Photo of Ryan Brown of Lost Boy Memoirs standing atop a rocky overlook above Kotor Montenegro, looking down at the pearl of Montenegro on a cloudy day from the mountaintop. The walled city, turquoise blue

Broke Abroad: A Week in Europe with No Access to Money and a Near Meltdown

In All Topics, Life Style, Lifestyle, Mis-Adventures, Self-Improvement by RyanLeave a Comment

DISCLAIMER: In no way is this a promoted post for companies mentioned below, they are just the methods I used to solve this misadventure. I will refer to Western Union as WU.

What do you do when you find yourself broke abroad without access to any money? You definitely have a bit of a meltdown…

Last week my bank card stopped working at a very convenient time when I had a little over 20 Croatian kunas (under 3 euros) in my pocket, and no backup card, in one of the more expensive cities in Europe. I’ve already shared the turmoil of that first full day without being able to get money out — it really sucks. Where will I sleep? How will I eat? Scenarios like starving to death in some ancient alleyway in Split with no friends or family nearby to help played out in my head many times.

READ PART 1: Stuck Without Money Abroad… Again. 

After that first day and a few hours of freaking out, I slept off the panic and realized I needed to calm down and get an action plan together.

My only bank card stopped working, and I had already called the bank to get a replacement that would take 10 days to arrive.

What do I need to do?

I needed to get some cash out somehow to survive the week, and so I didn’t end up having to sleep on the streets of Split. Not like I haven’t pulled that off before in other countries, after all my first time traveling I completely ran out of money in New Zealand and here I am.

But it isn’t like that this time, I didn’t just blow my budget, this was due to a broken card.

Immediately I started searching into money orders by WU, because that was what saved my ass in Bangkok when an ATM ate my bank card.

Success. On the app, it allowed me to shoot money to myself for pick up in Croatia. Woot! I’d soon be able to eat, or so I thought. The post offices in Croatia were labeled as pickup stations for a WU money order, and I went straight over that first morning.

No luck.

After waiting a couple of hours and seeing the staff run about with my forms and call who knows who, they informed me the transfer wasn’t ready. They couldn’t offer a better answer or explanation in their broken English, just told me I had to come back the next day.

So I did. I called WU, and they said there was no issue and the pick up was ready. After explaining this to them, they shrugged and said, “tomorrow maybe“. Fed up, I walked out and waited until the next day. Still hungry.

That night I found out that some friends from my last week of sailing were still in town, and messaged them desperate. Normally, I’d never ask for money, but I was in a bit of a panic. I asked the girls if they had any kunas to spare and I’d send them a PayPal transfer, and they told me they could spare 200. Wew. But instead, they gave me the 200 kunas, and refused to accept repayment.

Just pass it on my friend” they told me. I was shocked and grateful, and their charity would let me eat that night. (Follow @TravelBitches on Instagram because they deserve it!)

I paid my hostel back for 2 nights, and grabbed a bite to eat with the rest of the cash.

Day two began…

I popped into the nearby supermarket to grab a banana to hold me over and discovered the supermarkets in Croatia accepted ApplePay. Hell yes! At least if all else fails, I can get groceries because I can pay with my phone.

Loaded up with snacks, I popped by the post office again, eager to get this sorted and not have to worry about where to stay the next night.

Again, WU money order failed.

*Veins in forehead begin to burst*

This time, I sat around for 3 hours waiting as they kept reassuring me it wouldn’t be much longer. Then, like the previous day, they told me I had to return tomorrow without an explanation. Insert lines of profanity in my head. I found out there was an actually WU office a few miles outside of town, so I ordered an Uber since I couldn’t pay for a taxi. Hope filled me as I spotted the WU office, and handed her my form for the money order.

A few clicks later, she gave me more bad news. 

Sorry, the names don’t match the ID…

What?” I asked, baffled.

You send money to yourself, but must match ID. No middle name

Because I didn’t include my middle name in the “optional” area of the money order, and because my passport had my full name, I couldn’t access it.

You gotta’ be f***ing kidding me I thought.

I called WU to get them to change the money order name to my full name, but they couldn’t unless I called with my USA phone number which I couldn’t do from Croatia. So they couldn’t help me either.

Just send a new order and cancel the other, right?

I set up a new money order and pressed send, only to find out that my card now did not match the billing address. My bank had just changed it to mail the new card. I called the bank and they informed me if I changed the address back, the card wouldn’t be sent internationally. So there was nothing I could do to send forth a new money order.

At this point, defeat and frustration reached a peak and I nearly gave up hope.

I sat hunched in the mall over my phone, face bright red with frustration and tears clouding the eyes. I kept trying and trying to send a new money order but each time it was denied. Until finally, maybe the tenth futile attempt, it worked!

I got the notification that the order had been sent, and instantly ran over to the office. She looked at me skeptically. She began putting in the details and I could feel my heart pounding. This has to work or I’d fully have a meltdown and probably collapse onto the floor screaming and crying in frustration.

She grabbed the money box and began counting the cash. Relief washed over me and stress was lifted off my shoulders. When she handed me the cash, I almost wept with joy. I thanked her and went straight to McDonalds to devour two orders of large fries and flopped back ready to explode.

All the problems were over now, right? Not so fast.

I could only send myself $200, which doesn’t get you very far in Croatia, so I still had to come up with a plan to survive the next week while spending little cash.

After chatting with a backpacker in the hostel I was staying at, they convinced me that I should head into Bosnia for the week since it’d be extremely cheap. Given I never make plans ahead of time, I did just that. I booked a bus ticket to Mostar the next day, treated myself to a huge (and probably too expensive) dinner and listened to a blues singer in the ruins of Diocletian’s Palace while sipping a beer.

One moment, I felt like the world was ending while being broke abroad, and the next minute I felt like a king listening to the raspy renditions of classics in ancient ruins of Split Old Town. Still low on money, but feeling rich in life.

So how did I survive the rest of the week without access to money?

I’ve just returned from my week away, and what started as a trip to Bosnia, evolved into a road trip through Bosnia and Montenegro. After my 8 hour bus from Kotor, I arrived back in Split with 0.50 cents in my pocket.

The best part was that my new bank card was waiting for me! 

It was a week of incredible adventures scrapping by and figuring out how to stretch a little over €100 across a week in Europe including hostels, buses, food, and drinks. I ended up experiencing a few days in Mostar, meeting two Germans on a road trip that invited me to come along, getting caught in a freak snowstorm, hiking in the mountains of Montenegro, and ending up in the Pearl of Montenegro — Kotor.

Wew, was that a whirlwind trip of winging it!

Now that I have my bank card and access to money, I’ll be back out on the road and share more about this past week and the beautiful places I got to see while broke abroad.

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SPECIAL THANKS:

  • CroParadise Hostel for letting me stay until I had cash to pay, and helping me get a hold of my bank card.
  • Alicia and Bree for your kindness.
  • Zarko, my friend from sailing, who picked up my card in the marina and brought it to the hostel.
  • Taso and Taso Guesthouse for being incredible and accommodating while I figured out cash.
  • Lina and Wenzel for taking me along the road trip, I needed the mountains!
  • Julian and Charlotte for the pint in Kotor.

Have you ever been broke abroad? What’s your tale?

 

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