"All the time I'm not writing I feel like a criminal." -Fran Lebowitz

Friday, December 26, 2014


In preparing for this trip, I read an article which advised me to get a new credit card solely for the trip, and to use it as much as possible while traveling. Using a single card would consolidate the receipts, make it easier to track expenses and, if you got the right card, would give reward points I could then put towards future purchases.

Good advice - the card I got has essentially paid for my flight from Portugal to Brazil next month.  (claps hands once) Boom.

But it’s also one of those new-fangled microchip credit cards, which turns out is a little thicker than your father’s credit card. It’s more like a key card Miles Dyson (Joe Morton) would scan in TERMINATOR 2 in order to gain access to the CPU and bionic arm in those glass cases than a flimsy card you’d use to buy Starbucks coffee. When I first got it, even I half-expected to need a security guard with me so we could both turn our keys in our respective locks to "enable" the card's power.

But it still LOOKS like a credit card. It's got a bank's name and MY name on the front, numbers on the front and back and besides, last time I checked, we’re knocking on the door of 2015, here.

No matter. At least once a week during my travels around Australia and Asia, I have offered my credit card as payment for goods or services and the employee has stared at it like it IS in fact the bionic right arm of the Terminator, and I've been forced to assure them, “Yes, it is a credit card.” Often, their skepticism has been followed by them tapping the card against the counter, as if its additional durability is evidence of its fraudulence, somehow. This amused me for the first month or so, until I realized again, y'know, 2014 going on 2015 here.

At least once a fortnight, after the employee has “tried” to use the card - in Australia and Asia this involves shoving the card into a slot rather than sliding it through one, he has frowned so, so seriously, and reported back to me, “Sorry, sir. It does not work,” which is IMMEDIATELY followed with either, “Do you have another card, sir?” or more often, “Do you have cash, sir?” spoken as one word - "Doyouhavecashsir?"

(I’m NOT talking about the various businesses that don’t take credit cards at ALL. Though I’ll still make the “2014, right?” argument in my head, this element of world business is what it is, and thus in countries such as Malaysia and Cambodia I stopped even asking businesses if they accepted credit cards. But that’s a different issue.)

Now, back in July and even August, this sequence of events would send me into a mild panic. Mild panic, my old friend. Mild panic, my chaperone. Mild panic, which tells me my first instinct should always be to blame myself, to do whatever needed to be done to solve the problem quickly and quietly. Had I forgotten to pay the bill? Had I already gone over my limit? Was someone going to emerge from the back storeroom of this bookstore in Singapore, shackle me in cuffs, and throw me into debtor’s prison? Do they have debtor’s prison in Singapore?

The first time it happened, I had only used the card, like, twice, so I was abjectly terrified. I meekly asked the vendor to “try it again,” because I needed to know if I had just embarked on a nine-month trip with a bum card. Was I going to have to deal with this for close to a year? I might as well just get on a plane and go back home. When she tried it again and it worked, my relief was overflowing. With each time for the next few weeks, then, I would stuff my distress deep under my stomach and colon, and meekly request that they try it again. And every time - EVERY TIME - they tried it again, lo and behold, it worked. My meekness lessened with each ensuing instance. Occasionally it took a more senior employee to a)explain the new card’s differences and/or b)do it themselves. But it always - ALWAYS - worked the second time.

So after a month or so, whenever the card “failed” to go through and the “puzzled” employee requested another card or cash, my mild panic had disappeared, replaced by self-assured insistence. “Try it again.” “It works; try it again.” “Do you have a manager?” and every so often the admittedly-snarky “You know this is 2014, right?” This transition in my emotional strength can be summed up in the following Rogue Trip Travel Tip #6 (yeah, I know - it’s been awhile!)


When traveling abroad, if a financial, banking, or otherwise monetary “snafu” arises, do not automatically assume the error is on you. Do not panic, mildly or otherwise.

Although I will assure you, we ARE about to enter the year 2015, and now more than ever technology has made the world smaller, more connected, and capable of greater convenience and financial freedom (though Skynet is gonna fuck that all up soon enough, believe you me! John Connor, stand up!), there are still vast stretches of the planet that may not be able to process and handle such technological ease with, well, ease. Making your way about the world means having to deal with all levels of capability to transact business. Not every corner of the world is modern, still. Now, perhaps it will be revealed the issue IS yours, in fact. But there’s no reason to pre-empt a thorough search for the root of the problem. So recognize that, keep your head, and realize that the business you’re dealing above all else just wants you to give them their money, and will disregard the thorough search to obtain it. They will try to use your mild panic against you so you simply submit and give them cash. "Doyouhavecashsir?" Stand your ground, and simply ask them to “Try it again.”

After almost six months, I’ve almost got this tip down myself. Today in a hotel restaurant in Mumbai, after devouring my first cheeseburger in a month, I scarcely blinked when the waiter returned with my card and said, “There is an error with this card, sir, doyouhavecash?”

“Try it again, please.”

He went to his station and after presumably trying it again, returned. “Error, sir, doyouhavecashsir?”

“No, I don’t have cash. That card works. Try it again.”

“Error, sir.”

“I used it an hour ago at the front desk and it worked there. Try it again.”

“Error, sir.”

“Well, I don’t know what to tell you. I’m not using another card. I don’t have enough cash on me.”

The waiter thought, or rather, pretended to think. “We can try the machine at the front desk,” he said.


We both walked to the front desk, where I had paid for my room less than an hour ago. He ran the card while the manager of the hotel watched. Lo and behold: success. He ripped off the receipt and as I signed it, I said, “You knew it would work on this machine, didn’t you?” His look was as good as a nod. “So you know the machine in the restaurant is ‘broken’?”

Another good-as-a-nod. I looked at the manager. “I’m not trying to be a jerk,” I said, “but if you know the machine in the restaurant doesn’t work, you fix the machine. You don’t ask the customer for another card or cash. You fix the machine. Right?” The manager nodded. “Okay,” I said. “Thank you.” I walked away.

Mild panic ran away.

*SOPHISTICATED ROGUE’S TRAVEL TIPS© are meant to be for entertainment purposes only. The title of the tips, the tips themselves, and in fact the sobriquet “Sophisticated Rogue” itself are meant to be ironic, wry, and in no way literal, and if you don’t know that by now, well, (sigh), Jesus, c’mon, dude…