Arriving in South Korea with No Money and No Luggage

While working as an English teacher in South Korea I found the winters there miserable. I know that I am from Canada so you would think that Korean winters would nice a nice break for me. This wasn’t the case however. In Canada I am used to beautiful white winters where we can go ice skating outside, and skiing and snowboarding on the weekends. Everything feels romantic and Christmassy. In Korea it was just cold, brown, ugly and miserable. To make matters worse, inside was almost colder than outside. South Korea has poor infrastructure and so my students would literally sit in class with their winter jackets on.

Needless to say, by the time January hit I was ready to head somewhere warm.

I decided on Sri Lanka. Totally random, yet totally amazing.

Because – as I am sure you have learned by now – I am a bit unlucky and accident prone, I decided to prepare for  anything that could go wrong. I took out the cash that I needed before hand in USD to exchange at the airport. Then, just in case, also brought my Canadian debit card and credit card as a back-up. I decided to leave my Korean bank card at home so that I didn’t risk losing it.

My trip to Sri Lanka was absolutely amazing.  I took beautiful train journeys, climbed to the top of mountains for sunrise and surfed the waves. It had a few of bumps and bruises along the way that come with traveling  -but nothing major. I also managed to not lose any of my money or cards. In fact, I actually came up under-budget so had cash to spare.

Arriving in South Korea with No Money and No Luggage

By the time my trip ended I was sad to say goodbye to this beautiful and warm country.

At the airport I tried to exchange my extra money into Korean won, but they had run out. So instead, I had to exchange it to USD – meaning I would now have to exchange it twice. This wasn’t the end of the world though because I would just exchange my USD when I landed in Korea.

See, I had a plan.

When I checked in for my flight, the woman at the ticket counter looked at my ticket and said, “Mexico?”

Uhhh….excuse me? How someone can get Mexico and South Korea mixed up is beyond me. They both like spicy food, but that’s about it when it comes to similarities. Luckily, I corrected her and she fixed the mistake. I made sure to double-check my boarding pass that I was heading to the right country. As tempting as Mexico was, I am not sure if my boss would  have been too happy with me.

Arriving in South Korea with No Money and No Luggage

When I did land down in South Korea (and not Mexico) I had a bad feeling in my stomach. I just knew something bad was going to happen. I mean this trip had just gone too smooth for me.

I passed through security and went to pick up my luggage. I could tell that it was freezing outside so the first thing that I was going to do was change into something warm. I was still wearing what I had worn in Sri Lanka – except I added a cardigan for the plane ride.

I waited for my luggage. And waited some more.

Slowly, people started disappearing. The bad feeling in my stomach grew. There were only a couple pieces of luggage spinning around – but they weren’t mine. Then an airport worker came up to me and asked me if I was waiting for my luggage. When I told her yes she asked me to come with her.

I realized that my luggage hadn’t arrived. It must have gone to Mexico!

I followed her to the airline desk where another man was working and they both apologized to me and said that they would send my luggage to me as soon as they found it. That was all well and dandy but it was winter and all I was wearing was leggings, a T-shirt, and a cardigan. I also lived in a different city so I still had to wait outside in the cold for a bus to take to the train station, take a train to my city and then take another bus home. I would freeze!

Arriving in South Korea with No Money and No Luggage

I explained this to the airline staff but they said there was nothing that they could do for me.

I had insurance so I asked to use their phone to call my insurance company. My insurance company said that I had $500 to spend on new items if my luggage was lost. But there was a catch. Only if my luggage wasn’t returned within 24 hours. So if they got my luggage back to me the next day then my insurance wouldn’t cover the cost of the winter clothes that I needed so that I wouldn’t freeze.

Let me also point out that I am Canadian – so I was not being a baby about the cold. I was ridiculously under-dressed for the weather.

It was at this point that I looked around and noticed that the currency exchange counters were closed. Oh no – how would I exchange my USD?

I asked the airline attendants why they were closed and they told me because it was a Sunday. But we were in an airport! It’s not like there are no airplanes coming and going on Sundays.

So now the warm clothes were the least of my issues. How was I going to get home?

I had no Korean currency to even buy a bus ticket, never mind a train ticket – or a jacket. At this point I had no idea what to do. I thought about calling someone but how could anyone help me? No one that I knew lived in this city. At this point I was getting very worried and frustrated. How could the airline who lost my baggage not help me with anything?

I started to tear up. I have learned from traveling that sometimes keeping it cool doesn’t get you what you want – a little water works help them realize how desperate you are. I wasn’t faking the tears though – I was just no  longer trying to hold them back.  

Then I remembered that I had my Canadian debit card! I went to the ATM machine (which I couldn’t believe wasn’t shut down) and went to take out cash. Yes – I was finally one step closer to home!

It didn’t work.

I tried again. It didn’t work. I tried both savings and chequing accounts and nothing. Korean banks are terrible with foreign cards and it just simply wasn’t accepting my card. I was back to square one.

Arriving in South Korea with No Money and No Luggage
This money would have been a dream come true.

The airline attendant was behind me at the ATM while this was going on. He saw my failed attempts to take out cash and told me to please sit down. In a loss of hope I listened to him and flopped down on a chair, crying. I literally had no way to get home.  

The man completed his ATM transaction and then sat down next to me. He apologized again for losing my baggage and then handed me an envelope and told me is was from the airline as an apology. It was money!

I was so unbelievably thankful beyond what I think that man will ever know. All that I needed was about $15 to get home and they had given me more than enough. At this point the cold didn’t seem so bad. I could freeze, as long as it meant I was going home.

I thanked him profusely, wiped my tears and headed to the bus terminal. I looked like a complete fool. Everyone around me was bundled up in jackets, hats, and scarfs – and then there was me, in thin leggings jumping up and down to keep warm. When the bus finally came I ran on it and melted into my seat with joy.

When I got off the bus I quickly ran across the street and bolted up the stairs into the train station. The first thing that I did, before even buying a train ticket, was buy a big cup of coffee. It was no winter jacket but it helped warm my hands and belly.

Arriving in South Korea with No Money and No Luggage

When I finally sat down on the warm train back home, I sunk down into my seat and sipped my coffee with the utmost joy.

I really didn’t care if my luggage ever got returned to me. All that mattered was that I had somewhere warm to sleep that night.

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Arriving in South Korea with No Money and No Luggage

8 thoughts on “Arriving in South Korea with No Money and No Luggage

  1. I enjoyed reading your story…not that I enjoyed your misery and bad luck, but it somehow is so honest and fresh and different from all the perfect travel stories that are everywhere these days. I wish you many happy adventures and much more good luck from now on.

    1. Hi Anna! Yes my specialty seems to be things going array for me. It’s never fun at the time but at least we can all laugh at it later!

  2. Oh what a terrible adventure! I usually carry whatever I’ll need with me upon arrival in my carry-on in case something like that happens! But thank goodness for the kindness of strangers 🙂

    1. Yes you are so right! I think whenever I have been in a bad situation abroad the kindness of strangers always gets me out of it. People in this world are a lot nicer than them the news makes them out to be.

    1. Thanks Katyrinna – they got it to me super fast the next day, which means my insurance wouldn’t have covered anything.

  3. As someone who travels a lot, I always worry about being in a situation like that. I always try to plan for every little thing. But the important part was that you got home safe!

    1. Yes that’s smart! I was late arriving to the airport and in my frantic state didn’t grab anything that I needed from my luggage! Never again! …hopefully 😉

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