What happens when you break the cardinal rule of international travel?
by Erik Anderson
You might be saying to yourself, “Which rule is that?” Before I discuss the rule, let me give you a little background on my situation. This was certainly not my first time abroad, but it was my first time to Israel. I have a bit more international travel coming up, including at least one other trip to the Middle East –where having a passport stamp from one country may cause passport control delays in another one. To try to avoid any potential problems, I applied for a second passport to segregate these trips. The second passport arrived well in time, and I was off.
The trip itself was thankfully uneventful, and after doing some tourist activities on Sunday, the work week began. The three day workshop flew by, and by that time, I was ready to go home. There weren’t very many good flight options to travel back, but I did find an itinerary that would be bearable in coach. I would have Thursday morning to see some sites in Tel Aviv, and then I would fly to London in the evening for an overnight layover at the airport hotel. I’d then wake up early, semi-refreshed, and start getting back to my normal time schedule on the early flight back to the States. I even had an exit row seat so I could stretch out for the transatlantic segment.
I woke up on my last day and walked around the city as planned. I was excited to be going home to see my family. All my bags were packed (and ready to go), and was leaving for the airport well in advance of my flight to allow plenty of time for the enhanced security.
And that’s when it all started to go wrong.
I loaded my bags into the back of the taxi, got into the car, and began to double check for all my important items. Cell phone? Check. Wallet? Check. Passport? Passport? Where is it?
I get out of the cab, and begin to check all of my other pockets. Maybe it fell out when I was giving the bellman the ticket for my bag just moments ago. Maybe it was put in one of my bags or suitcase. Maybe it fell out in my hotel room. I check with hotel security. No luck. I check with the restaurant and bar I went to last night. No luck.
At this point, I’m really starting to get worried. Could it have fallen out or been stolen when I went on my walking tour this morning? I must have covered 3-4 miles of frequently travelled paths. My flight now leaves in 3.5 hours. What do I do?
Without any other ideas on where my passport could be, I go to the US Embassy which was fortunately also in Tel Aviv. I do have a photocopy of the passport, but when I speak to the guard, he eventually gives me the disappointing news that they won’t be able to help me today. My heart plummets. He gives me some paperwork to fill out and I get new passport photos taken.
When I get back to the hotel, I verify that I can stay another night (I can) and start to work out flight changes. Because Friday is a holy day in Israel, there are fewer flights available, and the one I really want is sold out. After searching for other options, I eventually get confirmed on the Saturday morning flight. But now there is another complication. There is not a single hotel available in Tel Aviv for Friday night, but by this time, I’m mentally exhausted and will worry about it tomorrow.
I wake up and go to the embassy at 7:30, wait to be allowed in and was given the first appointment of the day. In case this ever happens to you, know that you can’t take any bags or electronics into the embassy. I answer a few questions, pay a small fee, and ultimately they said the passport would be ready at 2 PM. I kill some time back at the hotel and continue to look for a hotel for the evening, but still no luck. Every hotel in Tel Aviv is completely sold out. I could contact one of my local coworkers, but decide that my option is to go to the airport and somehow, someway try to get on today’s flight. Maybe someone won’t show up. Maybe someone else will lose their passport.
When the time comes, I go back to the US Embassy and pick up my temporary passport with no issue. Throughout this entire process, the people there have been very helpful, and I was able to get that new passport in less than 24 hours, which all things considered, was pretty impressive.
New passport in hand, I rush to the airport and make it with enough time to speak to British Airways. I explain my situation, and after some pleading, they agree to let me fly with them IF there’s space. Departure time comes and there’s one seat left… but it’s broken and there’s no room for me. Too bad airlines don’t have the ability to add on demand capacity like the cloud environments I work with every day. With no hotel room and the fact that I would need to return to the airport very early in the morning, I decide to spend the next 18 hours in the Tel Aviv airport.
I could go on with other woes of close calls and attempts at getting home a little earlier, like running through Heathrow to catch an earlier flight, only to have the last two passengers arrive 5 minutes before scheduled departure, but I think you get the point.
I don’t know exactly when or where I lost it (or even perhaps I had my pocket picked while walking), but whatever happened in those 2-3 seconds of decreased awareness that it took my passport to leave my pocket, it cost me dearly from a disruption perspective (ie: 18 hours in an airport before 20 hours of flying in coach). But ultimately, there was only a small financial impact, I lost 30 hours of my weekend time at home, and my safety was never in question. In the grand scheme of things, there certainly are worse things that could happen abroad.
I don’t necessarily believe in fate, but I do consider myself a glass half full type of person. So I’ll leave you with this. Maybe it did happen for a reason. Maybe there was a car accident that I would have been in on the way home from the airport, and this travel debacle ultimately saved my life. The truth is, I’ll never know. But what I do know for sure is that this cardinal rule of travel will not be broken by me ever again.