In Morocco With No Money. Why Friends Say I'm "Bad at Traveling."

Traveling is a fantastic way to learn about yourself. One of the things I've learned is that I don’t have the best foresight, or rather I’m bad at planning. Actually I usually just don’t think.

I’ve also learned that, despite the fact that my lack of planning has put in me in more than a few jams, I’m not particularly good at learning from my mistakes.

Although this is certainly a disadvantage, I’m not particularly concerned. It’s possible that our weaknesses can become our greatest strengths when we become aware of them and seek to overcome them. But more than that, my lack of planning has forced me to hone my stoic skills. I’ve learned to become more at ease with discomfort, to even enjoy it, and although I encounter more setbacks on average, I worry much less, and I am more confident about my ability to handle challenges. (I chuckle at the trivial setbacks in the past that led me to write about “a bad travel day”).

Anyway, all this to say that I currently have $5 (55 Dirhams) that I will have to rely on for the next couple of days.

Here’s how it came about.

Gather 'round children, it's story time

Despite my own advice to automatically transfer funds from a home bank to an online bank account that is used for traveling, I have not actually been doing automatic transfers. I have opted instead to transfer funds to myself manually as I need them. However, funds take four to five business days to transfer, and for this reason (combined with my lack of foresight mentioned above), I’ve been tight on cash numerous times. Typically how it happens is that I check my bank account and say to myself “oh sh***t I need money,” begin a transfer, and then wait anxiously until it goes through. This hasn’t ever been a real problem because I’ve always had a credit card to tie me over when this happens.

The way I manage my bank accounts is fairly simple and straightforward. I have the main bank back home, and from here I transfer money to an online bank account that I set up specifically to travel with. I try to pay for as much as possible with a credit card, and I use the online bank account for withdrawing cash at ATMs. This way I am protected from fraud, and if my debit card is stolen or compromised, the most that could be taken is the small amount I have transferred to the online travel account


A few weeks ago I noticed fraudulent charges on my credit card. Someone got hold of my information back home and went on a shopping spree at the local mall, which included a $350 purchase at Nike. Needless to say I immediately called the credit card company (fortunately you can make free 1-800 calls through Skype) and reported it. They canceled the card, and asked me to provide an address for the new card. I was in Morocco at the time, and although the wifi where I was staying was having some trouble, I managed to provide the credit company with a friend’s address that they could send the new card to. Due to the spotty reception this was a frustrating process, and after 30min the call dropped. But I had provided the address, and everything seemed to be confirmed. Not wanting to bother with it anymore, and assuming they had all the details they needed, I figured they would send the card and it would arrive in about a week (lack of foresight combined with a bit of laziness here).

Fast forward a week and there is no credit card. I made plans to fly to Las Palmas, a Spanish island off the coast of Morocco for a week, and I needed to buy the plane ticket. When I called the credit company to inquire about the whereabouts of the card I find out that they never sent it due to the fact that our earlier call was disconnected. That’s inconvenient. I don’t have enough money in my travel account to buy the plane ticket, but I have to leave in just a few days. I initiate a bank transfer (one of those “oh sh***t” moments) and cross my fingers.

Two days before I’m scheduled to leave for the island, the transfer still hasn’t gone through. The friend I'm meeting in Las Palmas asks me if I bought the plane ticket yet. Well, no. But don’t worry I will.

I call my dad, and he offers to bail me out (thanks dad). I don’t have a credit card, I don’t have enough money yet for the ticket (because of the four day hold on bank transfers), and he offers help with the plane ticket. After checking the airline’s website, and confirming the date and time, I send him instructions so he can buy the ticket for me.

But there's a problem.

He calls me back to tell me that the ticket I wanted is not available. Hmm? I check the website again. It’s booked solid, and there are no more flights to Las Palmas on Saturday. The only flight that is available leaves in the morning the next day. We should book it immediately, if this one fills up too then we have a serious problem. So that's what we do. I have to cancel plans to attend a friend’s birthday party the next day, but there is no choice. This is the cost of procrastinating.

By the time I land in Las Palmas the next day I have enough money in my account to last me the week (the transfer finally went through). My friend came the next day and we booked our stay through a reputable surf school on the island which includes four days of surf lessons and a house to stay in.

I need to get a credit card, and since I knew I’d be on the island for a week I decide to try and get it shipped there. I asked the owner of the business for an address I could use to ship an important document and he gave me the address of the business. I call the credit card company, and they assure me they’ll send it as fast as possible. Okay.


By the time Friday rolls around, it’s clear the card won’t arrive in time. I think to myself that the best thing to do is ask the owner of the business to receive the card, send me the details, and then destroy it. I won’t have the physical card but at least having the info will allow me to buy things online like plane tickets and accommodation.

For some reason I cannot fully explain, except to say that I am a bit of a procrastinator - or perhaps I subconsciously just love causing trouble for myself – I never mentioned this idea to the business owner, even though I ran into him a couple times during the weekend. I just thought to myself each time that “I’ll mention it later when we’re not so busy.” I did not get the chance to speak with him the day we left. We boarded the plane on Sunday and that evening when we arrived back to Morocco I sent him an email. In the email I said:

“…when the card arrives can you please take a picture for me and then destroy it.”

Things get interesting

The next day, I was planning on how to get to Bordeaux, France on Thursday, which is three days in the future (you should be noticing a pattern at this point). I found a plane ticket for around $160. Just one problem: after booking accommodation for the next three nights, I had just about $180 left in my travel account (another “oh sh*t” moment).

But then I get a notification on my phone. Good news! My card arrived in Las Palmas, and the business owner sent me the pictures. Here are the pictures:

Your new card is here

Goodbye card

I stared at these pictures in bewilderment for a couple minutes. What you see here is exactly what I asked for: a picture of my card, which was subsequently destroyed. Of course, I can’t use the card without the information on the back so these pictures are actually useless to me. As depressing as this is (“Your new card is here!”), there’s no denying the fact that this is actually hilarious. I mean, it just is. Just think about how ridiculous it is. And if you can’t laugh at the ridiculousness of your own life then what’s the point of living really.

That evening I met a friend for a bite to eat, and I bought some food.

Back to the drawing board

So. We are back to square one. No credit card, strapped for cash, and although at this point I initiated another transfer, it will take four days before I will have access to it. The plane ticket to Bordeaux is a necessity, it’s not a bad price, and at least at this point I've learned to stop procrastinating when it comes to the purchase of plane tickets. So I determine to go ahead and buy it with the limited cash I have. What follows is more bouts with myopia and silliness, which I will summarize here:

  1. Before I left America I created a heuristic for myself which is to only use my travel fund debit card for cash withdrawals at ATMs. For purchases online, I’ve always used the credit card in order to limit exposure to fraud. For this reason, rather than purchasing the plane ticket online with my debit card, I chose the “cash” option. With this option you receive a code which you take to a local “wafacash.” The wafacash agency will use this code to locate your invoice and allow you to pay with cash. I’ve seen these places all over so I assume it will be pretty straightforward.

  2. That evening, I leave my apartment and search for the nearest wafacash. I don’t have the cash yet but as soon as I locate one I can pull it out of a nearby ATM. Unfortunately, I discover that the nearest one is 45min away by foot. Obviously I don’t have money for a taxi (despite the fact that it would cost around $2 to make that trip). Besides, walking is GOOD FOR YOU. So I walk.

  3. An hour later I find the wafacash, so I go to the nearby ATM, pull out all the money I have, and walk in. I am then informed by the woman at the desk that I don’t have the right code. The email I received is an itinerary for the plane ticket, and does not include the payment information she needs. Are you serious. I walk back to the apartment (this time it only takes 45min).

  4. At this point, I realize that I could easily pay for the plane ticket with my debit card, and stop walking all over the damn city. But then another realization: all the money I have is now in my pocket. It’s now impossible to use my card, and what’s more, if I don’t use this money to pay for the plane ticket, then what am I going to do with it? I leave in three days and these Dirhams are not good anywhere outside of Morocco. (More lack of foresight).

  5. I check my email and can’t find the payment code anywhere. This is frustrating me so I decide to try again in the morning when I have more time. But that evening a thought strikes me. I check my spam folder and there it is. Why didn’t I think about that earlier?

  6. That was Monday. Now it’s Tuesday. In the morning I set off again on foot for the wafacash. I’m wearing a t-shirt, and five minutes into my walk it starts pouring down rain. As a rule, I never check the weather (voluntary enforced myopia). As I walk, I’m listening to an interview with Mike Rowe, and it’s entertaining enough that it keeps my mind off the rain. As I pass people in the street, I wonder if it’s a bit strange to see an American in a pink t-shirt, wearing pants that don’t fit (they’re way too short), laughing aloud to himself while being absolutely drenched in the downpour.

  7. When I arrive to wafacash, I walk in dripping wet and confidently present the woman at the desk with my payment information. As she locates the invoice on her computer she looks up at me and says “passport please.” What. Passport? (am I seriously about to walk all the way back to my apartment, in the rain, empty handed again?). I try to muster confidence as I say “oh, passport? No problem.” With a brilliant poker face I pull up a picture of my passport I have saved on my phone and show it to her. She looks at me skeptically but then proceeds with the transaction. Nice.

  8. I give the woman all the money I have, and she gives me my receipt and 55 Dirhams back. I walk back to my apartment.

Until my bank transfer completes, those 55 Dirhams are what I will be relying on for the next few days. They amount to about $5 USD. I want to visit a friend in another city before I leave, so I’ll be attempting to stretch those Dirhams across three train rides, and a couple taxis. Honestly that might not be possible but I’ve got a few tricks up my (soaking) sleeves.

One of the great things about setbacks is that they create new and exciting opportunities.

For example, for a while now I’ve wanted to experiment with water-only fasting but never found the motivation.

Well guess what? I found it.

Some Lessons Learned

The other benefits that come about as a result of setbacks is the opportunity to learn. So here are a few takeaways:

Don't Neglect the Why

When communicating with others, especially to give instructions, don't neglect to answer the question WHY. When I sent the email to the business owner and requested a picture of my card, I never told him why I needed it. If he had known that I wanted the pictures so that I could USE the card, of course he would have reasoned for himself the need to include the numbers. But as far as he knew, I just wanted proof that it was destroyed. Never assume that others can read your mind.

This is an important lesson. Carl Braun built a successful engineering firm in part through effective communication policies. If you sent directive in his company but did not answer the question "why" you could be fired on the spot.

What's interesting is that I read this a while back. Funny how much we need repetition in our lives before we finally internalize these things.

Once You Have a Plan, Don't Procrastinate on the Details

I do this all the time. For example, I need to be in Thailand by the end of this month but I haven't even looked at plane tickets or transportation yet. I'm going to learn from this lesson and get that ticket as soon as possible (when my transfers come through).

Take Your Own Advice

I now do automatic transfers to my online travel account.

Don't Be Afraid to Ask for Help

Could not have made it to Las Palmas if I hadn't called my Dad.

And More

A lot of the things you learn are not realized until later on. You'll be faced with a challenge, or a decision, and then your past mistakes, and the things you've read, they all come back rushing back to assist you. Some people (me) need more repetition than others but it's all the same.