I have never hidden the fact that since I lost my flower business and got divorced five years ago, that I was in financial ruin. Starting your life over again at 36 with $500 is not an easy task. I have clawed my way back, often having less than $20 to my name as I traveled. I didn’t grow up rich, but I grew up resilient. So to say I know how to get by on very little is an understatement.
But that isn’t my financial reality right now. I might not having much in savings, but I have paid off my debts and live within my means. If I don’t have cash for something I don’t buy it. I look at every purchase and ask myself – is this a want or a need? You can bet I know the difference.
My campfire selfie the night – just hours before the stress of being without money in the middle of nowhere kicked in.
I was camping in Denali National Park this past week photographing the wildlife. I came into McKinley Park and went to the Salmon Bake. I needed to warm up as I was freezing and I had to work, plus they had great WiFi. I ordered a cup of coffee, soup and a bite to eat. It came up to $26 with tip (things are not cheap in Alaska!). Imagine my surprise when the server returned with my PayPal debit card and told me it was rejected. Twice.
Rejected? That is a brand new card! My old one had expired and they sent a new one just a few weeks before to my dad who forwarded it on to me in Alaska. PayPal had canceled my old card, but had turned it back on when I told them that I was without access to funds if they did that. I immediately called PayPal as I have had great customer service with them in the past. I was STUNNED when they told me they couldn’t turn my card back on. Why not? The credit card number had been leaked over a year ago in that whole Target credit card fiasco.
Wait. You turned off my card a year after the numbers were leaked? Am I missing something here? Well, turn it back on!!! I had exactly $26 cash on me and my USAA debit card that had less than $30 in that account as I had just paid all of my bills for the month. The day before I filled up my gas tank and had less than half a tank now. From my calculations, I would make it to the little town of Talkeetna before I ran out of gas, still over a hundred miles away from Anchorage where I could ask for help. I was 250 miles from Anchorage, which takes a full tank of gas from Denali.
You see, the money was still in my PayPal account and I could transfer it to other people, but I couldn’t physically withdraw any of it. It would take 2-3 days to transfer money to my USAA bank account. Three days of surviving on $26. Seriously? I needed gas and food as all I had with me were some cashews and fruit chews. I hadn’t packed for a long road trip as I was just stopping in Denali on my way back from Fairbanks to Anchorage. The tears formed in my eyes as I realized I was screwed.
I’m in the middle of nowhere! I knew two people in Denali that day – one was on a moose hunt without cell service and the other was deep in the National Park photographing bears with no cell service. This is not the place where you want to be with only $26 available and gas was over $3.50 a gallon!
I was so upset and frustrated that I posted an update to my Facebook wall. I didn’t write it to solicit help, but rather to shout from the rooftops about how angry and pissed off I was. Just like the text I sent my brother – I’m not asking you to fix it, I just need a place to vent.
The responses to this post floored me. When I first wrote this status I was overwhelmed, scared, and so damn angry. My friends not only gave me solutions, ideas, a place to vent, but even offers of help, which I never saw coming. You want to wire me money (how does that even work?) or call in a pizza for me? I wasn’t expecting that and it took me by surprise. I was crying from gratitude at the end of the day. I am so used to doing everything alone that I forget that I truly am not alone in this world. I have friends and family that are there for me, even when I don’t know I need them the most.
So PayPal turns off my Debit Card without any warning today, because a year ago my card was used at Target and was part… read the post here
Posted by Kristi Trimmer on Wednesday, September 9, 2015
I had friends sending me private messages and texts. One friend wasn’t too far away and would fill up my tank and give me some cash if I could get to her. Another sent me money via Facebook’s new Payment via Messenger. It was overwhelmingly for me. I couldn’t stop the tears. I didn’t want to take anyone’s money, I wanted to be self-sufficient. This experience made me feel like I had way too many times in my life – broke and not able to fix it. But I wasn’t broke, I just couldn’t get to my money. It was like it was beyond a glass wall that was just out of reach. You could see it, you just couldn’t touch it. So incredibly annoying and frustrating, to say the least.
I headed back to my campsite and continued reading Wild by Cherl Strayed. Ironically, I was at the part where she got down to just two cents on her journey. I was reading the same feelings in her that I was experiencing. This book mirrored parts of my life that I am still struggling to put into words. But in this moment, sitting around this campfire, I felt as if a woman I have never met was sitting beside me. I took this photo as everything in it says so much about me if you look hard enough.
This picture is more reflective of me than any selfie ever will be.
The next day I was still very angry at PayPal for putting me in this situation to begin with and I sent a Tweet out to them. The PayPal supervisor had told me that if they found that PayPal was at fault, that they would offer me compensation. They gave me $20. I’m sorry, but I just didn’t think that was enough for what I was going through. It would take 7 days before I had a new debit card in my hands. Seven days of worrying when I didn’t need to be. 7 days of not having enough money for gas, food, lodging, whatever. $20? Sorry, not nearly enough.
So @PayPal, you took responsibility for leaving me stranded, but thought it was only worth $20. Are you effing serious? #PayPal #Fail
— Kristi Trimmer (@KristiTrimmer) September 10, 2015
PayPal reached out to me via Twitter and through a phone call and was just as stumped as I was on how to fix this. The PayPal rep was incredibly nice and was trying quite a few different things to make this right. They ended up wiring money from my PayPal account to my non-PayPal bank and it would fund in 24 hours. I used my last $20 cash to buy a tank of gas. I had just one more night to get through before I would have money again. The next day I had enough funds to get me through the weekend as I still wait for my new card to arrive.
This lesson taught me a few things I’d like to share.
- Keep cash on you or hidden in your things.
- Have more than one debit or credit card when crossing remote areas
- It is ok to admit when you are in a bind. It is even more ok to accept help when it is offered. This one is super tough for me.
- Have a contingency plan in place if you find yourself without access to your money online. We have become a society that has gone digital. Well, sometimes that digital world fails us and we need to be prepared for it.
For everyone who sent me positive thoughts, reached out in whatever way, or offered to help me – THANK YOU. Remembering that I am not alone is the biggest lesson I still struggle with. Thanks for the gentle reminder that I’m not alone, I have all of you out here with me.
Rakesh Kapadnis says
Hi Kristi. Thanks for this offbeat post. It made us aware of the unforeseen problems we come across during our travels. The photos are nice too.
What a wonderful story Kristi! I run a series on my blog about moments which restored your faith in humanity and every moth publish 5 stories from people who were helped by complete strangers while traveling. I have myself had a million of these but it never ceases to amaze me. Ask for help and you will always get it, sometimes from a complete stranger. Best of luck with sorting everything else out!
What a powerful story of loss and recovery. You have great friends, and that is a pricelss gift.
What a story! I’m glad you got out of there alive. I’ll definitely be keeping your story into consideration in the future! Thanks for solid advice!
Oh you poor thing! Sounds like you had a stressful time, however thank goodness you had a lot of lovely friends to help you out and PayPal managed to come through (sort of!). It’s awful how much we rely on money and technology these days!
It’s so difficult when you are reliant on a card and it’s stopped. Mine was stolen and they cancelled my husband’s card too, it’s tricky being abroad without a card. It’s good that you got so much support, social media is not all bad!
Heather Widmer says
Wow! What an awful and stressful experience! Being somewhere remote and expensive just makes that situation so much worse. I’m glad to hear that you had so many wonderful people reaching out to you with creative ways to get food and money to you. Thanks for sharing your story and contingency plans!
Wow, what a story! I have to say that I am in your total admiration for being so brave and trying to maintain your dignity through all these troubles. It’s hard to be alone, leave alone be a woman on top of it and also be without money. I’m glad you managed to get out of this difficult situation.
antonette - we12travel says
Ahhh I can totally see the frustration of having no money in Denali – I mean it’s so remote and not easy to get away from without cash. Love the idea of reading Wild at the campfire though. My favorite place in the world combined with one of my fave and most inspiring books ever … great combo! And thanks for the warning about Paypal – I don’t have it yet and tend to stay away, however as my business is growing I’m afraid I’ll have to one day…
We are travel hackers, so we never travel w/out more than 1 card bc you just never know when 1 will get flagged when traveling abroad. So, we ALWAYS have a spare! With that said, I agree with you that you NEVER spend what you don’t have cash for. You can see the world by travel hacking (we’ve been to almost 40 countries in just 4 years from travel hacking!) but you can’t be stupid when it comes to credit cards!
Ugh, how frustrating! Glad it worked out in the end and that’s wonderful you have such great friends and family! Great tips on how to avoid situations like this–we never have enough cash on us, but it’s definitely something we need to change!
Brad Waller says
I can relate. At least PayPal did what they could to help.
A few months ago I was at the beach for my daughter’s 16th birthday and I ordered a bunch of pizzas for all the kids. I only took one credit card with me that day, and had maybe $80 in cash. When the driver came with the pizza, my card came back declined. I called up Chase and they asked about a transaction from the previous day which was mine (and to a company I’d previously paid) that they had flagged as fraud. So they shut down my card.
I asked if they could clear it and let me use the card and they said no problem, it was good to go. Nope. Declined. I called back and now they tell me they can’t activate the card for a few hours. What do I do with a delivery guy, hungry kids, angry people trying to get my parking spot, and a delivery guy who has to go to his next delivery? Chase had no idea and there was nothing to be done. Because of their error, and my cash was not enough to pay him.
I finally called his boss and asked if I could pay them later if I let the driver take photos of me, my car, and drivers license. He said sure and I gave the driver a generous cash tip and let him leave.
Like Kristi says, never have one card. And for me, never have any Chase cards. Chase might screw you and not take responsibility.