The following guest post has been submitted by Taylor Brown.
Whenever I get ready to embark on an international adventure, my top priority after tickets is letting my bank and credit card company know I’m going abroad. My bank asks for a list of cities traveling to along with the dates. One would think that they would be well prepared for you using your card internationally, or if your card wouldn’t work in that country they would be kind enough to give you a heads up. This was not the case with my stay in Budapest. I was stranded for four days with 2,305 Hungarian forint, which is about 10 US dollars or 8 Euros.
Last December I embarked for almost a month of travel in Europe. My first 10 days was smooth sailing. I had no problem with ATMs or shopping in Madrid, Murcia or Barcelona. So I did what I normally do at an airport – I buy a cup of coffee to try and rid myself of extra cash. I used to have a huge aversion to carrying extra cash with me on my travels. I had about 12 euros when I took off to Budapest, which was a low enough number for me to deal with.
I was set to couch surf with Martin, meaning I was lucky I didn’t have to worry about paying a hostel bill. I had also packed gifts for my hosts before leaving home, so the only thing I was budgeting for was food, airport transfers, and souvenirs.
That budget went to hell when I got to the ATM and tried to make a withdrawl. My card was declined and spit back out at me. I rolled my eyes and went to the exchange desk, but it was declined there, too.
That’s when I panicked.
Lucky for me a ticket to the city centre on a combined bus and metro ride cost me 465 Forints, or about 2 US dollars.
My Penniless Adventure
My penniless adventure started when I walked out of the metro station into the centre of Budapest. It was winter so it was freezing and I had eight hours to kill before I met up with Martin and his family. I walked around and ate a cereal bar for lunch. When I travel I always pack cereal and protein bars in case of an emergency; Budapest qualified as an emergency.
When I got in touch with the bank that night, they told me it had been fixed and that my debit card should work just fine the next morning. I was happy and cheery and thought everything was perfect. I realized it would be smart to get a 72 hour travel pass, which would let me ride public transport as much as I wanted, and I used my credit card to buy it for just $20. This shut down my credit card. I ended up not bothering to sort it out and just went the rest of my trip without that card.
While I was out sightseeing, I thought a cup of coffee would warm me up nicely so I swung by an ATM… debit card declined. Thanks bank. There went my excuse to sit in a coffee shop and warm up. On the bright side I had my travel pass and the 4 and 6 line trams were heated. When I got cold I’d just hop on a tram for a bit. Again lunch was a cereal bar and lots of water. Dinner was the same deal.
To Make a Long Story Short
No matter how many times my bank told me my card was okay to use, it wasn’t. The guy working with me was really nice and did everything he thought would work but I was still stuck and hungry. The most depressing part for me was the fact that I love foreign currencies, and Hungary was the first country I’d been to that didn’t use the Euro. My original 2,305 Forints were used VERY sparingly since I was determined to bring extra money home. The third day I was so proud of myself for spending virtually no money that I rewarded myself with Hungarian treats from Spar. I splurged – 348 Forints, or $1.51.
The last night I went on a river cruise with Martin and his family, and guess what – my card was finally working! That was a pleasant surprise. The bummer part was after the cruise when I went to find wifi and food and was only able to find a McDonalds. The less bummer part was that they have some really odd burgers on the menu, so I ordered one of those.
I’m convinced the ATMs in Hungary hate my card because I was never able to withdraw cash; I had to use it like a credit card at shops. My last day in Budapest I only had a few hours to see the rest of the city and buy postcards before heading to the airport. I left the country with 732 Forints.
My bank card worked fine at the ATM in Brussels. Food was my first goal, and what a good city to binge eat in.
Moral of the story?
Since this little mishap I’ve gotten over the fear of having a lot of money in my wallet. I’ve been backpacking twice since January and it’s now my policy to carry a hundred dollar bill stashed away in my bag.
I picked a hundred as my ideal bill to have because, let’s face it, $100 will convert into a decent amount of cash in most countries. I figured it would cover hostel bills, airport transfers, public transport, and food for a few days. That time would tide me over till I figured out and fixed the issues with my cards. So, I now have a special place in my backpack that houses my $100 cash when I leave the country, and I think everyone should do the same.
Do you have any stories of bank dramas overseas? Do you try to pack emergency money?
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About the Author: Taylor Brown is a senior in University and a Lightworker. She’s lived in three countries. Explored three continents. And still has a full list of adventures to have. Taylor blogs about her travels and other life adventures on The Vangclear Files.
*All photos except title photo by Taylor Brown.
I had the exact same thing happen to me whilst backpacking this summer! Problem was that despite notifying my bank that I was going to be traveling for several months, they not only blocked my card, but shut it down, and the only thing I could do was to physically show up at a branch.
It’s so important to stash money away discreetly in your suitcases/packs for emergencies like this!
I’ve never liked traveling with a lot of cash, until my husband and I went on our honeymoon this summer. We brought US $2000 to exchange at the airport, and the same amount on a prepaid credit card with no foreign currency fees (our AAA card, believe it or not!). We used the safe in our hotel room, obviously, but kept enough cash on hand to fund our adventures for the day. My husband’s wisdom, as passed on from his dad, is that you should always have enough spare cash to get yourself to an airport in an emergency. I’ve fallen out of the habit of carrying spare cash since then, mostly because 1) we’re home and 2) we live about 10 miles from a major airport – but I did have a need for some extra dollars recently!
My wallet was stolen in London by a “friend” (that’s a whole other story for later) within about 3 hours of arriving abroad last year. I had made the mistake of putting all of my cash and cards in one basket (wallet) and suddenly I was penniless. This friend said “welcome to london!” and suggested it had been swiped on the tube. I was now left without any cash and no food. My friend housed me for a few days, but had no food himself until his girlfriend came over and fed me. My mother, bless her, wired me some money via Western Union, but you’d be amazed at how many corner shops (in London of all places!) had western union services, but only to send money, not collect money. It took me 2 days to finally find the place, plus the public transport fare to get there.
Then, my mother express shipped me a credit card (not cheap) which worked out for a few days, but no bank would allow me to take out cash. My debit card would arrive within 3-10 business days according to my bank, but then they weren’t sure how much longer it would take sending overseas. What a nightmare! Now, I separate my cash and keep a spare amount in a few hidden places. I carry an extra debit card, just in case, and I’ve also got a prepaid credit card that I can too up should I need to, but I won’t lose the cash if it’s lost or stolen again. Cheers to experience and traveling constantly teaching you the better ways to travel!
Adventurous Andrea says
Wow, this would be such a nerve-wrack experience! It seems like she handled it very well. I definitely always keep some emergency cash on me.
I had the same thing happen to me in Croatia! My card stopped working and my bank blocked the account. Luckily, before I left for my month long trip in Europe, I took out a minimal amount of money for each country I would be visiting just in case, and I’m really glad I did. I was without money in Croatia and Spain (all in all, just over a week). Finally, getting it sorted in Barcelona, my bank’s response was basically an “oops, it happens.” Always be prepared!
I ended up in Nanjing, China with a debit card that didn’t work! I’d just spent 4 weeks in Hong Kong without a problem, but once I got to Nanjing, I couldn’t withdraw money at all! I had enough to cover my meals and drinking water, but not much else. Thankfully, I was with friends who were able to help with transport and other expenses.
Oh yeah, I am the master of not-working credit and debit cards. Just to mention one, arrived in Koh Phangan (Thailand) on the 27/10, got robbed of all my cash on the same night to just find out the very next morning that none of my credit / debit cards would work.
Luckily my boyfriend could tide me over for a couple of days and my dad’s wife works in my bank so she could sort things out on the 3rrd morning… then also had to contact my other bank which was so fast I couldnt believe it, so now I’m good again (even though I have basically left with no money to South EA, for a 3 months trip, just because I do translations online!)
When I was travelling to New York, I was with a school group and in a shop in Times Square, with about $50 worth of stuff. I had about $15 in cash on me, but I wasn’t worried, as I still had $400 dollars on my bank card. I pass the cashier the bank card, and it turns out that they don’t accept that card. I blow it off, borrow some cash from a friend saying I’ll pay her back later, and move along to the next store. I have the idea to ask an employee if they take my card before looking around, and she says yeah, it just works as credit, so you have to sign. So I go looking around the store, picking out maybe twenty dollars worth. By now, I have no cash, just my bank card, and when I go to pay, the cashier says ‘oh, we don’t accept those.’ I get very confused, and tell her what the other employee told me. She goes, ‘oh, that girl was wrong. we don’t accept it at all.’
Which is why when I go to Italy in May, I am not relying on my bank card as much.
Auggh this is scaring me. My bank has the dates for my upcoming UK trip and insists my card will work, and I’ve got a backup prepaid card coming, but I still bought 100 GBP to take with me. I figured my first day I’ll be too tired to mess with finding a cashpoint, so it might come in handy. I’ll remember to take some American money with me too, for the trip home.