport as collateral. This is especially helpful if the hostel has a restuarant where you can get meals and pay later.
This is a time to be frugal, no matter how much fun other people are having.... aka, don't be me and go tubing 3 hours after you lose your bank card.
HAVE SOMEONE BOOK ACCOMMODATIONS FOR YOU ONLINE
Hotels usually allow patrons to run up a tab and pay at the end, so this could be a good place to stay while waiting for money.
USE A BACKUP
I am not even going to act like this is an option. When I looked up solutions after I lost my card, I got so frustrated with people saying, "Just use your backup card and emergency cash."
Um hellooo... If I had a backup, I wouldn't be reading this.
WRITE SOMEONE A CHECK AND HAVE THEM TAKE OUT MONEY FOR YOU FROM AN ATM
Sure, there are a lot of drawbacks to everyone being addicted to their phones and consumed with technology.... but there are also some benefits. The fact that it is possible to deposit checks using the camera on your phone? Pretty great. And, if you are stuck without money? Pretty damn helpful.
Assuming you're traveling with some checks, find someone you trust, ask if they have mobile deposit.
Ask (see: beg) if you can write them a check if they take out money for you. Of course, as soon as you get money again, buy this person dinner/drinks.
VENMO/PAYPAL/FACEBOOK PAY SOMEONE MONEY AND HAVE THEM TAKE OUT MONEY FOR YOU FROM AN ATM
Once again, this is assuming that you have one of the three set up, but this is another very simple way to borrow money from someone with good faith that they will get it back almost instantly.
HAVE MONEY WIRED TO YOU
I promise, this sounds a lot scarier than it actually is. At first I was in total disbelief - am I really having my parents wire me money right now? But it is 2017, baby. A Western Union transfer couldn't be easier - in fact, there's an app for that.
For a $25 fee, a money order through Western Union can be purchased. This order goes through instantly and can be picked up at any Western Union location. Seriously. Depending on how fast you get in contact with someone you trust, you can go from penniless to financially stable in minutes.
Like I said, Western Union has an app where it is possible to do the same thing. Moneygram is also the same thing.
PICK UP MONEY AT ANY WESTERN UNION LOCATION
One of the main reasons I was scrambling when I lost my card was because it was Lao National Day and banks were closed.
My luck just wont quit!
In bigger cities there are usually independent Western Unions/money exchange offices that are international and open 7 days a week, despite holidays.
This is why I had to rush to Luang Prabang. When I got there, I had to bike to 4 different Western Union locations before I found one that was open. Eventually, I was handed a fat stack of cash.
So, bike around, stay positive, and look for the beautiful yellow Western Union sign... check the online locator, or ask exchange offices where an open Western Union would be. Good luck... you are SO close to having money!
CALL YOUR PARENTS
This part is directed at twenty-something backpackers. You are probably in the process of plotting how you're going to get money back into your wallet. Depending on where you are, and how much intermediate cash you have, you might be trying to do this solo.
I get it - you want to be independent, you don't want your parents to be mad, your ego is too big - I was there.
However, I can't express the relief I felt as soon as I had my parents on my side. This is when I truly felt that it was all going to be okay. They weren't mad, but I am sure I am going to get endless crap about this when I get home.
Oh well, I messed up... I think a little shaming is deserved.
So, if you are thinking about doing this solo, buck up and call Mom and Dad - I promise they will have solutions you never even thought of.
I hope that helps. Now, for....
HOW TO SECURE YOUR FINANCES BEFORE LEAVING FOR LONG TERM TRAVEL
SET UP VENMO OR PAYPAL
This is a great way to get money to someone in a pinch. Set up either Venmo or Paypal transfer before you leave. Venmo is generally used by only Americans in my experience, so Paypal could be a better option for international travel.
BRING BLANK CHECKS
This is what really saved me in the end - the fact I was able to write a check for a (new) friend for enough money to get my to Luang Prabang. She deposited it immediately, and even though I felt horribly uncomfortable asking her for money, there was never any awkwardness. I only brought six checks with me to Asia. Because I often use checks to transfer money between bank accounts, I immediately realized six checks wasn't enough. I would suggest bringing around 15 blank checks. Keep them in a secure place (duh). Number them and keep a key with their check numbers so if you lose one you are not SOL. If you do need to cancel them, know that it takes 24 hours for it to go into effect, so call you bank right away.
BRING MULTIPLE FORMS OF PAYMENT
This is the big one and the obvious solution.... and yet, I am surprised how many people I meet that are like, "No, I only have one card.... I would really be screwed if I lost it!"
Of course, those people are always fine, and it is the over-prepared travelers with 3 different cards (aka me) that somehow get stuck without money.
In the end, even though I thought I was prepared, I was the one that screwed myself over. Why? Well, I didn't....
CALL ALL OF YOUR BANKS BEFORE YOU LEAVE
All of them. Even the emergency cards. I didn't call one of my emergency cards, and when I used it to book a hostel online (thinking online would be okay), it immediately froze up... and that is how I lost my first card. Let them know you are traveling, and if you are about to make a big transaction, call ahead and let them know it is coming. Trust me. Do this, because when your card is cancelled.... it is cancelled.
CHECK THE EXPIRATION DATE OF YOUR CARDS
This may seem self explanatory, but I have a *ahem* friend who didn't realize one of her cards would expire two months into her trip. She noticed when her other card was sucked into an ATM. Don't be my me.... I mean, don't be my friend... make sure your cards have months left on them before you leave.
EMERGENCY CASH.... AND DON'T SPEND IT
I should have been fine - I had 3 cards and emergency cash. Well, because Cambodia uses US Dollar, I got lazy one day and instead of taking money out from an ATM, I just grabbed a bill from my emergency stash thinking I would replace it immediately. The next day I did the same thing.... and the next day, and the next day. Guess what? I never replaced the money! So when my final card ended up being a dud, my emergency cash fund was dry. I never thought I would actually need it - but who actually plans on having 3 forms of payment be for naught? DO NOT SPEND YOUR EMERGENCY CASH UNTIL IT IS AN EMERGENCY.
SET UP A WESTERN UNION ACCOUNT TO A CARD YOU LEAVE AT HOME
In my opinion, this is the most foolproof way to guarantee you always have access to money. Set up your Western Union account to a card still at home. This makes it impossible to lose the card. If you ever need money through Western Union, you can just open up the app and set up a transfer to yourself. This is what I will be doing before my next trip.
Good luck folks and stay smart!
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- My Central Vietnam Hospital Experience
- 15 Must-have Items for Any Backpacking Trip
- My Top 10 Worst Experiences Backpacking Through Southeast Asia
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