We have moments of glorious euphoria, and other moments of utter despair while living life on the road. If you’re a traveler, you know this well. If not, you’ll come to learn it’s a part of the journey. But on occasion, one or two experiences might just break your spirit. And for me, that happened recently, where I felt so frustrated it made me want to quit traveling.
It was the hummus that broke the backpackers back. Or however that saying goes. A day that started with the most stressful travel situation I’ve ever been in, you’d think that having no money, or being on the phone internationally for hours, or the racing thoughts of catastrophic scenarios would be the worst part. No, it was hummus that made me want to quit traveling. Or, more like the taunting of the travel fates that were having a laugh at my expense.
In my frustration and anxiety filled day when an ATM ate my bank card and left me with only 20 baht in my pocket, I stumbled upon hummus. Why is that important to the story?I had spent 2 months looking for the chickpea dip of the gods across Asia and never found any. Suddenly there it was, all gloriously lit up on a shelf in the grocery store, with the angels singing, and I could only afford a bottle of water for the foreseeable future.
I laughed out loud, not in the LOL fashion, but in a you’ve-got-to-be-fucking-with-me tone. I actually said that loud enough for the shoppers nearby to turn and stare.
The moment I came upon the hummus, I had already been on Twitter and Facebook trying to get in touch with my bank. Hours of attempts to call Bank of Bangkok trying to get them to open the ATM. Only for them to tell me no. And more hours on the phone with the credit card company.
THE HUNGER GAMES //
I hadn’t eaten anything since the day before. I took a night bus to Bangkok so I could replace my temporary passport with a permanent one, and arrived late around 11pm. Only 7/11 was open, so I chose to wait until the morning. Had I known, or had I been born with the gift of foresight (maybe even just being a more prepared traveler with back up money) I would have had the biggest feast ever. A meal that would last me the three days in which I could not eat.
Instead, I was grumpy and hopeless and angry and frustrated and worried and hungry and tired. Tired of the bullshit. The Universe, or someone out there, was fucking with me. The hummus was just a slap in the face after a full day of stress for someone who is addicted to the stuff.
At that moment I just wanted to fly away (with the money I didn’t have) and find some lonesome cabin deep in a thick forest where the world could not find me and I could shut myself in and wallow. Instead, I was stuck in the hot and sticky concrete jungle of Bangkok completely broke.
There are worse situations. I’ve been in FAR worse when you measure it by danger or other aspects. But circumstance is all, and this one hit hard most because it was demoralizing. And just bad timing. In my heart I know that I love travel, and it presents more fulfilling experiences than I could ever have living a “normal” life. But there are equal amounts of bad experiences that you just have to take on the chin and keep going. When it happens all at once though, when those shit moments just keep piling up, it can definitely make you want to quit traveling.
Times like India and Rickshaw Run, which was one helluva an adventure, but it left me drained of energy and perpetually pissed off and increasingly unhealthy. That’s why I had to leave India and go to Australia to slow down. Live in a “normal” state for a while. To regain that energy and drive and appreciation of travel. It wasn’t long before I felt the desire to hit the road again. Or actually that painful call of the road when you’re not traveling.
This recent instance added up so fast and I didn’t have enough time to go into my usually “stay positive and everything will work out” mode. Forget the Om and let loose the F-Bombs.
CHARLEY HORSED //
It began in Cambodia the day before. Derek and I had been staying in the border town of Koh Kong since we both had to visa runs, and were working on sorting through the Rickshaw Run videos. Go figure. We needed a break from staring at screens for a week. A dreadlocked Irishman who owned a bar down south told us about Kompot and how awesome it was, so a couple of days before we were due to return to Thailand, we hopped on scooters and booked it south.
That part was great.
But the journey back, not so much. I was sick after eating some questionable food a day before, and we had 250km and a 6 hour drive ahead of us. On scooters. Epic chaffing and Charley Horsed bums. We hadn’t planned for it to be blistering hot since the previous days were cool and overcast, and we struggled to fight the heat and the steaming asphalt all the way back to Koh Kong. Crispy fried bloggers by the end.
It didn’t stop there. The 6 hour ride was over, but I had more buses to take — one for 2 hours to a bus station in the town of Trat, and a 6 hour bus ride to Bangkok. That day I was on almost 16 hours of uncomfortable bum-busting and back-breaking transport. I was sunburned, sick, exhausted, and had a brain shattering headache. I hadn’t eaten because it was hard to keep anything down besides water.
I arrived in Bangkok. Everything was fine. I had my appointment at the embassy set and a taxi to pick me up bright and early. I went to bed strung out and still with a pounding head. The morning came and with it a worse headache, but I ran downstairs eager to get this embassy nonsense out-of-the-way so I could just sleep it off.
NOM NOM //
My skin radiated from the sunburn and I couldn’t wait to crawl back into the air-conditioned retreat. On the way to the embassy, I stopped off at an ATM, and as I was attempting to withdraw cash for the new passport, the machine glitched and displayed a message that read, “Card has been deactivated. Please contact your bank. Card has been claimed.” and it gulped it down.
“What the fuck?” I said confused.
That’s when the fear sunk in and punched me in the gut. I ran to the cab and told him what happened but he just stared back confused and eager to keep going. I had to get my card back somehow, so I scrounged through my pocket and found 42 baht to pay him and as he drove off I went on a f-bomb rant. Now I was 3 blocks from the hostel with no money, couldn’t go to my passport appointment, couldn’t call the bank since I had no credit, and had to walk back with the sun scorching my crispy skin more.
After walking 30 minutes in that 40° heat I made it to the hostel in a sweaty mess and told them what happened. Not like it’s their issue but I had to vent. And maybe they had advice. The hostel manager offered to call the bank, and while he tried, I got on the wifi and immediately tweeted my bank. And the tweet, I must admit, was desperate and rude.
WHAT AN ASSHAT //
I tweeted over and over, and messaged them on Facebook, and after an hour of waiting I grew more impatient. One tweet was something around the lines of “Helllooooo I’m fucking stranded with no cash and you’re twindling your thumbs” That was after they had tweeted me back to ask me to call them, and after I had responded that I couldn’t without credit and couldn’t buy credit without a card. Duh.
I was an ass. But I was in panic mode.
The gears began to turn. Very slowly. At the time it didn’t seem like it. My bank looked into my account and informed me that my card hadn’t been canceled, and they hadn’t suspend it either. Great, I found out it wasn’t their fault and I had been an asshole to them for no reason. Just stack it on.
Immediately I got on the phone with Bank of Bangkok again. The hostel front desk informed me that when they called, they were told it cannot be returned when a card is suspended, but since it wasn’t, maybe I could get my card back now!
Trying to deal with Thai automated answering systems was hell in itself. When I finally got someone on the phone and explained, very slowly and clearly what happened, all they could do is repeat some scripted line.
“Due to the card being claimed, we cannot return it because of international regulations from backs for canceled cards.” And I’d reply, “It isn’t canceled!” for the person to reply with the same, “Sorry but regulations…”
It started to get dark and I was getting nowhere. After failed attempts to have the company open the ATM, and even after spotting a man refilling the ATM who had it open and trying to beg him to give me the card, nothing worked. I was weary and couldn’t stand the BS anymore and needed to sleep. I resigned to leave the craziness for the next day, and went to sleep on an empty stomach and drained of all positivity.
DAY 2: IT NEVER ENDS //
I woke the next morning to tons of replies from friends on my Facebook rant about the incident. People were throwing out advice or ideas or even offers to send some money. Being a stubborn person, I’d never ask for money from someone and even though it was going on two days since I had eaten, I was hesitant. The hostel had free breakfast which was just a bit of fruit and bread, but believe me when I say I hoarded that bread. After my poor man’s carb loading I got back into the mess, and it wasn’t going anywhere fast.
Another day of back and forth on Twitter, which was the only way to communicate with my bank. They kept insisting I call their “reverse charges” line but I had no credit, and surprisingly, it was nigh impossible to find a landline phone near the hostel and find someone to allow me to use it. So I had to tweet them, wait for their reply, wait for confirmation, wait for them to call me in an area that had fast WiFi, get transferred to the right department, confirm my security questions and details, explain the situation to them, and have them tell me that they will need to call me back after talking with the credit card company that handles the cards. Back and forth this way every call all day.
THE HUNGER TOOK ME //
At one point I couldn’t handle it anymore and caved. My friend Zach who had just traveled around Myanmar with me offered to send some cash via Western Union. Well, not offered, just doing. He knows how stubborn I am so the night before he sent some money via Western Union, but as it turns out, if you do it online, it takes 3 days. Humph.
We learned of that little roadblock together when I got up and went to the Western Union. I filled out the forms, was told I needed my passport (should have thought of that), walked all the way back to the hostel, grabbed the passport and walked back, only to be told that the transaction was canceled. My buddy canceled it because he found out it’d take 3 days.
So it was back to the hostel to wait for the bank calls. My friend was going out of his way and waking up early to hit Western Union in person, but for the next half of the day I’d be confined to the hostel and it felt like a prison. I couldn’t leave since I was waiting on calls. I couldn’t leave since I had no money for water or food. The hostel, knowing my dilemma, agreed to let me pay after everything was sorted out which was a breath of fresh air.
THINGS ARE LOOKING UP (ish) //
A few more back and forth calls to my bank and I was all set to receive a card rushed to me, albeit a temporary one that wouldn’t allow for cash withdraw, but at least I could swipe it where the take card in Thailand. Which isn’t any places except for the western restaurants or high-end joints. But to get this card, the bank had to confirm with the card company, the card company confirmed with me, then had to request permission from the bank, and then confirm with me before sending one out. Run around in circles right? And when they offered to Western Union an emergency bank withdraw to me I jumped at the opportunity. And that involved repeating the same process.
Around 7pm my friend had woken in California and hit Western Union and by the grace of his awesomeness I was able to get $100 in my pocket to survive on. And to eat. First thing I did? I went to the grocery store and bought 6 containers (1kg) of hummus. It was an amazing overdose.
As I sat slumped in my chickpea coma I waited for the confirmation that the card and western union was being sent. But no call. Eventually I went to sleep after another long day, but at least I had a full belly this time. In the morning, I received a wake up call by the bank to do the same run around confirmation and transfer of calls again, but the good new was that they were sending a card next day mail, and that my emergency bank withdraw was waiting for me at Western Union!
I rushed over to Western Union and waited anxiously while they processed the withdraw. I prayed to whatever gods that weren’t playing games with me to let it work, and next thing I knew I had money. I had access to my funds for the first time in almost 4 days. I could buy water and food and I could leave the hostel. I could do things besides just sit and wait for calls and worry. It was a glorious and refreshing feeling.
In all honesty, I as surprised that my bank and a credit card company, however long it took, helped me through the process that much. Any time you have to deal with a bank while abroad is usually a crap experience, but even through my freak outs and occasional panicky rudeness, they helped. The next day I received the bank card as they said, and in it a greeting card that reassured me that wherever I go, they’d have my back.
Derek, who I had been in Cambodia with a week before, had an issue with his bank card and his company weren’t nearly as helpful, and charged him $90 to rush it to him and that took 9 days. I was lucky to have a bank that wanted to help me through that crazy experience.
So, thank you to the Common Wealth Bank staff and MasterCard team who had my back and helped. And appreciation for Saphaipae Hostel in Bangkok for their hospitality and understanding.
THE REAL HEROES //
My friends are the best anyone could ever have, and I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve them (and I don’t think I do) but my friends and family are the real heroes of this story and the ones who kept me sane through the ordeal. At the time of this debacle, I felt more alone and isolated than I have in years. All of these scenarios popped into my head about sleeping on the streets of Bangkok, or even just the madness that was consuming my mind and thoughts of quitting traveling because of the occasional bullshit like this, they brought me back from that.
Just from a simple rant about the ATM and my bank and I had people who I’ve met all over the world, and some I haven’t met, trying to help me in any way they could. It was profound to realize that I am never alone even though I’m quote the loner.
When I travel, I write a lot about the good and the bad side on this blog, and I try to share an honest account. But when it comes to keeping in touch with my friends while traveling, I’m utter shit at it. I’m terrible at responding to messages, I rarely send out emails, and I have a stack of postcards I’ve written but haven’t sent. From 2 years ago. But no matter what, they had my back in any way they could, and I’m blessed to have such amazing and caring people in my life.
So a BIG thank you to my friends and family for being there.
QUIT TRAVELING? NAH //
There are times like this one that test the extreme limits of your patience, and moments where you get frustrated at things like how difficult doing something seemingly simple in a foreign country can be. But taking the easy route is less rewarding. it may be less difficult, but that is why we travel, to challenge ourselves, to get through experience like this and tell this as a funny story over beers. It doesn’t change that it royally sucks when it happens, but this is a part of the journey. I’d rather take the winding and dangerous and long scenic route through life than the straight unending and never changing highway. But analogies aside I’m done with long buses abroad dammit. Until the next one that it. Or unless they give me a hello kitty blanket again.
THE BIGGEST LESSON //
Challenges are lessons, sometimes ones that make you want to give the Universe a middle finger, but a lesson nonetheless. And this one was a big lesson. Besides the obvious bits and bobs like having a backup stash of cash, to getting a secondary travel card from my bank (which they informed me about after this) there are more personal lessons to be had. One lesson is that I’ve traveled solo for years now trying to create myself and occasionally disappear for long periods of time and even still, I can count on my friends to be there for me. That I’m never alone. And I need to put more effort into staying in touch. Not because friends and family expect it, but they deserve it.
To commemorate another obstacle on the road conquered, or to feed another one of my addictions (tattoos) I went and got some ink. Travel is in my blood, there is no doubt. It’s not something I can just stop doing and stop thinking about. And even in these trying times where I think about quitting it all, after the bad mojo passes, I usually have a laugh about it. This tattoo is by @SmileeBuff on Instagram who is a friend of one of the hostel staff. It was the perfect way represent the growth, with one half being the globe, the other being the compass, and the middle an hour-glass.
ON TO THE NEXT ADVENTURE //
Now that is out of the way, I get to look forward to my travel plans for the rest of 2016, and that is flying to Croatia and boarding a sailboat as a photographer for the next 4 months. Yes, I’ll be spending June until October sailing around Croatia and Greece aboard MedSailors yachts doing my dream job, and I’m excited to share that with you all. I feel like since this is such a great opportunity, the Universe had to test me a little before.
QUOTES FOR THE TOUBLE //
“A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles.” – Tim Cahill
“Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and enjoy the journey.” – Babs Hoffman
“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” – Neale Donald Walsch
“Travel is a challenge of ones self, to test the limits of your patience and your fortitude. Not just the physical, but mental and emotional. A gauntlet you must pass through to know that you can live outside the lines. It is a rite, to realize the profound understanding of your own being and what you are capable of. To believe in one’s self, which cannot happen by taking the easy road. You must climb a mountain and sweat and burn and cramp to get to the peak. But once you’re there, you are one of the few people to enjoy the view from above. And you’ll have the divine knowledge that next time you shouldn’t wear shorts that chaff.” – Ryan Brown
HOW TO BE PREPARED/ HOW TO REACT //
— Have a secret cash stash for emergencies.
— Have a back up credit card or travel card.
— Store money in PayPal and pay a friend to Western Union cash if needed.
— Stay calm (I know, that’s hard) and be proactive.
— Reach out to friends and family for assistance (suck it up).
— Contact your bank or card company via Twitter and Facebook, it’s faster.
— Have patience, it will take a while. Being an ass won’t speed things up.
— Take a deep breath, know it isn’t the end of the world.
— When you get the money or card, buy a homeless person a meal. That could be you.
— Buy a kilo of hummus after the ordeal. Okay that one was for me.