Last week, Joel published a feature article about credit cards and international travel titled “Hong Kong Phooey”, a subject that I have been writing about this summer. Joel concluded his international travel blog post review of the “Hong Kong Phooey” feature article by asking, “Do YOU have any humorous stories or words of advice for those traveling with a credit card, cash, or other type of payment?”
Yes, I Do Have An Interesting Story
It was the summer of 2005, and I was getting married. For over a year, my wife and I had been simultaneously planning a big wedding in Denver, and a subsequent honeymoon in Brazil. With the help of a travel agent, I constructed a fantastic three week trip including such sites as Rio De Janeiro, Iguazu Falls, and the Amazon jungle.
The wedding went without any major hitches, and two days later we were off to Brazil. On one of our first nights there, we decided to splurge on a traditional Brazilian steakhouse. Being on our honeymoon, we naturally went to the finest one in town.
If you have been to a Brazilian steakhouse, or churrascaria, you know that the food is served table side, and it is priced all you can eat. The idea is to sample as many entrees as possible, and we did. We knew the prices ahead of time, and we had taken enough cash to cover the meal, leaving a larger amount and most of our credit cards in our hotel for safekeeping. This strategy worked well for me when I was a student traveling internationally.
The meal was incredible, and we even left enough room to try the desert cart that was brought to our table. Again, not wanting to miss out on any aspects of Brazilian cuisine, we tried to sample as many deserts as our appetite would permit. Everything is going great, until we receive the bill. Imagine our surprise when we realized that the deserts were not included part of the fixed price for the rest of the meal, a fact I am sure must have been clearly explained to us in Portuguese. It turns out that the deserts were quite pricey, nearly doubling the tab! No problem, I thought, that is why we brought a credit card with us.
Now perhaps I had not used that particular credit card on our trip at that point, but that was the moment our bank decided to suspect that our card had been stolen and was being fraudulently used all over Brazil. In the madness surrounding our wedding preparations, I had neglected the first rule of international travel with a credit card; Always call your bank and tell them where and when you are planning to travel. Rule number two might as well be to always carry more than one credit card, in case one of your banks didn’t get that memo. Make sure you at least have an Visa credit card or a MasterCard as they are accepted more internationally.
In a panic, my new wife and I dug through our wallets, eventually finding a hundred dollar bill we had tucked away for just such an emergency. Fortunately, the restaurant was glad to accept American Dollars rather than employ us as dishwashers for the evening. They were even kind enough to give us change in Brazilian currency so that we could pay for a taxi back to our hotel.
Since that time, I have learned so much about credit cards and international travel that I am embarrassed that I was ever foolish enough to be put in such a desperate position. Earlier this month, my wife and I had a second chance to visit Brazil. This time we made sure to bring multiple credit cards and to inform out banks ahead of time of our plans.
On the last evening of our trip, we again decided to splurge on a traditional Brazilian steakhouse. To our delight, the restaurant that was recommended to us was a new location of the same steakhouse that we had visited on our honeymoon. Upon realizing this, our thoughts immediately returned our memorable evening, laughing at the naivete of the young newlyweds who dined there five years earlier.
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