How Fiat Ruined My Traveling Experience
I recently had the honor of being flown to Dubai, in order to teach blockchain technology to Nigerian government officials. With doe eyes, I hastily embarked on my journey, having forgotten the many perils of traveling from years of static living. I expected to come back writing about tall towers and exotic experiences, but unfortunately, that is not the case.
It’s now more clear to me than ever how much the world needs Bitcoin. It is not a simple matter of fighting central banks, or promoting Internet freedom. The blockchain will make society more efficient in almost every way, and is necessary to improve quality of life around the world.
Having adapted to live within the Bitcoin economy, I knew I would encounter some annoyances on my trip. I was completely flabbergasted, however, by the series of unfortunate events I was forced to endure. Please allow me to enumerate the many failures of the traditional finance system.
The Real Altcoins
People criticize altcoins for flooding the market, and eroding the universal applicability of cryptocurrency by fragmenting the market. They often forget that the traditional system is worse: we have hundreds of currencies, and unlike altcoins, you are forced to use the one tied to your physical residence.
When you leave your country, all of your money becomes worthless. You will have to exchange it at a “competitive” fee, or whatever euphemism you prefer. Be careful to buy only as much as you need, because all of that cash will be worthless when you get home, so you’re going to have to pay that fee again for anything leftover.
I chose a travel route with several layovers, because I am not a wealthy man. Having stopped in China, Dubai, Istanbul and Korea, I had to deal with five different currencies, plus an American dollar I managed to acquire somehow. Some exchanges refuse to handle coins, so I returned to Canada with a useless pile of change from around the world.
ATMs and Exchangers
The hassles of change would vanish in a digtal cash system; instead, we’re forced to rely on physical infrastructure based on ancient technology. Despite a several-decade head-start and vastly more resources, they have failed in comparison to the efficiency of cryptocurrency, as I’ll soon vindictively demonstrate.
In the cryptocurrency world, one can trade between altcoins anywhere on a mobile device. This is not the case with traditional finance, and airports are fully aware of this. There are some cities like Istanbul where ATMs are just placed too poorly (such as half-way across the airport from my flight terminal), but incompetence is not what I want to talk about. The truth is more insidious.
Korea did a great job with their financial infrastructure, with English-language ATMs placed almost everywhere. Except, of course, past the airport security checkpoint, where their generosity soon disippates. They mysteriously cannot afford ATMs in one of the most likely places for you to be stuck waiting, even though they can afford multiple exchanges in the same area.
The employees there will be happy to buy back what’s left of the bundle of won you had to withdraw to avoid running out of cash. They will not, however, let you withdraw from your bank account if you do run out, as was the case for a very hungry me.
With all the money they’re making this way, you’d think they could afford some decent security on their automatic teller machines. Alas, dear reader, you would be wrong. While in Istanbul, I mistakenly trusted a machine operated by a local bank there, whose reliance on traditional financial infrastructure left them open to hacking. This inevitable disaster caused me a host of problems, mostly involving…
My Beloved Bank
Upon landing in Korea, I was tired, hungry, and in a hurry to meet someone. Unfortunately, I was unable to withdraw money from ATM in the food court upon landing. I assumed it to be a glitch or language misunderstanding, but much to my dismay, I was unable to withdraw money from any ATM anywhere after an hour of trying.
Frustrated, I called my bank to ask them about it, and waited through several rounds of elevator music. “I’m trying to withdraw money from an ATM in Korea. Do you know what’s going on?”
“We froze your account due to suspicious activity,” he stated as a matter of fact. “You used an ATM that was compromised, and had unusual activity on your account.”
“Thanks for advanced warning,” I said drly. “Can you unlock my account now?”
“We need you to come into your bank branch and change your PIN in person. Until then we have to implement some security measures,” he replied, ignoring my counter-suggestion that we use encrypted communication.
It suddenly dawned on me how annoying my short vacation in Korea was about to become. “I’m currently trapped in South Korea, so obviously I can’t do that. I need money for food and lodging, so you need to make that happen. How am I supposed to get cash?”
Finally, they agreed to unlock my account for windows of 30 minutes at a time, if I call them and request it. Each time, I waited again through the elevator music, and if I did not get to an ATM in time, I would have to call back and do it again. If my phone ran out of power, I was out of luck.
For at least a week I suffered this calamity of bureaucratic failure. If not for the like-minded people I met at Seoul Bitcoin, I would surely have perished from overwhelming frustration and despair. It’s good to know that almost anywhere in the world, I can find a Bitcoin ATM, change my bitcoins with a local currency, and meet some new friends along the way.
Despite the silver lining, I can’t help but still feel annoyed about how much unnecessary stress I had to go through. The travel industry will be one of the first revolutionized by cryptocurrency, and I beg any entrepreneurs reading this to hurry up. I might have to fly again, soon.