Let me tell you a story about money.
I have been traveling for more than two months now. Once upon a time, that meant carrying gobs of cash, or traveler’s checks (or cheques, if you’re into Ye Olde English), hoping–praying–to find places that accept these papers for monetary value, or change them into local currency.
The digital age has changed the travel math. I have accomplished the majority of this trip with two small pieces of plastic; a credit card from Capital One, and a debit card from Charles Schwab. They probably don’t need the free advertising I’m giving them, but whatever.
What’s so important about those two cards? No foreign transaction fees. Simply put, they don’t take more of my money just because I’m spending it in another country.
(Pro tip: this is an especially key point with debit cards in South America. ATMs tend to have low limits on how much money can be withdrawn at once, while charging steep transaction fees. Schwab refunds all fees.)
So I’ve been charging as much as possible, and withdrawing cash when I need it, and this whole operation was running smoothly. Until last week, when my debit card stopped working.
Banks do this sometimes if not notified of travel plans. I, of course, had told them about my trip back in July. That notice had expired; the only way to trigger a new one was to call. I was in San Pedro de Atacama, without a phone or a reliable internet connection to make a Skype call.
I had 5,000 Chilean pesos–less than $8–left from my first visit to Chile. Sure, I had some Argentine pesos leftover, and some dollars in a “break in case of emergency” fund. But San Pedro is a tourist town, and the local exchange rate for foreign currency is among the worst in Chile.
Worrying about money–or lack thereof–is a stressful experience. But I survived.
I reached the beachfront city of Iquique. The name comes from the Aymara–the indigenous people of the Andes and the altiplano. It means “rest and tranquility.” And that’s why I came here–to recharge my cells before the next leg of the journey.
With a strong internet connection, I was able to sort out the situation with my bank. With my money issues put to rest, I am able to relax my mind. That’s what the beach is for, isn’t it?