Our First Travel Mistake

We’ve been on the road for 5 months in total but we’ve been backpacking with no return date for just over 3 months.

Until last week we have been pretty damn proud of our travelling efforts. We haven’t been mugged, we haven’t had food poisoning and we have so far avoided the fuselages of suicidal pilots. It’s actually been pretty uneventful.

Until we arrived in Kuala Lumpur.

Looking back I know exactly where we went wrong. We got lulled into a false sense of security in Thailand where everything is relatively easy and we dropped the ball.

We basically broke the number 1 rule of travel and it’s nobodies fault but ours. Which makes it even harder to stomach.

So, what did we do wrong exactly?

Well, we arrived in Kuala Lumpur last week feeling really happy to be back on solid ground. We flew just a couple of days after the German Wings tragedy and were feeling very jittery when boarding, especially due to the lackadaisical security at Surat Thani Airport where passengers were being allowed to keep bottles of liquid and the security guard was too busy texting to actually check bags.

We were really happy to be in a new country and to see such a cool airport, even the squat toilets and bum gun in the ladies couldn’t shake my mood.

Until we went to withdraw cash from the ATM.

We had just flown from Khanom, a tiny beach town where there are no currency conversion bureaus to be found, even at the airport.

This didn’t really faze us though. We just figured we would withdraw our Malaysian Ringgits from an ATM when we arrived in Kuala Lumpur. Holiday makers may arrive at their destination with a wad of foreign currency but long-term travellers don’t tend to worry so much, there’s always a way to get cash abroad and we tend to be more relaxed about such things.

But when we rocked up at the ATM in arrivals, it was out of operation.


We headed straight to a currency conversion bureau to see if we could exchange our money using our credit card but were told that we needed to give them cash – something we had very little of.

At this point we were frustrated but not overly concerned. We just went on the hunt for another ATM and were relieved to find that there were loads scattered throughout arrivals.


But when we tried 5 of our bank cards on 6 different ATM’s and every single one of them rejected our cards, we seriously began to panic.

We have multiples cards from 4 different banks to avoid being without money abroad should any of our banks have a problem. We’ve notified all of them that we are going to be in Malaysia from today. We are solvent. Why the hell can’t we access our money?

We have no local currency and we have no idea what to do. Are we stuck at the airport? Do we have to try and book a flight home? Why are we even travelling? We are not cut out for this.

It’s obvious that we are not going to be able to withdraw cash and so our only option is to try to convert what little cash we do have at one of the currency bureaus but we’re not even sure we have the minimum amount on us.

A quick, panicked, pooling of funds with clothing being flung all over the place while I furiously try to locate the cash stash I keep hidden in my bag (we do follow some travel rules!) results in:

  • 180 Thai Baht (about £3)
  • 15 US Dollars
  • 40 English Pounds

I’ve never been happier to see the Queen of England in my life.

With more luck than we deserve at this point, we just about meet the minimum currency requirement and are allowed to exchange the £40 for 200 MYR which is enough to get us to our hotel (which is prepaid) where we have WiFi and can try to figure out what the hell is up with our funds.

We are both kicking ourselves for arriving in a new country with so little cash. Why didn’t we withdraw a load of cash in Khanom to convert when we arrived in KL? Because we got too comfortable I suppose. Well now we’re pretty fucking uncomfortable.

At hotel check in there is a big sign above the reception desk stating that a cash deposit must be paid upon arrival to cover any damage to the room. Glen and I look nervously at one and other wondering if we’re even going to be able to get into our room. We barely have enough cash to get us back to the airport!

Luckily no cash is required and we are given our room key hurrah! Whatever happens we have a bed for the night with free breakfast in the morning. Thank god we decided to stay in a hotel this time. Normally it’s an apartment where we’d need to find cash for food which we just don’t have.

They say bad luck comes in threes and problem 2 was just about to slap us upside the head.

The WiFi doesn’t work.

Is this day for real? Who have we pissed off?

After three calls down to reception I finally persuade the receptionist to reset the router and not long after we have a shaky internet connection which is painfully slow, but is better than nothing.

We log into our internet banking accounts and see that all is fine and so decide that the next step is to call the bank.

This is where I want to declare my undying love for Skype. Using money in our PayPal account we were able to add some credit to Skype to make a call to our bank back home in England. Whilst I was fully prepared for this to drain my PayPal account, the 20 minute call from Malaysia to the UK actually cost just 25p!

During the call I lose connection twice and have to redial but I finally get to talk to the bank who confirm that there is absolutely nothing wrong with my account. In fact, they can’t even see that I have tried to access funds today at all. They recommend trying another branch of ATM’s and I agree to do so before promising to call back and go nuts if he’s fobbed me off.

There is (of course) a 7 Eleven near our hotel and so we head there in search of an ATM and do a little happy dance when we find one. Nervously inserting our card and entering our pin we wait to see whether our problems are over…

“Thank you for your withdrawal. Please collect your cash from below”

Sweet baby Jesus, Joseph and bloody Mary too – we have cash!! Hurrah!! 

It turns out that there was some internet connectivity issues at KL airport (not surprising, the WiFi here is horrendous) and this is why our cards were being declined. Not our fault, but arriving unprepared was and it has taught us a hugely valuable lesson. We’ll never travel without ample cash again – our fear of it being stolen is now far outweighed by our fear of having no money.

Oh, and seeing as bad luck really does come in threes – we arrived back to our hotel room jubilantly to discover that the safe holding everything we own in the world is broken and cannot be opened for love nor money.

What a day.

Have you made any stupid travel mistakes like us? How did you overcome them? We’d like to be prepared for the next time we do something stupid! 

Comments 6

  1. Ryan Biddulph 5th April 2015
    • Claire Michael 5th April 2015
  2. Toccara 5th April 2015
    • Claire Michael 6th April 2015
  3. Greg 9th April 2015
    • Claire Michael 9th April 2015

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