All the Money Mistakes I Made During My Recent Holiday

|Posted by | Columns, Travel


Bringing the wrong credit card and not having emergency cash will make your holiday more complicated than it should be.

We spend more money than we have, even though we know we really shouldn’t. We buy things that go on sale, even though we’ve never needed them before. We scrimp and starve at lunch, only to blow through a champagne brunch come Sunday. Why are we so irrational around money? Join Alevin Chan as he explores explore how and why we all suffer from funny money.

Taking advantage of the Songkran weekend, I embarked on an epic holiday throughout Bangkok, Taipei and Taichung. Spanning two-and-a-half weeks, it was arguably one of the longest trips I ever had the good fortune to enjoy.

A long trip with multiple stops comes with its own challenges, many of which could have been avoided if I were more vigilant about my money habits. Here are the money mistakes I made while navigating one of the most enjoyable holidays in recent memory.


Not Packing for the Weather

My holiday began with a weekend in sunny Bangkok, followed by another 10 days in Taiwan. Perhaps primed for the hot and humid Songkran weekend, I neglected to pack for the Taiwanese Spring season, during which rain showers could drop the temperature down to a chilling 15 degrees after sunset.

Having shivered through a rainy weekend in Taichung, I ended up buying a new jacket in Taipei to keep from ruining my holiday with a cold. My new Uniqlo wool hoodie (NTD1,500, or S$60) did an admirable job at keeping me toasty, but I couldn’t help thinking about the Superdry jacket hanging forlornly in my cabinet back home in Singapore.

If only I had erred on the side of caution, I could have stylishly skipped through Taiwan’s spring showers and enjoyed another 3 hotpot buffet dinners using the money I saved.

Not Bringing Extra Cash

Because my holiday started with a weekend in Bangkok, I knew I would have some leftover baht that I could use in Taipei. The mistake I made was overestimating how much extra baht I would have.

It turned out I only had a measly THB3,000 left, equivalent to approximately NTD2,600.

After tracking down a bank that would accept baht in forex (a process that involved lots of walking throughout the better part of an hour) I was rewarded with the princely sum of… NTD2,200 and some change.

That’s nowhere close to what I was expecting! Not only had I wasted almost an hour of precious holiday time, I also lost around NTD400 (or about S$19). And, I still wasn’t out of the woods, primarily thanks to my next mistake.


Paying for My Room in Cash

Because I made a mistake in booking my hotel, I was facing the prospect of going homeless for one night. I was momentarily tempted to test Taiwan’s anti-vagrancy laws, but it was 15 degrees that evening and my Singaporean sensibilities didn’t allow for packing long pants. (Also, I’m pretty sure I’d lose the fight for cardboard with Taipei’s grannies; have you seen their arms?)

Instead, I sidled up to the hotel’s reception and asked if they had a room for the night. They did –  a well-appointed, if tiny, double room with no windows at NTD2,200, after discount.

I don’t know why but I accepted the offer and paid for the extra night… in cash.

Which meant I’m now back at square 1, money wise, even though I had suffered through a troublesome afternoon and extremely bad forex rates just so I could have more money in my wallet!

And as if that wasn’t bad enough, booking directly with the hotel also meant I had overpaid for my tiny, windowless room. It wasn’t until I moved to a larger room (a suite) for the remainder of my stay did I realise that NTD2,200 could have also bought me a suite, if I had booked through my usual travel app.

Not Bringing my ATM Card

So I no longer had to face a street-corner battle to stay safe and warm that night, but I was still low on cash. I could have avoided this situation by paying for my room with my credit card, but truthfully, I wanted to avoid the overseas transaction fees and poor forex rates.

(Although, I suspect that the forex rates offered to credit cards or other banks are better than the walk-in rate I suffered.)

If I had my ATM card, I could have simply withdrawn the cash I required at one of several ATMs located nearby. Sure, I’d have to pay the foreign transaction fees, but as I would be drawing from my existing funds, I could avoid cash advance fees.

But, alas, I had not thought to bring my ATM card, so that option was out. Definitely another money mistake I could have easily avoided!


Not Knowing My Credit Card PIN

Let’s review. I was running out of cash, I had no access to further cash, and I only had a singular credit card with me.

Being one of the newer cards I acquired, this particular one was untested – I had not used it for a cash advance before. I had previously applied for a cash advance facility on this card, but being an American Express card, I could only withdraw cash from an ATM overseas.

I tried to use this card at an ATM in Taipei, but 1) I had trouble finding an ATM that would let me withdraw cash from this card, and 2) the PIN I remembered somehow did not work.

I could not make a collect call to American Express to request for a PIN reset, because I did not have enough telephone credits. And, being low on cash, I was wary of spending more money to buy telephone credits.

So, there I was, stuck once again.

Friendship is Your Best Currency

In the end, a friend I was traveling with came to my rescue. He lent me NTD3,000, just enough to tide me through the last few days of my trip and get home safely.

On hindsight, many of my problems could have been solved if I had simply brought along an extra hundred bucks or two, my ATM card, or another credit card that I had successfully used to withdraw cash overseas in the past.

And if I’m being honest here, it was an odd choice to bring my cashback credit card instead of a credit card that earns air miles, as bonus miles would be more useful.

What I brought was the American Express True Cashback Card, which gives a flat 1.5% cashback on everything I spend. While convenient for everyday use, this card wasn’t the most suitable for my holiday.

Instead, I should have brought the DBS Altitude Visa Signature Card, which would have earned me 2 air miles per dollar spent overseas. As I am hungry for air miles, bringing this card would have made me more willing to swipe for my jacket and hotel room (and perhaps even shopping and dinner bills). The foreign transaction fees would be offset by the accelerated air miles earn rate.

In retrospect, I chose the wrong credit card for my holiday, which dampened my spirits, even if only a little. If I had a more suitable card, my holiday could have been more enjoyable and rewarding.

Worried about making the same mistake? Don’t be – you can use’s free credit card comparison tool to quickly find the best card for you.

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Alevin ChanBy Alevin Chan
A Certified Financial Planner with a curiosity about what makes people tick, Alevin’s mission is to help readers understand the psychology of money. He’s also on an ongoing quest to optimize happiness and enjoyment in his life.