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Don’t Let a Stolen Wallet Ruin Your Trip

Earlier in the week, I wrote about how a silly mistake — leaving my cabin door unlocked on a sailboat at port — led to my wallet being stolen. Like most regular travelers, I had a backup plan for the event that I was ever robbed while abroad…but it seemed like, for that week in Croatia, everything was conspiring against me having any funding at all.

Parasailing

Parasailing: something I would have done had I had the money.

I’ve written about the issues I had with contacting anyone outside the country to organise cash transfers; this is the rest of the story and tips on how you can avoid falling into the same traps that I did.

  • I didn’t test my backup funding before I needed it. I always travel with a backup wallet, which is squirreled away somewhere less likely to be targeted than my purse. In it, I usually carry a bank card, any credit cards not deemed completely necessary, and a spare driver’s license. Unfortunately, I’d forgotten my spare bank card in Australia, but I still had a Mastercard and an AmEx. I figured the AmEx would be mostly useless, but that I’d be able to get cash advances and pay for anything necessary with the Mastercard.

    This definitely wasn’t the case. I tried to withdraw cash only to be told it was an invalid transaction. Confused, I tried to make yet another phone call to my card provider…only to find out that they were only open from 8.30am-6pm Australian time, which equated to 12.30am-9am Croatian time. Not exactly the ideal time for going to cafes and using free wifi.

    It was only when I got to Dubrovnik and tried to pay for a meal that I found out my MasterCard had been completely blocked. I hadn’t notified them that I’d be abroad, since it wasn’t a card I had planned to use at all, so they cut me off after my first attempted transaction.

    Lunch at the Taj Mahal

    The lunch I nearly couldn’t pay for at the Taj Mahal.

    Thank God the restaurant took AmEx, because, having ensured that I could pay with a credit card, I’d eaten a meal that I could not pay for with cash. Who knows what would have happened if I then informed them that I couldn’t actually pay at all!

    Lesson learned: Carry a spare bank card that allows free cash withdrawals (instead of cash advances that begin accruing interest immediately).Make sure you tell ALL of your card companies that you’ll be abroad, no matter whether you plan on using the card or not. Then, when you find that it’s your only way to access money, you won’t get cut off.

  • Not enough backup cash. I’d stashed £50 in my wallet just in case — but that was nowhere near enough to cover essential expenses, even when most meals and nearly all accommodation was covered through my photography gig. It was easy enough to get it exchanged since the Croatian coast very much caters to tourists, but it just wasn’t enough.

    Lesson learned: This is a tough one. I certainly don’t want to advocate carrying a lot of cash around, and if you have a bank card you know you can rely on it’s much less of an issue. However, I would have liked to have at least £100 to cover phone bills, food, etc or even a prepaid card that I could load money onto online and then withdraw. I’m suddenly more excited about Qantas providing me with their new frequent flyer card that does just that.

  • Never being able to be in any place for very long. I’ve mentioned some of the problems of dealing with this situation on a ship, like not having fixed phone lines or wifi. But when you’re constantly moving without a specific address, it’s nearly impossible to get new credit cards sent to you. When you don’t know much about the towns you’re heading to (and you don’t have internet access to do research), it’s difficult to arrange a Western Union transfer in advance as well.

    One of many ports in Croatia.

    Makarska, one of the many ports in Croatia that I stopped in.

    However, my biggest issue with being on a ship was not being able to officially report the wallet stolen in Split until 6 days later. Sail Croatia had ensured it was reported on the day it went missing — just on the very off chance that someone turned it in — but I needed to get an official report, which they would not do over the phone.

    I didn’t get a happy reception when I went to the police station. When I said I needed to report my wallet missing, the first thing I was told was that I needed to go to the local corner store — “the place where you can buy cigarettes and things” — and get 40kn (roughly $8) worth of “taksenih haraka,” which were essentially stamps to put on the official request for a report. Luckily I’d been able to borrow cash by then…because how, exactly, is someone who just had their wallet stolen supposed to have 40kn on them?!

    Once I’d located and purchased the stamps, I came back to the station and was eventually shuttled into an office. There, I faced a police officer who was not happy that I’d waited for 6 days to report my wallet missing. When I told him that I was the official photographer on a ship and couldn’t leave, he asked if I was working and therefore not a tourist after all.

    Taksenih Maraka

    The only snap I got of the taksenih maraka before handing them over at the police station.

    By this point, I was kicking myself because I was pretty certain that speaking before I completely thought it through was going to get me in serious trouble with the police — even though I was there as the victim of a crime! Luckily, I managed to convince him that no money had been exchanged (completely true) because I had simply taken photos in exchange a discounted trip…but by then he had moved on to the fact that I was Australian.

    It would seem that Australians don’t have a good name in Croatia. I know there’s a lot of Aussies in Croatia, and that a lot of them are there to drink and party the nights away on various Croatian beaches. What I didn’t know was that this has led the police to believe that Aussies just get drunk, lose their things while intoxicated, and then report them stolen to the police so they can get money back on their travel insurance.

    The cop I spoke to felt like a lot of them are just wasting his time because he has no chance of hunting down the robber when they report things so long after the date of the “crime.” However, he did finally say that he didn’t think I was a liar. How very nice of him not to include me in a national stereotype.

    Split

    Split, where I reported my wallet stolen.

    Lesson learned: If at all possible, report anything that’s stolen from you straight away. Obviously it helps if the police station knows who you are on the (very) off chance that your belongings are returned, but it also causes less bureaucratic hassle.

    You never know when a police report will come in handy either. In my case, the policeman’s stereotype about Aussies didn’t apply — since I left my door unlocked and willingly admitted this, it’s on the report and therefore means I’m not covered at all. It’s still good to know I have it just in case I need to prove it in the future (for instance, if fraudulent transactions appeared on my credit cards).

  • Cash only society. Like Japan, Croatia seemed to be a society that revolves around cash. Nowhere have I ever been told in so many restaurants and hostels that credit cards were not accepted. Obviously this caused me a lot more problems than I would have had in, say, Sweden, where I paid for absolutely everything on card. No lessons here; it’s just something that’s good to know.

    Cash

    This cash may not be useful in Croatia (although they may switch to the Euro in the next few years), but it’s good to know that you’ll need access to a lot of cash while there.

  • Not asking for help quickly enough. One of the things that caused me the most grief was my own fault. I couldn’t believe that I wouldn’t be able to get through to my banks. As a result, I put off asking for help from other people — particularly, from my family and from other people on the boat. Had I thought to ask someone much earlier if I could just borrow some cash (and transfer the money between Aussie bank accounts) I would have avoided a lot of frustration.

    Lessons learned: People are willing to help you. The people on my boat came through for me and got me enough cash to cover what I thought the rest of the trip would cost. The guide on my Game of Thrones tour in Dubrovnik quietly asked me at the end of the tour if I’d be ok and when the last time I ate was. When I told her it was lunchtime the day before, she slipped me 100kn, asked me to please enjoy her city, and told me that I could buy her a beer if we ever met again. A random guy on the walls chatted to me while I was drinking a cold drink (purchased with the tour guide’s money) and told me that I could borrow whatever I wanted from him and I could pay him back when I go to Calgary at the end of the month. My hostel owner offered to give me my money back and get me to pay him via PayPal. All you have to do is ask.

Yes, it was a difficult situation, and it marred what would have otherwise been a near-perfect trip. Knowing even a few of these roadblocks and how to get around them would have made a world of difference.

Dubrovnik from Fort Lovrijenac

So many good memories of Dubrovnik, both of the people and the gorgeous scenery.

That said, it wasn’t the end of the world. I still had a fantastic time in Croatia and I would happily go back and spend a few more weeks on a boat there. I think that’s the most important lesson of all in this post: don’t let a thief ruin your trip. You still have your passport, you’re still in a foreign country waiting to be explored, and following at least a few of these tips will guarantee that you have some funding to get by until you get home.

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8 Responses to Don’t Let a Stolen Wallet Ruin Your Trip

  1. Gayla July 22, 2013 at 7:12 pm Reply

    Great tips here, Kristin. I would have never thought to consider paying with a PayPal account. We usually use bank ATM cards, pay cash for most everything, and keep credit cards for large purchases or emergency situations. Appreciate the info and tips on how things work in Croatia 🙂

    • Kristin November 29, 2013 at 4:51 pm Reply

      Glad you found the tips useful Gayla! Sounds like you have a pretty good system going when you travel too. As long as you’ve got those cards separated in case of emergency — and you know the ones you’ve hidden away will let you withdraw cash when you desperately need it!

  2. Helen Byers July 27, 2013 at 10:11 am Reply

    Some great tips there. And lovely to hear about how many people were so generous with their offers of help – that’s really heart-warming!

    • Kristin November 29, 2013 at 4:51 pm Reply

      It really is heart-warming — especially when you end up with the wallet in your hands 4.5 months later because of the kindness of yet another stranger! I’ve actually written a post about that and will be putting it up soon.

  3. Suzy July 29, 2013 at 6:44 am Reply

    I’m sorry to hear about your wallet being stolen! I had money stolen from my wallet while in Belfast. They didn’t take my credit cards which I was thankful for but it still wasn’t a pleasant experience. These are all good trial and error tips to keep in mind.

    • Kristin November 29, 2013 at 4:53 pm Reply

      Hi Suzy, I know this is an incredibly late reply, but thanks so much for featuring my post! Sorry to hear that your wallet was stolen in Belfast. Even if they don’t get a lot, it’s very frustrating and it sort of shakes your faith in humanity a bit!

  4. Petrine August 13, 2013 at 12:07 am Reply

    Argh, frustrating!! But great tips– you’re right about humanity coming through when you need it to most. Hopefully this’ll never happen to you (or anyone else) again in any of your future journeys!

    • Kristin September 11, 2013 at 6:17 pm Reply

      Thanks Petrine! I really hope it doesn’t happen to me again, and it’s definitely not something I’d wish on anyone else either. Having my faith in humanity reaffirmed was nice though 🙂

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