I went to Europe for about two months after graduation, with nothing but a credit card to finance the adventure. I was crazy frugal and basically ate protein bars and crackers I’d brought from America for the first month, mapped out all of the free museum days and took advantage of the “complimentary breakfast” (i.e., stale bread) at my $11/night hostels. By the second month, however, I was longing for the good life. Before heading to Croatia, I advance booked a very fancy experience for myself on the credit card, complete with 5-star hotels, a rental car for the week, cruises and dinners out. I deserved one week of fanciness, right? When would I ever go to Europe again? I knew I’d pay the debt off eventually.
And then the most amazing thing happened to me: I got robbed while I was in Prague. I wasn’t hurt – I just foolishly left my bag unattended for a few minutes while I showered (literally the only time on the entire trip), and a fellow hostel guest slipped my credit card out of my wallet, put everything back in its place, and left. By the time I discovered the issue a few hours later, he had spent thousands of dollars and was totally gone.
I lost a day in Prague sitting in the police station with a translator, but it was the best thing that could have happened to me. Since I no longer had a physical credit card to show when I was to check into my fancy hotels the next week, I had to cancel everything and go back to basics. My whole family chipped in (including my baby brothers – so sweet!) to wire me cash to cover the rest of the trip (in hostels, not 5-star hotels!) so that I could stay as long as I’d originally intended. I had to completely reconfigure my Croatia experience, and found a perfectly nice hostel right next to the cliffs overlooking the ocean in Split. I wouldn’t see Zagreb or Dubrovnik or any of the other cities I’d mapped out on that trip, but I was spared from thousands more dollars of debt that I would have accumulated otherwise. I met amazing friends from all over the world as I spent the entire week in Split, several of whom are still my friends a decade later.
I wouldn’t change anything about what happened. I had exactly the experience I was supposed to have – and the way I had intended to use the money to “treat myself” would have been such a terrible mistake given my financial reality at the time. I realized then that I had to start thinking about how to be smarter with money. I did just that when I got home!
Today, I go on fancy trips regularly, and I love them. I can also pay cash for them, which is an important part of my strategy! What I learned in Prague, however, was that even if everything you plan for gets stripped away, you’ll still have a great experience if you go into it with the right attitude. I can’t imagine experiencing Croatia other than the way I did, and I’m honestly grateful for that thief taking my only means of paying for my trip. As I started to pay off the debt I’d accumulated when I returned to the U.S., I can only assume it would have been infinitely more frustrating to be working off a balance twice as high – which is exactly what it would have been had I not been robbed.
So thank you, random criminal. You saved me a lot of money ultimately and taught me a valuable attitude lesson that is still with me to this day. Make the most of what you have, and trust that you’re always where you’re supposed to be!
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