Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Lessons learned from a lost wallet

Losing a wallet or purse can be stressful enough. But when it happens on vacation, particularly when outside of one’s home country, the stress can go absolutely off the charts. Recently, I was party to just such an event, and I thought it would be beneficial to share some of the lessons learned.

To provide a bit of background, my son’s wallet was pickpocketed while he was at a nightclub in Spain. He reported the incident to the club management, which promised to look for his wallet in case the thief was looking to quickly grab the currency and ditch the credit and debit cards. He then headed back to his Airbnb accommodations and the Wi-Fi that allowed him to touch base with his banks.

© anyaberkut, Fotolia
He quickly learned that the crook had, in fact, used one of his cards for a €2 charge. Because his cards had been compromised, they would be cancelled and new ones reissued. Trouble is, being in Spain, getting replacement cards to him quickly would be nearly impossible.

Turning to the “friends and family plan,” he reached out to his brother, me, and some others to request our help, which he knew we would gladly provide. However, being as cautious as I am, I wanted to actually speak to him on the phone, FaceTime or Skype to be sure it was him and not someone who had grabbed his phone and sent texts to people in his address book to ask for money.

Using those communications services in Europe, however, was either impossible or prohibitively expensive, so we used text messages and the messaging feature on Facebook.

I’d been on the receiving end of emails purporting to be from a “friend” who was “in trouble,” and there was always something I could identify that made me certain it was not from the person who supposedly sent the message. This time, though, the texts all had my son’s “voice” and I was 99 percent sure it was him. However, I wanted that last little bit of reassurance.

Two lessons come immediately to mind.

The Communications Lesson: If you’re on the “asking” end, include some item of information no one else would know. In this case, the brands of scotch he and his brother had given me for my recent birthday would have been such an item. Ideally, agree upon some code word or phrase before the trip. That way, even absent personal face or voice contact, the people who are being asked for help will have some reassurance that the request is legit.

The Travel Lesson is best summed up by the maxim, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.”

When I travel abroad, I carry at least two different credit cards issued by different banks. I carry the card or cards from one bank in my wallet and those from the other bank in the money belt I wear. If one is lost or stolen, I would not find myself completely without resources.

I also learned a third lesson: Western Union ROCKS!

I first went to my bank, a major national institution which has always been helpful to me. They were willing to do so again, but funds wired from one bank to another must be directed to an established account. As a tourist, my son had no such account. Had he been studying abroad, he might have.

My bank recommended what was already going to be my next stop: Western Union. A quick trip to the Western Union counter at my nearby grocery and money was half way around the world in minutes. My son’s stress level dropped, both our sanities were (more or less) restored, and he could continue his trip – which will include attending a friend’s wedding – rather than having to cut things short and return home.

So all’s well that ends well. He is not liable for any fraudulent charges, the cards will eventually be replaced, and the only actual loss were the euros in the wallet. Oh, and probably at least one night of lost sleep. On both our parts.

Visit my main page at TheTravelPro.us for more news, reviews, and personal observations on the world of upmarket travel.

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