Friday, March 26, 2010

The joys -- joys, I tell you! -- of international travel

Have I mentioned that Sean and I, along with pals Curtis and Veronika, are traveling to Budapest later this spring? All we've done so far is update our passports, buy airline tickets, and book our hotel, and already the whole thing is turning into a major irritation.

For instance, my passport. This is a small thing, but it seems to sum up America's inflated sense of itself in the world. I had to renew my passport, and the new one arrived in the mail yesterday along with a pamphlet from the U.S. Department of State that claims, "With your U.S. passport, the world is yours!" Not, as Sean pointed out, "You can travel the world!" or "You can visit every country on the planet!" No, the world is now mine: I have a U.S. passport, so now Earth is mine. Mwahahahaha! There's also some sort of electronic chip embedded in my passport, which I find creepy. Fortunately for me, if the Department of State is going to be tracking my whereabouts based on the location of my passport, they will think I'm usually at home in a drawer.

Curtis told Sean yesterday that he had received a charge from Large Banking Institution, where we all have accounts, for his airline tickets. This bullshit charge is because Curtis made an international purchase (we're all flying British Air to Europe). Sean looked up our account online, and sure enough, we got the same charge. Sean called Large Banking Institution to complain and was told too bad, so sad. Not only that, any time we use our credit or debit cards out of the country, we'll be charged 3% of the purchase total for the privilege. Sean told the customer service rep that we'll probably move our accounts to a different bank because this is, after all, bullshit (he used more polite language than that), and received in reply what was basically a shrug. Thanks for valuing our business, Large Banking Institution! Time to check out Move Your Money.

Then Sean started poking around online to see how easy it would be to move our mortgage (or perhaps take out a second mortgage, the cash for which we would use to pay off our mortgage with Large Banking Institution). It turns out that we may have trouble refinancing because we've been so responsible about paying our mortgage on time every month, even making a few extra payments when we had the money, that we now owe little enough on it that we may not qualify for a second. Does that make sense? If we owed more money, we could get more money. But since we've been trying to pay it off in a timely manner, we may be out of luck.

[Weirdly, just yesterday I came across this quote by Thomas Jefferson: "I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies. If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around [the banks] will deprive the people of all property until their children wake up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered."]

Then Sean stumbled across a super-irritating news story about how airplane passengers are bringing too much carry on luggage onto planes, and now the flight attendants' union is working with some government agency or other to try to come up with new regulations to limit even further what passengers may take into airplanes. More surcharges for checked luggage! Goddamn, you gotta love the airline and banking industries for their chutzpah: they kick us, and we pay them for the privilege.


kb said...

Now I know why we stay at home. This is crazy! But, since the world is now yours, I guess there is an upside to this whole thing for you.

Lucy said...

I recall a similar swindle when I last visited overseas. I don't recall the details and it was about 5-6 years ago) but I vaguely recall getting around extra charges by using my debit card. I'm sure that loophole has been closed. I think I traveled on Euros and British Pounds via ATM stops every other day. Maybe Traveler's Checks?