Ellie had been warned about Barcelona.
Classified by some as the pickpocket capital of the world, the city is renowned for theft, and tourists are often told to be on high alert.
So when Ellie decided to go out one Saturday night with friends, she left her license, passport and credit card in the hotel. She wore a zipped up, crossbody bag, like the dorky Australian abroad she was, carrying with her only a little bit of cash, and her phone.
Hours went by, and the three women had a great night in La Rambla, the party district.
But as they walked home, watching the sun rise, Ellie noticed her bag felt lighter. When she reached in, she discovered her phone was no longer there.
She decided not to panic. The phone was not only switched off, it had a passcode no one would be able to guess. She let out a groan, but by the time she woke up the next day at 10am, she had moved on.
Well, until she checked her iPad.
An email appeared from her phone company that read, “You’ve exceeded your credit limit,” urging her to call immediately.
Ellie – it’s important to note – is exceptionally level-headed.
She’s calm. She’s rational. And she’s a problem solver.
LISTEN: If you ever find yourself in debt, here are some tips from The Barefoot Investor. Post continues below.
Her plan was capped at $250, she remembered. It couldn’t be that bad. She then used her iPad to locate her iPhone, and discovered it was still switched off.
She took a deep breath.
Police. She should go to the police, she thought. But after a quick google search, Ellie discovered there was probably no point. Tourists were sometimes made to wait for eight or so hours to report their missing belongings. It was a Sunday morning, and every man and their dog would be lining up, getting the documents they needed to claim their lost or stolen belongings on travel insurance.
Ellie had a train to catch as they were off to Valencia for the Tomato Throwing Festival that afternoon. So off she went.
In Valencia, she met up with five friends, and they started drinking at their hotel, ready to go out that night. After a few hours, Ellie thought she might just check her phone bill online to see if there had been any charges.
“Oh my God,” she yelled.
“Oh my God,” she repeated.
Her friend asked, “What, what is it?” but Ellie didn’t yet have the words.
"Stop it you're scaring me!" her friend exclaimed.
Ellie slowly slid the iPad over to her friend, who just said; "Oh my God".
The screen read $42,000.
Her parents were due to arrive for their first ever trip to Europe in four weeks time.
"They will have to cancel," Ellie thought. "They will have to sell up all their assets to pay off my bill..."
A friend in the hotel had parents who were barristers, and assured Ellie it would be sorted out. There was clearly some kind of mistake, and a 23-year-old was not going to be forced to pay a $42,000 phone bill.
Ellie wasn't so certain.
Another friend called the phone company on Ellie's behalf, and the operator kept repeating, "Oh ma'm, I've never seen anything like this before."
They exclaimed to her that a credit limit on a bill was very different to the capped amount, and they wouldn't be able to confirm the fraudulent activity until the monthly bill came through.
Ellie, unsurprisingly, didn't sleep that night. She waited until morning, and went straight to the police station and reported the phone missing through loud sobs. "I wonder if he's ever seen someone so upset about an iPhone 4," she wondered to herself.
The next day she pulled herself out of bed figuring there wasn't much she could do in the next two weeks, and headed to the Tomato Throwing Festival, doing her very best to forget about how her life was falling apart.
In the days following, she did call her insurance company who highlighted a clause in her contract that read, "we do not cover fraudulent activity of any kind including credit cards and mobile phones."
Things were not looking good.
And then came The Day.
As she laid on her top bunk in a dorm in Prague, where she joked she'd probably live for the rest of her life as she'd never be able to afford the flight home, she checked her monthly mobile bill.
The total cost owing was $89,000.
Her reaction was different to two weeks ago. She did the only thing that was left to do. She laughed.
Never in her lifetime would Ellie pay off that phone bill. It was... absurd. Entirely impossible for one human being to make that many phone calls.
And when she looked more closely, it emerged that one person hadn't. Multiple calls had been made from her device at the same time, some amounting to more than $100 a minute. They were being made from an island off New Zealand that was not inhabited by humans, and the bill itself was 45 pages long. The calls were clearly fraudulent, and appeared to be part of some telemarketing scheme.
Ellie sent off an email to her service provider, explaining the situation and outlining that she would not be able to pay the bill because, well, it was $89,000. She said she would not be back in Australia for another two months and planned to sort it out then.
And then came the response.
Just two days later her provider emailed her with the words, "Thanks for your email. This has been sorted. All you will have to do is pay a $300 fee."
The insurance company eventually accepted her police report, and reimbursed her the $800 cost of a new phone.
But within every story exists a little lesson. Ellie says she checks the credit limit, which sits conveniently in small print, every time she signs a new plan.
And now she lives her life (... relatively) debt free.