A Bad Day in the Life of a Professional Hobo

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Just in case you were wondering, being The Professional Hobo isn’t always roses and puppy dogs. Sometimes, things go wrong. And sometimes, it gets a little overwhelming (as happens to all of us from time to time).

This is exactly what happened to me when I arrived in Switzerland for my two month house-sitting gig.

Here are some of the things that can (and do, and did) go wrong as a full-time traveler:

This post was originally published in 2012. It has since been updated for accuracy of links and content. 


It all started with a tearful goodbye to Grenada – and some very special people there. All these years of developing relationships with people and places around the world – and then saying goodbye – are admittedly starting to take a toll.

I’m usually pretty good at making my partings a lighthearted “see ya later” instead of a heavy “goodbye”, and although I’m quite sure I’ll return to Grenada (more on that in another post, another day), the separation this time hit me harder than usual.

Credit Card Problems

As a Professional Hobo, managing finance while living abroad without a fixed address is a little more complicated. (Hence, my entire Financial Travel Tips series).

My credit card was due to expire in June, and I wanted the new card in my hands before I left Grenada. So in early May I called Visa to see if they could expedite sending the renewal card.

Given that my official mailing address is in Canada, this is a two-step process requiring my “designated representative” in Canada to receive the new card, then forward it to me.

As the days and weeks went by without any sign of a new card, I knew something had gone awry, and I eventually gave up on the idea of it coming in time.

When I arrived to Zurich, I called Visa again. The new card had indeed been sent out on my request – but to my age-old address in Australia. Years ago I had asked them to remove that address from the records, and despite confirming in May that the new card would be sent to my Canadian address, somehow it wasn’t.

So with an unactivated renewal card floating around on another continent, there was a security risk.

The next two hours were spent talking to various people at Visa including the theft & fraud department, cancelling my credit card and having a new one issued to be sent directly to me in Switzerland.

My confidence in the already upsetting process was severely eroded when the theft & fraud representative didn’t seem to have any of my information in front of her and we had to review the (oh-so-complicated) spelling of my name three times. My temper got the better of me during the following conversation:

Visa: “What is your address?”

(I spell it out for her)

Visa: “Crescent. Is that spelled C-R-E-S-A-D….”

Me: “How can you work here and not know how to spell Crescent? You know: CRESCENT! Like, Road, Drive, Street, CRESCENT”!

You can imagine my ebbing confidence in giving her a Swiss address (which is formatted completely differently and rife with Swiss-German spelling) to send the new card to.

I probably could have applied for a new credit card (and received a hefty frequent flyer mile bonus no less) in less time than it took to sort this out.

And my old credit card was cancelled and I was without my main mode of paying for things. Nor did I have any cash on hand.

Things were made even more complicated since I couldn’t give the Visa representative a phone number to call back and confirm the details, as is their protocol. (Read on)…

Communication Issues

On arrival at a new destination, I usually buy a pre-paid SIM card for my unlocked cell phone. I didn’t have a chance to immediately get a SIM card when I arrived in Switzerland, and when I finally did have time, I learned – the hard way – that most places close early on Saturdays, and nothing opens on Sundays.

This normally wouldn’t have been a critical matter – except I had no phone number to lubricate the process of re-issuing my credit card, which created further stress – both for the idiotic customer representative at Visa, and also for me and my lacklustre confidence in ever receiving a replacement card.

Other People’s Stuff

If there’s a down-side to house-sitting, I’ve come to feel the effects of it over the last few gigs. As much as having free places to stay around the world seems idyllic, it comes with a responsibility….the responsibility for other people’s stuff.

And maybe it’s a personality thing, but I take the responsibility of caring for other people’s stuff more seriously than I take caring for my own stuff.

So you can imagine the horror I experienced when, no more than an hour after dropping the home owners off at the airport, I returned “home” and had trouble parking the car in it’s incredibly tight spot between a wall and unforgiving concrete post (I’m told it’s the worst parking spot in Switzerland), and I scratched up the entire side of the car trying to un-wedge myself.

scratched car

Minutes later, I broke a flower pot and sent their well-loved orchids flying across the room. (All by accident, of course).

This immediately brought back memories of my last house-sitting gig in Grenada, which although also idyllic, involved both of their cars breaking down in unfortunate ways, and the dog requiring emergency surgery and extensive ongoing care for weeks on end. Each night I went to sleep praying that the dog wouldn’t die in my hands while the owners were absent – which would have been a disaster for all of us. (Thankfully, the dog is still alive to bark the story).

Cumulative Effects

I’m not a natural whiner. In fact, I’m known for being a pretty damn freaking positive person.

Unto their own, each of the above challenges would have been easy enough to cope with. But somehow when dealing with the inherent stress of relocating to a new place, missing friends, jet-lag from a 20 hour journey, not speaking the local language or understanding how to get around and perform basic tasks, having things go wrong with communication logistics and finance, and having stuff go wrong with other people’s stuff – all within the first 48 hours…..this made for a very bad day in the life of The Professional Hobo.

cloudy day

Turning it Around

So I had a bad day. Will I survive? Sure. I’ve already sorted out most of the issues, and am back on track to redeeming my summer in Switzerland. The things that go wrong and cause me stress in my life may be different from the things that go wrong in other people’s lives, but no life is impervious to things going wrong. Not even The Professional Hobo.

Everybody has their challenges. It’s how we deal with our challenges that leads to reflection and growth. And ultimately, it’s these challenges – along with the ensuing reflection and growth – that keep us moving in a positive direction in our lives.

I also believe we can interpret our experiences – and the emotions they evoke – to make positive changes. Not everything has to be “a sign”, but anything that makes you feel or react strongly should not be ignored. It’s possible that The Professional Hobo has a little soul-searching to do.

More on that another day, when I’ve figured it out myself.

moving on

And now, for a little levity, enjoy these videos of what I eventually got up to in Switzerland!

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35 thoughts on “A Bad Day in the Life of a Professional Hobo”

  1. You could use Google Voice for a phone number solution. Full functionality wouldn’t be available abroad, but you would have a US number for them to call and leave a message and you would be notified by email in order to call them back.

  2. I truly hate to say… your post made me feel good! Sorry. I do hope all gets sorted out soon and you’re back to your usual sunshiny self.

    But I must admit, it made me feel good to know that other nomads have “those” days too. Yup, credit card grief is near the top of the ack! list as that’s what we rely on to keep us off the streets of a strange new land. And the good-byes that surely take their toll.

    And yes, it seems we travel bloggers are a mighty sunny bunch. Most every tale is filled with excitement and wonder, postcard pics and stories of ever new glorious sights, etc.

    Rarely do we choose to peck the downside. For “in every life, a little rain must fall” (or some such saccharine blather). And we nomads are no different than anybody else.

    Just nice to get a glimpse of the “other side” of all the glee. Makes it all more real and authentic – not like we’re all living some fairytale life.

    Makes me think… hmmm, maybe I’ll set aside an annual post filled with all the little acks along the trail. An ongoing list of ughy snippits (g-knows there’s plenty, no matter where you roam), and just post ’em all once each year in a “This Ain’t No Fairytale” post.

    Just to keep it real. 😉

  3. Hi Nora, I undertand your thoughts here…I have had many similar experiences as I have been traveling and moving around – Dengee, Malaria, Overwhelmed, Housesitter responsibility….oh yeah and bank card issues….lol

    A couple ideas that I use and might be helpful to someone else…. GMail has an extention for allowing your email chat to merge with your GoogleVoice (which is awsome and similar to Skype) and allows you to make FREE calls & Txt msgs to all types of phones in the USA and Canada…now this ONLY works for free IF you keep your language and location set to US English. Google Voice lets you choose a number in the USA which becomes your number for life…you can set the voicemail to send directly to your email and they even will type out the msg for you….if you want. Lots of choices on how to set this all up…BIG thing tho is that you ALWAYS and forever with or without an address have a phone number in the USA to use for stuff like banking….its great for me.

    And with my Credit Union, I use my secure email on my online banking page to always notify them of changes including changes of address, which helps them to keep in touch with me, expect charges from a different location and stuff like that….we have learned from each other how to manage all this stuff. Oh and to active new or replacement bank cards you often have to call a 1-800- number as part of the process and the system only works if called from a USA number….I just used the Google Voice “call phone” from my gmail account to do this with success. The new Magic Jack Plus also can be helpful if you make lots of calls to the US or Canada and need somthing that works without a computer altho you do need to hardwire to an intenet connection (hotel rooms sometimes have them) although it has an annual fee it works more like a telephone and less like skype.

    Hope some of this is helpful… Thanks for the Housesitter info as I strike up my travels yet again.

  4. Ahhh, this reminds me of a post I made last week on how Speed Bumps Are What Make It Interesting. But, as Bret from Green Global Travel reminded me, it’s not just the speed bumps that can make a trip memorable…it’s also the positive things, which prompted me to write yesterday’s post on It’s The Little Things: Part II.

    I know it sounds cheesy, but these are the moments when you can fall back on the good old “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” concept.

  5. And as to credit cards, here’s what I do.

    I use my sister’s address back in the U.S. and my companies don’t know that I’m not living there. I just tell them I’m perpetually traveling whenever I need to use the cards, and the times their renewal comes up my sister knows to check the mail for me and I remind her when a new card is incoming. When it does, she simply zips it up in a FedEx box and sends it to wherever I’m living at the time. DHL and UPS also work. No need to involve the idiots who work for so-called customer service that way =P

  6. Yep, i know this one well. I have just come to expect my first few days somewhere new will always be like this. I have had all these issues, but not the dog.

    Good luck, sit it out and it will all come good.

  7. @Steve – I really must look into Google Voice. I don’t necessarily need a US number (I’m Canadian), but it’s better than nothing…
    Is it free?

    @Dyanne – LOL, I’m glad I could make you feel better! I like your idea of an “ack” list. I hesitated in posting this article because I don’t like to be a complainer, but like you say, we travel bloggers sometimes paint out this life to be a little rosier than it actually is at times. A good fresh dose of reality never hurts. 🙂

    @Lesa – Ooh, you’ve had your share of hard knocks too! (I’ve had Dengue fever – on top of heartbreak, once too):

    I’ve never had trouble activating credit cards when calling from Skype, and Skype also allows you to call toll free numbers around the world (for free). It’s a very handy option.

    But the whole idea of having a phone number and voicemail (that converts to text no less! ooh la la!) isn’t a bad idea. I must look into this more. And free calls to the US and Canada could save me a few pennies on calling my family in Canada too. Thanks!

    @T.W. – Thanks for sharing your links and stories.
    As for the credit card address, that’s exactly what I do, and exactly how I ran into my trouble. I was waiting for the renewal card to arrive to my “home” address in Toronto, so my “designated rep” (aka Mum) could Fed Ex it to me in Grenada. But the card was sent to Oz instead. Go figure.
    The grand mistake was having the Oz address listed on the file in the first place. It was so long ago I’m not even entirely sure why I did that. (Never again)!

    @Rosemary – Indeed, the first few days anywhere can be overwhelming, even if everything goes right! Having been here for over a week now, I’m starting to settle in a little bit better, and to overcome some of the overwhelm and venture out of my comfort zone a bit.

    And I don’t know if this is a trend, but with each new relocation I seem to be increasingly more overwhelmed, and almost apathetic about “discovering” my new backyard. It’s taking longer and longer to get my groove on in new places. Maybe this is a sign too….

  8. Re. preventing further car scrapes – stick a sheet of cardboard on the concrete wall / post.

  9. @Traveller101 – Oh what a stroke of bloody brilliance. I only had enough courage to take the car out again yesterday (a week later), and parking it was a harrowing experience. I managed….but barely….
    With cardboard, I can conquer the world! 🙂

  10. Hey Nora,
    I send you a big hug — you need it! All the issues sure do pile up and weigh heavy. As you know, when we arrive at a new house sitting assignment, the third day becomes a do-nothing-sleep-all-day kind of day. And that’s with just the usual travel stuff. You got an extra helping of troubles!
    Winding up a house sitting in Spain a couple of years ago, Conrad and I had a terrible couple of weeks when we both got sick, had a boatload of stuff go wrong in the house at the last minute, had to deal with a difficult homeowner, then navigate trains, rental cars, new roads while making our way to Barcelona — all while really sick. We employed a lot of patience and courage in those two weeks, and pushed ourselves to the limit. When Conrad missed a rotary and drove right up over the curb and across the garden in the middle, we knew we had to stop and get ourselves better. Luckily we made it through.
    Moral of the story: When in the middle of a crisis, it can feel insurmountable, but tomorrow really can feel better.

  11. I wonder if one should always carry a Travelers check just in case something goes wrong with the credit card. One could always peridoically cash it in and renew it.

  12. Uggh, I hate dealing with credit card and bank stuff from abroad. I love living abroad and traveling, but agree there is a less glamorous side to it that people often don’t realize.

  13. As I sit here in my cube, living vicariously through you and your travels, I’m glad to read about the downs as well as the ups of the full-time travel life. Most choices in life have tradeoffs and nothing is ever perfect. And it makes it more real to us desk jockeys who are still in the dreaming phase. Thanks for keeping it real.

  14. @Josie – I was thinking about the house-sitting lifestyle this morning; although it’s an ideal way to “live” around the world, relocating to another country is counted among one of the most stressful experiences you can have (next to death and divorce). Part of this is because you’re not just learning a new place as a traveler; you’re having to (quickly) learn all the little details of daily life. Where does the garbage go? What are the pet’s needs? Where is the lawn mower and how does it work? And what do you do when the toilet overflows?

    So I applaud your sleep-all-day strategy on day three; I could stand to be a little bit easier on myself when it comes to learning the ropes and acknowledging the inherent stress levels involved with this lifestyle.

    @Jerry – My impression is that travellers cheques are antiquated, but it’s an interesting strategy. But it’s something that would need to be dealt with before hitting the road, as I’m under the impression that only your own bank in your own country can issue them. Yes?

    @Laurel – Usually it’s not so bad (save for the fees, which range from ATM fees to currency conversion fees and beyond), but I was just hit with a multiple-whammy this time that made it all very hard to take.

    @Rebecca – Thanks for the vote of confidence. I have no desire to candy-coat this lifestyle. Most of the time it’s awesome…..but not always. It’s forever a journey, and always a matter of perspective.

  15. Hola Nora,
    I love your posts, even when things don’t go perfectly according to plan. I could relate to your financial emergency: my ATM card was rejected in Spain (twice!) and I had no cash. I finally figured out that Sundays were the problem.
    I moved to Costa Rica from the US seven years ago, but am getting bored here. Thanks for inspiring me.

  16. Holy smokes. So the saying “when it rains, it pours” is true. Glad to hear however that things are on the mend. When I talked with the owner I’m housesitting for, we established I won’t be using her car (which is such a relief, because like you, I tend to people’s things better than for my own, so that would have been an added stress) – and Oakland has an amazing public transport network so I won’t need a car – I will however rent one to head to Yosemite NP.
    Keep your chin up, everybody is entitled to have a bad day, and all these posts (alongside the other awesome ones which are more positive) are the reason I follow your adventures 🙂

  17. Hi Nora,
    Thanks for your personal post.
    I’ve been following your blog for more than a year, and you once responded to an email I sent you about mail forwarding.
    You’re a positive self-starter. This is obvious.

    Here’s a big hug. It’s ok to take time to boohoo sometimes. Like my girlfriend says, “it’s ok to visit pity city, just don’t buy a house there.”

    Best wishes.

  18. @Margie – So ATMs stop working in Spain on Sundays, huh? Heh heh, I’m not surprised. It appears that Sundays in many places in the world are a day of rest – even for machines! 🙂

    @Joseph – Yes, the wheels are nice, but indeed – they come at a cost. Besides which, I’m a greater fan of public transportation and car sharing. In fact, if I’m not mistaken, there are some great car sharing programs in Oakland:

    @Susan – Thanks for the vote of confidence! I like your girlfriend’s saying. And Pity City is surely a better place than Trauma Town! I think I’ll set up shop in Candy Land though. Sounds sweet! 😉

  19. yeah banks suck with their in ability to get new addressess up dated… even in swiss, highly organised, there are 2 addresses to each account….. card renewal/bill address and general account address…….

    whats the max validity date u ever got on a bank card ? 3 tears?

  20. @Trevor – I’ve never asked for a longer validity on a credit card, and yes – I think the standard period is 3 years.
    That’s a little bit confusing with the two addresses, but I guess it can be handy from time to time.

  21. Great post Nora. I think honest posts like this are the reason I still keep coming back here. It’s good to get a day to day insight into the good and the bad – and there will always be some bad days.

    Hope you have a great time in Switzerland after these initial hardships.

  22. @Baron’s – So…..you’re not up for lending me your wheels any time soon, huh?? 😉

    @Changer – Cheers! Things are certainly looking up now that I’ve been here for a while.
    It’s my resistance to change (ha! how’s that for a Professional Hobo) and general fatigue when it comes to those long-haul trips that I have to re-examine for a deeper meaning, I think.
    Then again, maybe I just had a bad go of it and I should get over myself! This is highly possible too! We’ll see.

  23. Hi Nora,

    Little did I know that the start of your “Swiss summer” was going to be beset by such a series of disasters.

    I read your “Bad Day” blog with fear and trepidation….I was just waiting for the bit when you said about the insufferable and boring guy who interrupted your peaceful journey with 100 questions about the life of a professional hobo. Anyhow, the critical comments never came!

    If it is of any solace to you – even in your “darker moments” you were still a ray of sunshine in the life of one “very unprofessional business traveller”.

    Cheers and the best of luck with the rest of your time in Switzerland…things can only get better!


  24. @Mike – Ha ha! No, don’t worry – you were great company on the flight to Zurich! I hope your stay was enjoyable, and that you have a great summer! Thanks for stopping by.

  25. Hi,

    I’m very sorry to read about your bad experiences.

    The whole permanent address for finances sounds a nightmare for travellers. 🙁 Not helped by Visa having problems noting down the address!

    Wishing you a hassle free time.

    Best Regards


  26. @Andrew – These are just some of the “hazards of the occupation” for long-term/full-time travelers! They’re not insurmountable, but in the wrong state of mind and combined with the wrong set of circumstances, it can certainly be overwhelming.

    Thanks for your well-wishes!

  27. I would like to hear more of your thoughts and experiences about parting ways. I realize that sometimes a sense of community can arise spontanously, and also that sometimes living in the same apartment complex people can not even care to know each other. Different things. Anyway, that would be a topic worthy of insight.

    about the “horror” your experienced with the parking job, and the likelyhood of it being the worst one in switzerland – I personally find it nice to avoid dwelling on things like that, but having to read about it is *positively tedious*. Sorry, but somebody had to tell you! Cheers though! Take care.

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