Yaaarrr me ‘arties!
‘Twas sailing me schooner into Shanghai Harbour not three winters past, and shiver me timbers those treacherous Chinese merchants would accept none of me recently acquired doubloons and pieces of eight! Yarrrr.
No worries me maties; I always ‘ave stuck in me ‘ead me a precious gold earring. ‘Twas supposed to pay for me burial should me sodden remains wash up upon a heathen shore, but instead it bought me inn, ale and a fine young lassie.
The lame twenty-first century equivalent of this occurred a few years back. I had a 24-hour stopover in Shanghai. After waiting four flipping hours in line at immigration for one of those transit visas, I found that none of the ATMs in the airport would accept foreign cards. All the money changers were closed.
There was supposed to be a free shuttle bus to the hotel but it never arrived so I got another one that could take me with a little R&B that I had left in my wallet from my last, more pleasant visit (they were pretending to be nice for the Expo back then).
At the hotel they said it was the wrong bus and I’d got ripped off, I should have called. At the airport the official helping tourists had given me the wrong information (that the bus came every hour), left me waiting then presumably got a kickback from the dodgy bus.
Still, it was one of those Third World scams where I lost about five bucks while China lost a chance to be extolled to the heavens on the most trafficked blog in Christendom.
I gave them my card and it was declined. I asked for the reason and they said they didn’t know. That’s odd – I’ve been on a register before and the machine gives you an error code. We tried it again but it was no good.
Something like this had happened to me once before, in less inconvenient circumstances. The bank had frozen my card because of a suspicious transaction. It was indeed an attempted theft, but it left we without access to my funds for a couple of days until I sorted it out. I had other money to bide me over.
In Shanghai I had no R&B and no other card.
Luckily I had a stash of USD and it was a decent hotel (far better than I usually stay in) so they were able to take that.
Six hours after landing I finally got to my room. I still couldn’t sleep because I had to sort out the card situation – I was flying out the next day on a four-week trip and had no source of funds, my USD having been largely spent.
I tried to find a 24-hour help line somewhere but no good.
Out of curiousity I tried out the card by making a small online donation to a charity. It went through fine.
Long story short, it was just a connection error. The card was okay after that.
I filed away in my mind the necessity of getting another card at some point, but I put it off. Ye lazy bilge rat!
Fast forward 18 months and I was back in Asia, now stranded by Covid madness. My card was due to expire soon. I could not get the new one mailed to me because of the lack of flights.
I withdrew a bunch of cash from an ATM to bide me over for a few months (not a good idea in the Third World) and also had a wad of USD leftover from my savings (also not a good idea).
Once again the gods smiled upon me. UPS were able to get me the new card two months after the old one expired.
In Poor Man’s Guide to Financial Freedom I recommend that a person with no consumer debt ought to have 6-12 months’ worth of living expenses saved as an emergency fund. Luckily I had that plus plenty extra, but this lockdown nonsense had taught me valuable lessons that will be included in the next edition.
This is my financial advice for pirates – people who are often travelling, digital nomads, overseas workers and the like who need unconventional measures like the pirate’s gold earring to ensure they are never left hawking their arse along some gloomy pier:
- Have more than one card. It could be an additional debit card or, if you can use them responsibly, credit cards.
- Carry sufficient cash to bide you over in an emergency. In addition to the local currency, have some USD, EUR or JPY on hand just in case.
- Consider having a high-value item with you such as gold, a watch or a piece of jewelry to sell or pawn if you ever get caught short. Keep it out of sight – you can’t wear it like a pirate does because you don’t have a cutlass and brace of pistols like they do.
- If you’re in an airport without access local currency and need to buy a tradeable item for the taxi, big-name blended whisky is accepted as currency across the Third World. Red Label is most recognised.
- Have a safe place to keep your stuff. How much safety you can arrange depends on your circumstances. Hotel safe > hardshell suitcase with lock > soft suitcase with lock > just locking it in your room > leaving it on the kitchen table of your youth hostel.
- If you need to travel with valuables on you, spend extra for a reliable shuttle bus etc. As for where to put it, neck wallet > money belt > front pocket with your hand over it > back pocket.
- Do not tell everyone how awesome it is that you are now following the SovietMen principles of pirate finance and have $5,000 stashed in your room, isn’t that cool?
- In sketchy countries, dress down and never flash cash. The modern pirate seeks to look like a penniless Kiwi backpacker who’s trying to bum a ciggie.
- You need friends and/or family somewhere who can help you out in an emergency. No man is an island.
- [Edit: autistically enforced two-factor authentication is making international travel perilous. (a) Check that your phone can receive a verification code overseas and (b) chuck some money on PayPal or similar in case your cards fail you. That can sometimes be enough to book an airline ticket.]
These are financial backstops for pirates – travellers who may need liquidity and access to funds in all sorts of bizarre and unpredictable situations.
If you’re a settled, normal person, there’s much more you can do to reduce the fragility of your finances should odd things begin to happen. There’s no point writing a post about it because this booklet covers the topic pretty well. Don’t get sucked into all their gold spruiking on other pages, though.
Any other suggestions from me ‘arties and land lubbers out there?