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Speaking Of Recent Travel Blunders, I Had A Doozy This Month

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Speaking Of Recent Travel Blunders, I Had A Doozy This Month

Speaking Of Recent Travel Blunders, I Had A Doozy This Month

Benjy recently wrote about one of his recent travel blunders, which you can read about here. I had to chuckle, because at least his had several workable solutions. I recently made a big mistake, and mine didn’t really have any good solutions.

What Happened?

The morning I left Uzbekistan for Tajikistan, I had to be up super early for a 6:30am flight. Be at the airport 2 hours in advance, 30 minutes to the airport…so I was up at 3:30am. Needless to say, I was tired and not fully alert.

Knowing how much a taxi cost, I knew I didn’t have enough cash to pay the fare. I told the driver to pull over at an ATM, I got cash, and we were off to the airport.

I checked in, zoned out half-asleep in the boarding area, and then I was off to Tajikistan.

When I arrived in Tajikistan and cleared customs at the airport, I went to the ATM to get cash for taxis and food during my time there. It was only then I realized I didn’t have my ATM card. In my tired, early morning rush, I’d taken the cash & receipt but walked away with my card still in the ATM. Now, I was in a different country.

Solutions? Yeah, Not Really

Luckily, I carry some emergency US Dollars hidden in my backpack whenever I travel. I exchanged $50 to get me by for a few days while I figured out a solution.

From my hotel room, I called my bank (USAA) and told them what happened. I needed the card canceled and a replacement sent to me in Tajikistan ASAP. The agent said “sure!” and started entering the address of my hotel.

Then, we ran into a problem. Tajikistan has a prohibition on sending credit cards into the country. There’s also no FedEx, no UPS, and no DHL service. USAA basically couldn’t send me the card where I was.

I could make it through the 3 days I planned in Dushanbe, Tajikistan with exchanging money, but I needed a place to receive my ATM card. Having limited emergency cash and being in a largely “cash only” location wasn’t a good combination.

I checked to see where I could go on a direct flight. Comparing this against customs restrictions, I had a few problems:

  • Direct flights to Istanbul exist, but language about whether debit/credit cards are permitted in shipments was confusing. It might or might not get rejected.
  • I couldn’t take the direct flights to Kazakhstan or Turkmenistan, due to current border restrictions.
  • If I totally overhauled my trip, I could go to Dubai, which was not at all in my plans.
  • Similarly, I could go to a few cities in Russia, which wasn’t part of my plan but could be feasible for mailing purposes.

Speaking Of Recent Travel Blunders, I Had A Doozy This Month

Choosing The Least Awful Solution

I wound up going to Dubai. When considering possibilities, I felt that getting my card in Dubai seemed most reliable on the “will it actually get to me?” scale. Additionally, I found a cheap fare with flydubai, since points options for a short-notice booking didn’t turn up anything useful.

I called USAA again, gave them the address for a Hyatt Place location in Dubai, and made up my mind to just accept my decision, not dwelling on it.

Silver Lining

USAA told me that their timeline for international FedEx shipments with replacement ATM cards is 4-5 business days. It was Wednesday, meaning the card would likely depart on Thursday, and the weekend would extend that timeline.

Even though this was the king of my recent travel blunders, it had a silver lining. Maybe more than one. I messaged a friend who lives in Dubai and mentioned that I’d be in town for a few days—however long it took for my ATM card to show up. He mentioned that 2 of our mutual friends would also be in Dubai at the same time, so we could all hang out.

As soon as I booked my flydubai ticket, they emailed me a free 1-day pass to Expo 2020. I went to that with my friends, and it was super interesting.

Additionally, my ATM card actually showed up on Sunday—much earlier than my hopes for a Tuesday arrival. I spent 3 nights at a Category 1 Hyatt property (only 5,000 points per night) and then took a bus to Abu Dhabi for a flight to resume my travel plans. I spent a night at the Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi using the $200 hotels credit from my Platinum card.

Final Thoughts

Out of my recent travel blunders, I can’t think of any stupider than this. I walked away from an ATM with my card inside. Blame it on the morning rush to the airport, the lack of sleep, or just not paying enough attention. Given that I have accounts at several banks, I should probably start carrying 2 ATM cards. That could avoid some of the hoops I had to jump through.

I lost 4 days essentially, plus $200 cash on a ticket I hadn’t planned to buy. On the flip side, I enjoyed a few days with friends. The situation could’ve been much worse, obviously. And now you can all laugh at my stupidity to make yourselves feel better!

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Ryan Smith
Ryan Smith
Travel hacker in 2-player mode, intent on visiting every country in the world, and can say "hello" or "how much does this cost?" in a bunch of different languages.

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  1. I travel with multiple stacks of cards, each set comprising of a minimum useful set of things (debit, credit, travel, limits, etc.).

    Downside: I have more cards to lose, upside: I have more cards in case I can’t use some for whatever reasons.

    Something else that could be useful is to make sure you have access to the card information (number, exp, cvv) and/or add them to your mobile wallet. NFC capable ATMs are becoming quite commonplace now and you can always add to mobile wallet with just card details (even on a brand new phone, should your existing one be lost/stolen). If your plastic/metal card is replaced/disabled, usually the virtual one survives as it is separately provisioned.

  2. Great story. I’m looking forward to reading about the ‘Stans but losing a month really sucks. Had you considered having money sent via Western Union?

    • Considered it, but you always eat a good 4-5% at pick up, on top of the sending fees. Given that I’m on an extended trip, that would suffice only short term and not really for a month.

  3. I know how absent minded I can be. So I never travel without at least two debit cards and two (minimum) credit cards.

    Knowing your own blind spots? Priceless.

  4. Wow thanks for sharing. In the past (eg until i read this post and comments), I made a point to travel with only one ATM card — that way if anything was compromised, the negative impact is limited to just that one account (which was an account with a small amount of cash — again, to minimize the impact.)
    But this makes me think I should have a backup plan, particularly for international travel.

  5. I know the fees and interest are usurious, but couldn’t you get ATM cash using a cash advance from a credit card? Seems simpler and less expensive than flying to another country to receive an ATM card.

      • Yes, didn’t realize you were going to be there for that long. 007 in From Russia with Love had a stash of gold sovereigns hidden in his briefcase, along with a hidden dagger and talcum powder tear gas canister. My wife and I had a lot of hidden cash with us when travelling in and out of Zimbabwe from Zambia. We’d heard ATM’s were scarce and cash a necessity although that has supposedly improved in the last ten years.

        Backup ATM card is a valuable lesson for us all.
        Would be interested in a travelogue on Tajikistan.

  6. I can easily see how this can happen! I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking about traveling with two ATM cards in future, thanks to your willingness to share your story.

  7. You can also load your ATM to apple pay or Google pay. Plenty of spaces around the world that allow you to use them to get money.

  8. Ryan, You have a “charmed life.” The only way I could financially/time wise afford a similar experience to what you have detailed is ……. IN MY DREAMS! Congrats, C

  9. When I travel abroad, I carry two ATM fee-free or fee rebating cards. Sometimes Card A will work fine in an ATM, but if rejected, I can try to use (and often succeed) with Card B.

    • I do the same. Always have back up cards and accounts. You never know what might happen ( card lost, robbed, stolen, broken etc.) I’m surprised Ryan did not have a back up card and account.


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