||VAWN HIMMELSBACH, Chic Savvy Travels
People often ask me travel-related questions, but all too often I don’t follow my own advice. A few days ago I was in Bocas del Toro, a string of tropical islands in the Caribbean off the coast of Panama — a lovely spot that happens to have only one ATM. And my card didn’t work. And I had about $10 left in my wallet.
As I repeatedly tried to use my card, thinking somehow it might magically work after the umpteenth time, I wondered how I had managed to get myself into this situation. After all, I’ve often advised friends to call their bank before they travel to avoid a hold on their account, and to always have an emergency stash available. So shouldn’t I know better, after all these years of travel?
This isn’t the first time my card wouldn’t work in a foreign ATM. But I’d just find a different ATM or, worst-case scenario, I’d get a cash advance on my credit card at the bank. But, in this case, my worst-case scenario was even worse: this bank didn’t do cash advances — something I hadn’t even considered. And I’d somehow managed to burn through my emergency stash of cash.
I called my credit card company, and it turns out they had put a hold on my card because I hadn’t informed them I’d be traveling out of the country. But upon my return to the ATM, I found my card still wouldn’t work, so I used my last few dollars to take a boat to the mainland and then a bus to the nearest city, about an hour away, where I was told I’d find five different banks. Yet, my card still wouldn’t work, and when I tried to do a cash advance at the bank, I was told my card was “no good.”
Perhaps it was the look of complete panic and desperation on my face, but one of the women at the bank, Inés Itzela, took pity on me and called the number on the back of my credit card. After waiting on hold over speaker-phone for 20 minutes, listening to staticky classics like Culture Club’s “It’s a Miracle,” we eventually figured out there was still a hold on my card — they’d only made a note that I was traveling in Panama.
Soon afterward, Inés Itzela was hugging me and the security guard, with a large machine gun slung over his shoulder, was cheering as we heard the sound of money coming out of the ATM.
So far I’ve seen starfish, monkeys and sloths, and swam in some of the clearest water in the world, but that was one of the best moments of this trip. When you’re traveling, it’s easy to become paranoid that people are trying to take advantage of you — and sure, I’ve been screwed over a few times — but on many more occasions I’ve had complete strangers go out of their way to help me. Perhaps that’s why I love travel so much — it can restore even a cynic’s faith in humanity.
So lesson learned: I’m going to start taking my own advice more often.
Date Added: August 20, 2011 | Comments (1)
OMG… I felt my own panic rise imagining the Culture Club hold music. Must have been a surreal moment!
Comment by @glassbeadgamer — September 1, 2011 @ 7:48 pm