It’s a traveller’s nightmare. After weeks of planning, and days of anticipation for a global conference (to which I had dreamed of receiving an invite) I find myself beyond passport control and sat waiting at my boarding gate – and my wallet is simply nowhere to be found. 

A few calm bag checks are then upgraded to some rummaging, before progressing to some rifling, and the reality starts to dawn that my all-access-pass to business travel – the privilege to be able to pay or withdraw funds – is no longer my companion.

In my pockets, not a single cent. 

As passengers line up to the board, I call my bank manager, Winston, and ask him what’s possible. He calls me back, this time with two other bank staff joining the call. A couriered credit card would still be two nights and three days away. And I was only in Doha, Qatar for three nights in total. Their last gasp of genius, to use my phone to access cash via ‘Instant Money’ from an ATM, proved impossible. I was beyond passport control and the long queue to board continued to dissolve. 

I promptly consider the use of a ‘mobile money’ or payments app like SnapScan for Qatar. A web search takes me into a labyrinth of sites, of which none show a solution in which I could pay my way via snapping a QR code. Masterpass or ApplePay is not an option. Note of advice: Western Union is the best bet to wire some cash and you can collect from an outlet. 

I Google my hotel and check all is on track, only to be told that my reservation cannot be completed at the property without a credit card – as if I wasn’t in enough trouble already! Now the comfortable rug of a hotel bed and breakfast had been ripped from beneath my soles. 

When it goes this haywire, I don’t panic. I can’t explain why, but perhaps because things have become so unravelled that there must be some message or method in this madness. 

I call my wife and say “I can’t turn back, I’ve waited for this event and I will make a plan, don’t worry.” These are not the words you want to hear from your spouse. But this type of behaviour is not a surprise to her. Let’s leave that revealing response right there, shall we?

As compensation for losing things (occasionally), I have one redeeming feature – an extraordinary head for numbers. I can remember strings of them to the point I know all three credit card numbers that I have. If you find that hard to believe, watch the Netflix movie “Brain Games” around memory competitors. To many, memorizing numbers would seem strange – bordering on the ridiculous or pointless – but, to me, a ‘memory palace’ is like a playground. Google it, you might love the concept, or at least need the skill one day.

I take my seat on the plane and type in my credit card number, expiry and CVV into Agoda.com – you can thank me for the recommendation later – and peruse some heavily discounted hotels in Doha near my conference. Within a few minutes, I find an extraordinary price for a 5-star hotel – Ezdan Palace – for a rather low R780 ($50) close to the conference, and which takes payment in advance and does not require a credit card. I taste victory, but in my haste, I overlook there is no breakfast included. I don’t find out that reality until the following morning…at breakfast.

Disembarking in Doha, I immediately check Uber using data roaming while still on the runway, to see that I can access the app and that I can transfer to the hotel. It works. Credit card loaded in Uber already, no memory palace needed. That’s the last time I use data roaming as I hop from stepping stone to stepping stone picking up WiFi in hotels, airports and the conference venue. 

Impressive sunset over Doha’s City Center

12 hours after the loss of my cards I climb into a luxury bed, with two packets of salted chips, two KitKats and one small bag of caramel popcorn on my bedside. These I had tucked away in my bag from the Qatar Airways snack trolley. My backpack had the extra space – without my wallet on board. 

In the morning, after the breakfast revelation, I hail an Uber to the conference and wait for the first break. Coffee, fruit salad, and pastries. And two hours later, lunch. Before the conference closes, my supper is the delegates’ afternoon tea, and a rather good one, I must admit. And that’s it for nourishment until the following day.

Variety of fresh salads in a buffet. buffet in the restaurant

Throughout the conference, in which I am a speaker and then later a jury member, I interact and hobnob as though I had not a care in the world. I don’t ask a soul for money. Sharing my challenge would have halved the problem, and fun. Our media company has a subsidiary that teaches media literacy, resourcefulness and resilience to kids in schools, and I needed to observe myself and lead by example.

So, for 72 hours in Doha, I flew on a wing and a prayer, a cellphone, Uber and Agoda.com. A comfortable bed, evening swims and steam baths, and the hotel’s in-room bottled water for both dinner and breakfast. 

The Ezdan Palace, by night

The theme of the conference – The World Innovation Summit for Education, otherwise known as ‘WISE’, was “Unlearn. Relearn – What it takes to be human”. It became apparent to me that we need to unlearn the brains wiring for drama and relearn faith in what we currently have, alongside the fact that we can tap deeper into our powerful minds, our voices and technology to tackle a problem. With over 3000 delegates from 110 countries, WISE speakers shared stories of children with zero access to education, of young learners drawn from school to work in guerilla groups in Colombia, or girls in India who suffer from sexual abuse – statistically one in two. My problems were mere “champagne problems”. 

The energy and commitment of these educators to help and solve such epidemics literally filled me to the edges of myself. Our program, MySociaLife, teaches kids to be safer and smarter, by being in control of their devices, setting themselves up correctly and using them for good which helps to fire their passions in their teens. But education on any level changes lives which can change society, irrespective of whether it is basic reading or robotics.

A mobile phone appropriately harnessed can get you around the world, in relative luxury if you like, as long as you learn how to use it correctly, and tap the powerful human skill of resourcefulness to unlock that potential. That rule applies to humans of any age.