Have you ever felt like the world was chasing you down a dark alley, slamming you against the wall, wrapping it’s burning hot fingers around your throat, and wringing the last tendrils of life out of your very soul? Have you ever felt like that while thousands of miles away from home? Consider yourself lucky.
It was Spring of 2008. Things started normally. I was on a week long trip to England with the William Carey Honor Scholars, and the first day had been exhausting but fun. The hotel was a welcome site after walking around London and sitting through a service at Westminister Abby. I slept like a baby on feather soft mattresses.
Right after breakfast, I ran to the ATM. I pulled out enough money to last me a few days. I had learned on a ill-fated trip to Six Flags over Texas not to pull out all the money I would need in case my very ADHD mind wandered with my purse still on the counter.
Over the next few days, we went to explore the Tower of London, various palaces, and lots of museums. When we were finally leaving London, I ran back to the ATM to withdraw some money before heading into the country. The machine wouldn’t accept my card. I began to feel uneasy. I ran back to the hotel to get a calling card to call my bank. The time difference meant the bank wasn’t opened. I was trying not to panic as I called to tell my dad to check as soon as the bank was open.
By the time I was done, I had missed breakfast and the bus was loading. I kept pushing down this feeling of panic as we pulled out. I was so antsy that day that I knocked a nearly 300-year-old Bible off the pedestal while taking a picture at a historic church. The Bible was fine, but my face was the shade of a tomato for about three hours.
That night we were staying at Bosworth Hall, an historic building used as a field hospital during both world wars and was also featured in 28 Days Later. I tried to get excited. I just couldn’t shake the feeling that had been gnawing at me all day.
I ran to the front desk to ask if I could use my calling card. I couldn’t. I had enough cash on me for a ten minute call. I paid and dialled my bank. After being put on hold twice, I finally got to speak to someone. I had three minutes left on the call when I heard, “There is no money in your account.”
I had them double check and then hung up the phone. I managed to get down the hall and into a corner before I cracked. I sobbed and sobbed and sobbed and sobbed. My ATM card was attached to my savings account. I had just lost several thousand dollars. I had no cash left. I had no way to call my family. I was devastated.
Don’t worry. This story has a happy ending. Right at that time, Dr. Milton Wheeler came around the corner and saw me crying. He quickly got me to calm down. With one of his famous smiles and cheer-up pats on the back, he handed me a hundred dollars worth of pounds. That night at dinner, one of his friends lent me her cellphone to call my parents.
The bank eventually decided someone must have used a scanning device on the ATM to get my information. I was refunded the money after a few weeks, and I paid back Dr. Wheeler.
It was honestly one of the scariest moments in my life. I was fortunate to have friends around me that time. When I had a similar situation in Hong Kong, I thought I was on my own.
I hope you all have safe travels. Pay attention to the people around you and the machines when you use your ATM cards. If the unthinkable happens, then just stay calm and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Western Union is international and go on a cheap travel diet if all else fails.
Oh and pay attention where you leave your camera. Hope the Londoner with mine enjoyed it.
Do you have a travel horror story?
What has been one of the scariest moments in your life?