Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Planning a back-up plan

Thinking back, deciding to travel with only one credit card was a dumb plan. Okay, not a dumb plan, per se, but it was a plan without a backup plan--which is The Dumbest plan of all, especially for a business traveler whose ability to move about often depends on that card.

The dumb plan (since replaced) evolved after my fanny pack, containing my wallet with a fistful of credit cards inside, was lifted during a vacation. Thank goodness we were on our way home when this happened. We were, in fact, waiting in a long, jostling taxi line (BEWARE!) outside a Vegas hotel to catch a ride to the airport when the theft occurred. However, it sure slam-banged our reentry home since we spent days canceling cards from this store and that, hoping we hadn't forgotten any of them. But that first call from the airport to cancel The Main credit card was the worst since it took place under a time-traveling gun, and involved the police.

After much discussion, a new plan evolved: don't replace all the store cards; just use one card for everything and accrue air miles, or gasoline rebates, or whatever.

Fast forward a couple years and join me on the day this new plan failed.

I am in Atlanta attending a several-day conference, but today I have to fly a round-trip from here to Orlando. I'm presenting on a fiction panel at the American Library Association's annual convention. Also today, George is leaving from our home in Illinois to visit our son in Minnesota.

I take a cab from my Atlanta hotel to the airport. I pay with my credit card, exit the cab and walk about twenty paces toward the door when I get this niggling feeling. I stop, check my wallet and . . . no credit card! The driver didn't hand it back to me. Moreover, I left the cab before I made sure he did. Head-whap! I am responsible.

I run back to the curb, but alas, he is gone. I call the cab company (number still keyed into my cell phone) and report the incident, hoping they can send the driver back around the loop with my card. Call transfers. Gotta wait for lost and found. Disconnect. Call back. Yadda-yadda. Blah, blah, blah. Pleads. Clock ticking. My plane now departs in less than forty minutes; I cannot wait to see if it "shows up." I am struck with a hard reality: I have to cancel the card and head toward the plane.

While I'm talking to the credit card person, I try using a self check-in kiosk to obtain my boarding pass. No go. I have to chug to the counter line. Without my credit card, which, no matter what else I try (airline numbers etc.), the machine simply won't recognize me.


The check-in line is . . . not moving. Seems everyone has a problem today. By the time I get to the security line, I'm still talking to the credit card company while stripping myself of the necessities. I say into the receiver, "Hold on!" I sure don't want to lose her now. "I'm not hanging up! I'm setting my open phone down in a plastic bin. I'll catch you in a moment, I hope." God bless the small miracles, since she's still there, both of us having passed through the dreaded scan without incident.

I pull on my shoes while finishing the cancelation conversation, then we discuss how I can get a replacement card over-nighted to me. I don't have much cash with me; I still have several big-ticket dinners to attend; I'll need a working card to check out of my hotel day after tomorrow. I've run up quite a bill. These plans are put in place while I'm breathlessly scurrying to my gate. Thank goodness I'm only lugging my purse!

While I'm in the boarding line, I call my husband. He's on his way to Minnesota when he receives the news that he's now temporarily without a valid credit card. "Stop at the cash station," I tell him, followed by several rounds of "I am so sorry! I HATE when I do stuff like this!" He's heard it all before. I always mean it; he always forgives.

New Plan. We need to have two credit cards, one to keep for a backup so we don't ever get stranded like this again. But the logistics are problematic. If I carry them both in my wallet and my wallet disappears . . . . If I leave one at home, what good will that do? And what type of a backup card makes the most sense?

After much haranguing around, we decide to get a gasoline rebate card. We'll make it a Visa rather than another MasterCard. I'll carry one in my wallet and one in my carry-on. When I'm not traveling, I'll keep one in my wallet and one in my handbag. But what if my handbag gets ripped off or I leave it somewhere? The whole purse isn't as likely to disappear as a wallet (right?), but still, when I'm home, the possibility causes me to leave the backup gas card in my glove compartment so I for sure have it with me when I purchase gas. Eventually we decide this plan is perhaps the dumbest plan of all since I never remember to take it out of the glove compartment when I travel.

NEXT BUSINESS TRIP: I put the backup card in the outside zipper compartment of my carryon bag, then, due to overcrowding on the plane and a high boarding group number, I am forced to gate check that bag. I don't think about the card until 25,000 feet. (Feel my obsessing, racing heart.) And how's this for Murphy's Law in action? The announcement is made that gate checked bags will not be waiting for us as we deplane; they'll be at carousel number whatever. I can barely breathe until I get to my hotel and discover the card is still there. Another miracle.

I'm sure our backup plan is lacking something obvious here, but what is it? Can someone please help us out? If we keep thinking we need yet another backup card for our backup card, there will be no end to the torment. What do the rest of you do? It's unlikely I'll remember to strap on an undergarment holder every day of my life. Besides, they're hot.

A NOTE TO THOSE WHO HAVE ALSO LOST CREDIT CARDS (and cell phones, your driver's license …) ON THE ROAD: Perhaps we should travel in a pack, since in case of emergency, between us, we'll likely have everything we need.

PS Although I don't make any of this stuff up, I sure wish I did.


Anonymous said...

You might be better off if you did not share credit cards with your husband. My wife had cards and her passport stolen from her recently in Florence. She called on her cards and stopped them. I had a number of cards with me, and just gave her one of those to use.
By the way, the U.S. Consulate in Florence was extremely helpful in replacing the passport. Did it in a short period of time. We did have to spend a little time getting her a photo for her passport, and wish that we had some extra passport photos with us in addition to the copy of her passport.
By the way, you will now notice that some credit card companies are charging a defined percentage for handling foreign transactions.
Bill Kenney

Charlene Ann Baumbich said...

THANK YOU for *all* (credit card and passport pics) the good suggestions! Sometimes the obvious just isn't. At least one separate credit card sounds like a great solution!


Anonymous said...

I have one of those boarding pass/ID thingies that you wear around your neck. Not terribly glamorous, but I usually tuck it into a travel vest or sweater so it's pretty unobtrusive most of the time. I keep my airport lounge card and a spare credit card tucked in it as well as some spare cash. And several travel vests have inside zipped pockets, which I like. I generally try like the dickens not to have to carry a handbag when I'm travelling.

Charlene Ann Baumbich said...

More great ideas. Thanks!

I'd love to travel without a hangbag, too, but because of the nature of my labor (author and speaker), I always need too much stuff with me to leave one behind.

You've reminded me about my travel vest, though. I kinda forgot I had one. I seem to go through phases. . . . Maybe it's time to dig through my closet. If I combine your idea with Bill's (separate cards), I'll nearly be failsafe!


Kevin Morgan said...

Another couple of thoughts:

If your husband is "usually" at home when you're travelling, and vice versa, you might get one other credit card that's kept at home, in a fire safe or some other safe place, and have a fedex envelope ready with it in case it needs to be mailed somewhere. You might be without a card overnight, but it should be possible to get it the emergency card to you by the next day.

As for canceling stolen cards: One thing you can do in advance is type up a list of the card numbers and the 800 numbers needed to call them and report the thefts (or scan the cards on a piece of background paper with those numbers written on them) and post them in a "hidden" spot on a personal website, one with a non-obvious URL and one that you don't share with anyone. Then, if you need to cancel cards, if you can find a computer with an internet connection for a few minutes, you can pull up the page, print it out, and have a calling list ready. (I have all sorts of things like that posted in a place where only I can get to them, and more than once I've had to access that kind of information).

Charlene Ann Baumbich said...

Kevin, your posting the info to a website is BRILLIANT! I use two backup services for my manuscripts(and two key drives--since if I lose my work in progress, I lose a year of pay!), but never once thought about using the online backup service for this. GREAT idea. THANKS!

BTW, only costs $30 (or close to that) a year to host minimal info. It's easy to use, and you can share files with others, if need be, by setting up share codes. We keep a list of all the things we have auto billed to our credit cards, so we can change numbers in case of emergency, but I've never been comfortable leaving it "out" at home. That list, too, is now going to the online backup and getting shredded. THANK YOU!