When at home, it is rare for me have cash on hand. However, when travelling abroad, I carry around a stack of bills to refrain from paying with credit card. Cash is the way to go for travel. It helps me stay on budget, provides me with spare change for transport and because I am busy having adventures, I often forget to pay my credit card bill at the end of the month. Not okay.
Once a week, I visit a nearby ATM and take out the maximum amount. It is always my goal to make that withdrawal last as long as possible. To do this, my daily limit is all I take with me while out exploring and I leave the rest in a locker wherever I am staying. For any big expenses, like zip lining, scuba diving or white water rafting, then and only then do I whip out the credit card. When the stash runs low, I make another trip to the beloved ATM to hear the shuffling sound the machine makes when it rewards me with a new pile of twenties. This has been working for me since I began traveling, until one day that it didn’t.
Roatan, Honduras is a beautiful island with a thriving coral reef and great tasting baleadas. Spending a week in the ocean with eagle rays, octopus and turtles, I didn’t necessarily want to leave, but knew the rest of Central America was calling my name. A friend of mine had left the island two days prior and was currently waiting for me to join her on the mainland to travel to Nicaragua. At the time, I was couch surfing, finishing up a couple recreational dives, and waiting for my phone to recover in a bag of rice (it decided to go diving as well).
Unaware that the violet storm currently annihilating the island would affect transport, I caught a cab in the early hours to make the morning ferry. This was the end of the week for me, so I barely had enough cash to even pay for a cab. Thankfully, I already had a return ferry ticket purchased, but was alarmed when I approached the desk and learned both the morning and afternoon ferries were cancelled.
A cab ride back to West End would be another $25, plus whatever it cost to stay a night at a hostel and I didn’t have that. Asking another cab driver to take me to the nearest (and cheapest) hotel, I was alarmed again to find out they didn’t accept credit card. Almost all the money I had left was handed over to reception. Barely setting my backpack in the room, I took off in the rain to find an ATM.
Every single one I tried was out of order. A cashier at the supermarket informed me that sometimes they don’t refill the machines for a couple days. That’s island living for you! Without any cash, I used up my remaining change and bought food to last me the day; supper would have to be a bag of chips.
From the hotel balcony, I analyzed the storm and checked weather reports hourly. I was worried the ferries would be cancelled again tomorrow and I would have no money left for another night’s stay. When I woke up the next morning and saw that the ferry was scheduled to go, I couldn’t have been more relieved. From this experience, I learned to never let my stash run low. ATMs, the weather, and hotels may not be reliable, but planning ahead is; always have enough leftover for emergencies.