I’m one of those annoying people that eats, sleeps, and breathes travel. Seriously, it’s really hard to talk me out of anything travel related whether it’s TV shows that bore others to tears, purchasing some new-fangled gadget, or eating some weird food that I absolutely knew better than to put in my mouth but I just had to try it. I’m obsessed! But travel isn’t all sunshine and roses. Sometimes, it can get downright ugly. You lose your baggage, miss your connection, get food poisoning, and don’t even get me started on bedbugs! I’m itching just thinking about it. Gross! The point is, you can plan every singular detail, but travel by definition is an adventure and there is such beauty in that metaphor even if it’s hard to see when you are having a mild panic attack at the airport.
My worst travel experience actually began before I ever left my house.
I was so excited to be traveling overseas for the very first time. I researched every detail of this trip from the restaurants and tours to the shopping. There was one part I had been particularly nervous about. Money. How do you handle money overseas? I read the gamut of Google. Cash? Card? Traveler’s checks? Too many choices and everyone had a different opinion.
I eventually came across a company called Travelex which is a currency exchange business. Travelex is a well-known company with kiosks in many airports throughout the world. In addition to offering actual currency, Travelex offers prepaid cards to upload your money to and then they automatically convert it to whatever currency you need. This made me feel safe. I had this crazy fear of just walking around with all this money in my pocket and, “Oh God, what if I lose it or get mugged” because all the muggers in Ireland will sense that I have a wad of cash in my pocket. The prepaid card seemed like the right way to go.
The day before we were set to leave, at about 4:30 pm, I logged on to the internet to upload our money on to our prepaid card. I pressed the transfer button, and a nice little box that said to the extent of, “transfer declined” reared its ugly head on the screen. I didn’t panic. I know these things happen. Maybe I mistyped a number. So, I tried again, and again, and again. I started to worry a tiny bit, but I remembered my card has a security component to it that won’t always allow it to go through if a company is in some certain states or overseas. It was after hours for my bank, so I decided I would just call the bank in the morning during our layover in New York and transfer the money then. No biggie.
Later that night, I ran to the local Walmart (yay for small town Mississippi) to pick up a few last minute things before we had to head to the airport the next morning. I looked at my phone to check my bank account and Holy Moly! My bank account only had about 400 dollars in it! When I tell you the wave of panic that came over me was a tsunami, I am not exaggerating! My world was crashing down around me. I quickly checked the Travelex account to see if the money had somehow miraculously, in fact, transferred. Nope, not even a cent. Where was our money? Chris and I had scrimped and saved for months for this week abroad and now our entire savings for the trip and then some was out of my account. It wasn’t just a week in Ireland and England, it was next month’s rent and car payment. I was about to have a total meltdown, and don’t even get me started on Mr. Christopher. His Type A personality was having a fit and my Type B personality was just praying it would work itself out.
I called the customer service line for Travelex and spent an hour on the phone. I could barely understand the man on the other end with his thick accent. Was it English, Scottish, Irish? I don’t know, but if he said “alright” one more time, I was coming through that phone. This was not alright. He told me that the transaction had been accepted by my bank but had not been accepted by Travelex and it was in some sort of limbo. What does that even mean? I was frustrated, scared, and at the end of the conversation, I still did not know where my money was. Mr. Alright on the phone assured me that the situation could be fixed, but that the bank would have to be involved. This meant we would know nothing until the bank opened after 9:00 am. Our flight from New Orleans was for 7:00 am. We were still risking so much. Were we really going to get on a plane with all of our savings floating in cyberspace?
We went to bed that night uncertain of the next day. I did not sleep a wink. In fact, I spent all night watching Golden Girls reruns and possibly eating the last box of Girl Scouts cookies that I had been stashing for a stressful situation. I would say my current predicament was worthy of a hand full of Samoas.
Because Chris and I are nurses, we have that “worst case scenario” planning, and we pulled some money from another account. It was not near enough for a week abroad, but it was enough to make sure our meals and transportation were taken care of for the first few days until we could get everything straightened out. Thank God, I had already paid for hotels and plane tickets. I know not everyone has that luxury, so I strongly recommend pre-paying for as much as you can, having travel insurance and a savings account for emergencies.
We drove the two hours to New Orleans with Robin Williams on Pandora in an effort to distract ourselves, but I was chewing my cuticles until they bled. To Chris, this was the honeymoon we didn’t get, and to me, it was the trip I had been planning since high school. I did not want to be worried about money, I wanted to be soaking in the experience. Heck at this point, I just wanted to be able to pay for the customary pint of Guinness that every tourist must have. Seriously, I think it’s a requirement to get through customs.
Chris and I got through parking, security, and to the gate without the slightest hiccup. We boarded our flight and made it to JFK like we had been doing it for years, minus the slight turbulence and motion sickness that woke me up somewhere over Virginia. This isn’t surprising since I get motion sickness in a car. Thank God for meclizine.
Once we landed, the first thing I did was get on the phone. I spent three hours of a four-hour layover in the food court of JFK trying to figure out how to get our money back into our account. Travelex needed the bank to prove I had the funds. The bank needed Travelex to prove they had the money and to release it back to the bank. Travelex could refund the money, but it would take up to four days to return to my account. Four days! Dear Lord, that’s over half of our trip! I was ready to cry. In four days, we wouldn’t even be in Ireland anymore, we would be in Bristol with no money sitting in a hotel probably eating crackers for dinner at this rate.
At that moment, like an angel, an incredibly sweet bank teller promised to put our money back into our account on good faith if Travelex would fax some paperwork stating they would refund everything within the four-day period. Did I just hear Hallelujahs coming from the Heavens? I’m sorry, but you just can’t get that kind of service from a major bank in a big city. This was nothing short of small-town faith and kindness. In that moment, I was grateful to be from the tiny Mississippi town that I spent my life trying to escape. Not only would the money be put into my account within the hour, but because of how the bank’s system worked, this remarkable lady would have to manually put the money into our account every single day until it was truly refunded back to us.
This was above and beyond everything we could have hoped for. We would forget about the Travelex card, and simply use our own cards and withdraw cash as we needed it, knowing there was a Travel Angel of Mercy 3000 miles away who was watching over us- or our bank account at least.
It was nothing Travelex had specifically done, but a nerve-wracking combination of miscommunications and computer issues that made me wary and more comfortable using my own cards and cash. Everyone has their own way of handling money when they travel, this would be ours. We boarded our flight to Dublin with the weight of the uncertainty of having no money being lifted off our shoulders and gaining the security we needed to have the experience we had been dreaming of for so long.
When we got back from our stay in Ireland and the United Kingdom, I made a special trip to the bank with a small token of appreciation and a great big hug. I asked to speak to the lovely lady who helped us, and she walked up worried a customer had come because something was wrong! It was a testament to her character. She was so humble, she had no idea someone would show up just to say thank you. The human spirit is inherently good and it is beautiful to know there are people in this world who go above and beyond without a second thought of anything in return.
The worst travel experience of my life happened within the first 24 hours of our very first trip abroad and ended just as quickly as it came thanks to the kindness of a complete stranger. My advice after this fiasco is to do your research and don’t wait until the night before to get your funds in order. We certainly learned our lesson. The situation could have been very bleak and if it were not for a genuinely goodhearted person, our trip could have been ruined. Bonus tip: Treat people with kindness and respect, and say thank you. You never know where help will come from or when you may need it.
Do you have any crazy travel experiences or maybe a moment where you were rescued by a good samaritan? Leave me a comment and tell me your worst travel tales.