The funny thing I’ve learned about traveling is that no matter how often you do it or how prepared you feel for a trip, inevitably you will still make the most cliche mistakes. In my case of losing just about every physical thing I had packed for my holiday, I probably should’ve reacted a little more upset. I had my 65L backpack and passport disappear in week 2 of a 5 week trip abroad. I had planned on doing some country hopping through Iceland, England, Western Europe, and central and eastern Asia to get a taste of places I might want to return for extended trips.
Fate seemed to have other plans for me. Iceland turned into an 8 day trip rather than a brief 3 for great reasons (see my previous post)! England became extended to visit a travel friend up north that I’d befriended in Australia. This is why I never make set travel plans anyway. I LOVE when spontaneity brings me to new adventures. When I finally returned to London Heathrow Airport from Leeds on a National Express bus, fully prepared to take off 2 hours later for France, things went awry. It took me a few minutes to actually accept that my things were gone. My backpack was no longer underneath the bus. I had been up all night writing music with my friend and for the first time forgot to pull my passport out of my large bag to put into my small one before boarding the 6 hour journey. When it finally hit me that my stuff was truly gone, I couldn’t stop laughing. I found it hilarious!
I’ve been a flight attendant for almost 3 years now. I’ve gotten pretty good at packing and planning for all kinds of trips on my off days. I have my typical patterns of organizing my things in one large backpack and one small bag for planes, trains, buses and day trips. With each trip I seem to learn something new from other travelers for packing more efficiently. I ask questions and do a lot of observing.
Just before I began this trip I was talking to an intrigued coworker about my packing habits. I had laughed at the suggestion of travel insurance, saying I’d never lost anything major. To be honest, I don’t travel with nice things anyway. My clothes are typically from thrift/charity shops; I don’t bring a laptop or fancy camera. Typically the most valuable things I carry are my cell phone, wallet and passport.
Before becoming a flight attendant and traveling as often as I do, this situation would’ve definitely created some anxiety. I’ve been lucky to have some amazing experiences and conversations with travelers that have opened my mind to think about these things in a different way. I’ve adopted a strong belief in serendipity, things happening for a reason. We can’t always control life. Crying over spilled milk won’t do anything to help the situation. It’s way more fun to just ride out the journey with a smile on your face and see where it takes you.
Here I was stuck in London. London and I have a strong history together. The day after I graduated with my degree in classical music I was on tour in England and Wales with my university orchestra. 2 and a half weeks later I missed my flight and ended up stranded in the London after an extended time visiting Ireland and Scotland. That trip changed my life and made me realize I needed to continue traveling. A few weeks later I was interviewing to become a flight attendant, something I’d never even considered as a career for myself. I fell into an incredible whirlwind of life. London became a city where I fell in love, had some amazing nights out and made life long friends. It’s where I developed a strong passion for jazz and the music scene in general and how I learned how to travel on public transportation, a skill I’d never needed in the US. I essentially spent the first year and a half of my new job traveling to London on most of my off days.
Now here I am, fast forward just over 3 years. I can barely stand to be in my own country more than a month at a time without a holiday abroad somewhere in the world. I travel alone or with friends and have had my mind opened by some amazing personalities. I’ve never had anything go too badly up to this point and now here I am once again stranded in such a special place.
It could be coincidental, but I don’t choose to believe that. The timing was right for an extended stay. There are people I needed to see; friends I missed and new people that I’ve befriended. It’s been magical. Some amazing friends insisted on taking me in, feeding me, giving me clothes to wear and showing me some wonderful nights out. I never paused my holiday, but just considered it a detour handed to me by fate.
For those of you that are US citizens, you’ll be relieved to hear that losing your passport abroad is not the end of the world. While I’m sure it depends what country you’re in and whether or not there’s an embassy nearby, I found the process to be much more simple than they make it sound online. London is probably one of the best places to be stuck in my situation. The US Embassy is easy to reach by public transportation (you can see the renowned tower bridge from the top floor waiting area) and I had no issues making an appointment.
Doing my research from my phone, I narrowed down what I needed for my appointment for an emergency passport to the following things:
*A copy of the original passport (if possible)
*Some form of identification such as drivers license or another country passport
*Proof of US Citizenship i.e. copy of your birth certificate, additional passport, etc.
*A recent passport photo for your replacement
*A form of payment to cover the replacement fees and services
*Paperwork, paperwork, paperwork!
The embassy is closed on weekends and I was unlucky enough to have my situation occur on a Friday afternoon. The sites I found also claim that the Embassy operates on an appointment only basis. Since then, I’ve learned that they have an emergency number you can call if you really need it ASAP for travel plans and in some cases, mostly emergencies, you can receive help on the weekend. I was able to make my appointment on a Monday for the very next day.
I was shocked at the efficiency of the US embassy. I had felt underprepared going in, but actually found that I was over-prepared. Because my parents had sent me a photo of my old passport, I was able to plug in the information on my paperwork without a problem. They didn’t want to see any of my documentation aside from my drivers license. From arrival to departure, the entire thing took me an hour and a half. I walked out with my emergency passport, valid up to one year from the date of issue.
If you ever find yourself with the need of an emergency passport, here are a few things you should know. It’s valid up to one year from the date of issue and cannot be renewed. If you fail to trade it in for your full replacement passport within that time frame and let it expire, you will have to pay the full fees of a new passport. If you get back to the US and immediately trade it in, which is recommended, or trade it in before the expiration date, there are no additional fees.
Additionally, you should have no issues traveling to multiple countries with the emergency passport. In my case I have the intentions of traveling around the world. The embassy did suggest that I check online with each country’s embassy to ensure there are no restrictions to certain countries before hopping on a plane. They did warm that there may be some additional questioning in some countries. The only thing I have to keep track of is how many stamps I am acquiring. The emergency passport book only has 5 pages, unlike a normal passport book. However, if this may become an issue, a US citizen can go to any embassy around the world and request additional pages.
Needless to say, I’m glad I didn’t bother stressing about the situation. My travel plans have been forcibly altered, but it has just set me on an entirely new and exciting course! Meanwhile, I didn’t waste a moment of my holiday. Life just had a funny way of getting my attention to send me in a new direction and I couldn’t be happier about it. My next stop is now to lovely Croatia!