A Financial Disaster in Southeast Asia

I stared down at the white slip of paper in front of me and gulped. $2,200? How could I pay for this? Do hospitals in Thailand take credit cards? What would happen if I didn’t have the money to pay for it?

I’d spent the last week in the hospital after an emergency appendix situation, and I was finally recovered enough to start dealing with the administrative aspects of being hospitalized in a foreign country. Paperwork, phone calls, meetings with the hospital’s finance department, and bills began to fill my days and nights, and I admittedly started to get a little overwhelmed.

Luckily, after speaking with the hospital’s billing department, I was able to pay for my hospital bills with a mixture of cash and credit card, and I got discharged the following day. Thankfully I bought travel insurance before I left for my trip and they helped me arrange and pay for a hotel stay, so I made my way to a hotel in Chiang Mai near the famous night market. I settled in to my abode for the next few weeks and all was well.

Quickly realizing I now had less than $20 in cash, I hobbled my way to the nearest ATM with my aunt, who had flown in from the Philippines to help me out. Stepping up to the ATM, I inserted my debit card into the machine and performed my transaction as usual, took the money, and went on my way. Hours later, however, I checked my wallet and realized that my card was missing.

In a panic, I tore apart my hotel room and went back to the ATM, but the card was nowhere in sight. I asked the hotel reception, retraced my steps around the street, and even churned through the trash in my room to try and find it. Clothes strewn about the room, I called my bank and cancelled my card. Though this situation wasn’t ideal, I still had some cash and two credit cards to tide me over until I could manage to get a new card. That would be enough to last me the next few weeks until my boyfriend arrived from the US, right?

Again, all was going smoothly and I was recovering normally. I started to be able to walk again with the help of my aunt, and I was well on my way to filling out my medical claim forms to submit to my insurance provider for reimbursements. I changed hotels to a more youth-friendly place and was once again flying solo after my aunt returned to the Philippines.

A few days later, as I was sitting in my new hotel room, I checked my credit card statement to realize that a few purchases had been placed on my card back in Houston. Gasoline, a few fishing rods from Bass Pro Shops, and some retail buys totaling over $1,000 riddled my statement. I was furious, but also a little bit concerned, given that I now had only one credit card and the rest of my cash to last me. What if I had another emergency situation? What if my last and only credit card got stolen or lost? In the past few weeks I’d really learned to expect the unexpected while traveling, and financially this was no exception.

In my moment of panic there was still some light. I was cleared to travel and I booked a flight to my next destination, Vietnam. My medical and hotel expenses were submitted and approved by my insurance provider. I was eager to get back on the road and start traveling again, even if I was now reduced to a rolling suitcase in lieu of a backpack.

The day finally came when I was able to take off again. I packed up my room and went to check out of my hotel, grinning with excitement.

“We only accept cash here,” the receptionist said, “the credit card system is not working.”

What?! I thought to myself. With now only a few hundred dollars of cash at my disposal and some Thai baht, I was extremely concerned about having enough money to finish off my trip. Taxis to and from the airport, food, lodging, and activities ate up a good amount of money each day, and I still had over two weeks before my boyfriend would meet me in Saigon with my new debit card.

So what did I do? I spent a good chunk of time budgeting the next two weeks, each day being very meticulous about expenses, cutting them down wherever possible. I did a lot of research about activities and cut out partying and unnecessary snacking until I arrived in Saigon. I cut out credit card expenses entirely and kept my last card on my person at all times to avoid it getting lost, stolen, or misplaced.

And guess what? I made it, with over $100 to spare. In just a few days, I went from being one credit card and a few hundred dollars away from being completely destitute in a foreign country to being back on track with my trip’s itinerary. To top it all off, I learned so much about budgeting and keeping track of my finances, a skill I’ve been able to use on my travels and life at home ever since.

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