A bank-o-mat ate my debit card in Bratislava. I bet you have never made that statement before. I had to make it twice and then explain it to a teller last April.
My sister and I travel together usually once a year. I am responsible for making the arrangements, reading the guide books and deciding what we see and providing the money (local currency) with my debit card. We both use our credit cards for purchases whenever possible. But some places won’t take plastic. She drives if we rent a car and decides where we eat. And shop. She does half of her Christmas shopping while we are on a trip.
Last spring we took a trip to Prague in the Czech Republic, Vienna in Austria and Budapest in Hungry. I was, and probably still am, not that familiar with the history of Eastern Europe. But I studied my books and made a list of the sights we should see.
However, I was a little uneasy about going to three countries that each use different currencies. And we were told that the countries would not accept the currency of the other countries so we had to be sure to spend everything we had in one currency before we moved to another country.
I did not want to be the sole source of cash and told her we needed a back up in case there was a problem with my debit card and asked her to get some traveler’s checks. Her son works in a bank, and she asked him to get her some traveler’s checks. He scoffed mightily and told her she would have as much chance of getting money by standing on a street corner with a cup as she would have cashing traveler’s checks. But he got her the checks.
We landed in Prague and promptly got some money from the bank-o-mat (ATM) in the airport and had no trouble while we were there. We even managed to spend all of our Czech crowns before traveling to Vienna.
The bus stopped in Bratislava for lunch. Here is where our problems began. Bratislava, which is in Slovakia, only takes the euro, and we couldn’t eat lunch. No problem. I put my debit card in the bank-o-mat and waited for the money. Only it didn’t come and neither did the machine return my card. A local gentleman made a call to the bank which owned the machine and told us we could get the card back in two days. Since we were only going to be in Bratislava for lunch that was no help. We could charge most things with our credit cards but what about riding the metro and purchasing small things that can not be put on the plastic?
We frantically found a tourist bureau where a nice young man directed us to a post office where we could cash her traveler’s checks. We had to wait an hour for the lady in charge of traveler’s checks to come back from lunch. But we got cash. Euros, which were good in Vienna. We would worry about Budapest later.
We ultimately changed some of the euros for forints, which is Hungarian currency. For the rest of the trip we fretted about money. We decided one moment we were poor and had to charge everything. Then the next hour we had too much cash and had to spend the euros before we got on the plane to return home. And then decided we were poor again.
We feverishly wrote down everything we charged and who owed whom what and ultimately got rid of all our cash but 5 euros by purchasing some presents in a store in Budapest using a combination of the left over cash — some euros, some forints, and our credit cards. We spent the last 5 euros on candy in the airport.
About three weeks after we returned, we met for lunch with our scribblings, my bank statement and our credit card statements. It took over two hours to reconcile. I was afraid I owed her money. I did. Fifty cents. She had said all along it wasn’t enough money for me to worry about. She was right.
The moral of the story, I know now, is only use a bank-o-mat that is literally attached to a bank. Then you can go in the bank and retrieve your card.
Paula Travis is a Newton County resident and retired schoolteacher. She can be reached at email@example.com.