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Losing Your Passport: Into the Abyss

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Losing Your Passport: Into the Abyss

Life had not gone well for a high school Spanish teacher I met in Europe since the handbag with her passport, placed under a table at a crowded café in Malaga Spain, had disappeared six days before. She was still experiencing the utter misery of having her passport stolen.

She had hardly slept since then.

In fact during the last 48 hours trying to stand by for flights from Charles de Gaulle Airport, all of which were full, this teacher had not been able to sleep at all, in part because of security sweeps and in part because of the noise made at night by cleaning personnel. She had no money left for a hotel.

My new friend looked terrible and felt terrible. The stress of her situation had made her ill.

Her experience serves as a helpful reminder of safe and unsafe travel procedures, especially with something as critical as your passport.

Into the abyss

Besides the passport, all of her credit cards, all of her cash, her driver’s license, and her cell phone were in that handbag.

Luckily in this case, she was chaperoning a group of mostly 15-year-old high school students, whose expenses and hers were prepaid for the first several days until the students had to return home without her. She could at least borrow their cellphones to cancel her credit cards and phone and to talk with the embassy, airline, and police.

However, being so used to using the speed dial features of her phone, she could not remember the telephone numbers of her friends and relatives other than one relative in the UK. Her sole address book was that cell phone.

Embarrassed by the situation, she did not ask her UK relative for enough money to carry her through if she did not get on a return flight right away. With flights full, with airport hotels running around $200 and up per night, and with still no credit cards, she ended up attempting to sleep at the airport in Paris.

Wiring money was also a problem. Without identification, she could not collect any money. Happily, the funds wired in the name of one of her students arrived before that student returned home. That way she could at least reach the embassy and airport in Madrid.

Fluent in Spanish, she did not have to wait for the police to schedule a translator before she filed the police report needed for the passport replacement. That saved one day. Also, Air France in Madrid and Delta Airlines in Paris were very kind to her, she said, especially by not charging her any penalties or fare supplements, which could have been very high, for missing her group flight home. Most of us may not be so lucky.

Interestingly, when she arrived at the U.S. Embassy, 20 other Americans were waiting for lost and stolen passport replacements.

Employment impact

Perhaps most stressful of all was the potential impact on her reputation.

Although she has enjoyed leading these student trips for years without problems, will parents trust her with their children in the future?

In this case, the parents of some students apparently became very upset when they found out that their children would be returning home from Europe on connecting flights without adult supervision. This in turn agitated her high school principal, who also faced having her out of the classroom for at least an additional week depending on her health.

Even if she or the school had been willing and able to pay some $3,000 in last-minute airfare to have an alternative adult bring the group home, these spring break period flights were already heavily overbooked.

The right stuff

Of course, this person made the terribly serious mistake putting “all her eggs in one basket,” that handbag, which she then placed out of her sight on the floor. She could have at least kept several credit cards in a separate place.

One has to question putting anything in a handbag while traveling in some locales. In some places, I have used clear plastic bags to carry inexpensive items such as food, which sends a message that I am not worth bothering.

On the other hand, my new teacher friend did several things that significantly helped her situation and could help yours.

First, she placed copies of the front and back of her credit cards in another location, which facilitated canceling them quickly.

Second, the U.S. Embassy mentioned that the copy she brought of the information page in her passport sped up the replacement process, which in her case got her a new passport on the same day. For some reason, the embassy said that her copy in color facilitated the process.

You can either store paper copies of your passport and cards in a separate bag, as she fortunately did, or perhaps preferably in an easily accessible but secure Internet database.

Interestingly, she took along a money belt, which set unused, as “too much of a nuisance.” I am willing to bet that it will be well used next time for items not immediately needed!

Her luck turns

At check in, I asked if the flight was overbooked. “Very overbooked,” I was told. “We’ll give you $1,000, a hotel, and meals if you will fly the next day, if needed.” With visions of another night in Paris and that money floating before my eyes, I volunteered instantly!

In the overcrowded gate area, I felt so sorry for my new friend. She seemed to have no chance of traveling standby on this, the last flight of the day. That probably meant another sleepless night for a person who was ill.

Nevertheless, after we all boarded, there she came to sit two seats over!

That’s a $1,000 overbooking compensation I am glad I did not collect. However, I did get even by speaking my terrible Spanish to her on the way home.

Comments

richard
September 21, 2011

Thank you.
Hope I can keep my originals safe.
I intend to keep one or two copies with me and another at home.

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Don Nadeau
September 21, 2011

Thanks richard. Hope you can.

When you get a chance, do look into the Internet storage option. You scan your your passport, etc. and then upload these to your Internet storage account.

I am no security expert, but it would probably be significantly safer to access these items, if needed on a trip, via a wired connection using your laptop, if available, at a place you trust, instead of via a wireless one at some Cybercafe or a public computer at one of these places.

Finding safe access while travelling is the single disadvantage I can think of for Internet storage.

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Deia
October 2, 2013

This is a scary story, Don! I should really start keeping better back-ups. What cloud storage do you use?

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Don Nadeau
October 3, 2013

Thank you, Dela. It was!

There are so many great cloud storage options out there, such as Dropbox, Carbonite, and Mozy. Some of these offer free accounts if you do not need a lot of storage.

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Alison
January 10, 2016

unfortunately the time before my daughter and I went to volunteer in London for Pax Lodge (Girl Guides/Scouts youth hostel) for months, I did copy passports in color, but left my daughter’s passport on the glass of our copier. :( She had picked up her blue checkbook instead thinking it was her passport. We arrived at the airport to find we couldn’t board, a good friend I had left a key to our apt went and got it and drove it halfway to meet us. Copying is good, originals are better!

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Don Nadeau
January 10, 2016

Thanks, Alison!

Am glad that eventually worked out! So wonderful you got to spend months in London—Love that city even in its often gloomy winters.

Thank you again for your comment.

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