The unexpected side of travel

We meet many people on the road, both locals and travelers alike who help us in time of need or distress without expecting a return. Last week of every month I bring you stories from travelers who have experienced kindness on the road and like to share and spread it for the love of travel.

This month’s story has come from Supriya Manot who takes us to Europe where she lost her passport. Read what happens next.
Over to Supriya Manot.
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musee du luvre
When an opportunity to visit Europe for work came up, I nearly jumped in excitement. More so because Bharat (my husband) was accompanying me, and we had managed to turn the trip into a work cum leisure one.

Be very careful with your purse in Italy and France, my grandma warned me. Of course, I would, I said. It wasn’t the first time I was traveling abroad, and I had planned this for months.

Our two jam-packed days in Tuscany and Florence flew by and we were making the all-important journey to Cannes to attend a travel fair that I was participating in. Our transit involved a change of trains on the border of France and Italy and things went smoothly.

Not for a moment did I sense anything amiss until it was time to check-in to our hotel in Cannes. The receptionist asked for our passports and I confidently dug into my purse to fish them out. In my enthusiasm, I had over packed. Apart from a huge suitcase, my big hand purse included an SLR, an iPad, and my smartphone among other things.

Initially, I was positive I hadn’t lost our passports and couldn’t recall any suspicious incident. We checked all our bags and suitcases. That’s when I recalled the wretched moment. In my eagerness to organize the purse en-route, I had taken a few items out. The passports were in a black pouch and I had rested them against the window in the moving train, from where it is likely that they slipped and fell under the seat.

Panic swept over us. We immediately took the concierge’s help in contacting the train stations and then informed a couple of people back home. But neither the French nor Italian train administration was of much help. Our friend, who I was working with during those days, put me in touch with a few people who were also attending the fair. That’s how we met Anthony. A French by birth, he lived in Italy and was also representing his employer at the fair.

The next few hours were a blur. Since neither Bharat nor I were fluent French speakers, Anthony took it upon himself to make calls, speak with locals and even follow up with stationmasters. He took us to the police station and helped us get a FIR filed in the evening. He continued to provide moral support and checked on me whenever he found time at the fair. Our passports weren’t found and we had to cancel the rest of our trip and instead head to the Indian embassy in Paris. Luck favored us and our papers were processed in two days. We chose to return to India with emergency certificates instead of getting temporary passports made.

As travelers, we take every necessary step to prepare ourselves for a journey. Insurance, visas, documents, medicines, warm clothes…the list is endless. But what we don’t mentally prepare for are unforeseen situations like this one. For someone who has lived in multiple cities, never misplaced belongings or been careless – this was hard to deal with. I cried and blamed myself for a while after the ordeal. Even today, the incident seems very recent. I learned my lessons the hard way, but it could have been a lot worse.

Looking back, here are a few notes from our experience that can help others cope with such a situation:

• Mistakes and slip ups happen to everyone. Instead of letting the shock envelope you, take action.
• Communicate, reach out and explain the situation to anyone who can be of help.
• Accept the situation and try to think of next possible logical steps – this is where others can be of great help.
• Keep panic to a minimum– it can cause more trouble than needed.
• Next steps to take can vary between countries. Here’s a list of steps we undertook in France after this incident.
• Continue to be polite and levelheaded. It can help you in sticky situations, especially while talking with visa officers, cops and officials.

Like some stories, mine has a silver lining. Back in India, our new passports were processed with a clean chit. We stayed in touch with Anthony, and caught up with him on his visit to Boston. Last year, we also made the long overdue trip to Portugal, this time with our passports well in place.

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Supriya Manot is one half of Funtravelog. When she’s not occupied with her day job in digital marketing, she’s cooking up plans for multiple getaways in her head and plotting ways to turn them into a reality with her husband Bharat.

You may want to read some of the earlier posts on the same theme.
Kindness on the Road
Surviving America
Good deed not dead!
Lost and found

If you have been helped by someone during your travels and want to share your story with the world, feel free to connect with me in comments section.

44 thoughts on “The unexpected side of travel

  1. Loosing passport while travelling is one of our biggest nightmare! Sometimes, no matter how many measures we take such tragedies are bound to happen and as you said instead on dwelling on the loss we need to think of what to do next. Love reading stories from different travelers your these series 🙂

    1. It sure is an interesting tale to share with our future grandchildren..on a serious note, yes it is chaotic and is sure a testing phase. Thanks for your lovely words Parnashree.

  2. I’m lucky to have never lost anything important while traveling. I’m so paranoid about it, I used to always have a copy of my passport in every bag and on my person — now I just have digital copies. It helps that living abroad means I have multiple gov’t IDs.

    I’m glad you were able to get local help! I can’t imagine trying to take care of any of that without speaking the language. Whenever I’ve been in France, I’ve found people incredible with going above and beyond whenever I needed help with anything.

    1. Digital and physical copies saved our lives. I’m so much more careful now – and somehow can never get this incident out of my head whenever I think of “passports”

      Though we did have our Indian IDs too, they can’t be used instead of a passport. Our short time in France was nice, and we can’t wait to go back!

  3. I’ve never lost my passport while traveling, but this is definitely something I fear of happening. So glad you found someone who was kind and helped you out in this awful situation. I bookmarked the page on “Tips on what to do when you lose your passport!”.

  4. Oh, that’s awful! I was traveling with a friend who had her passport stolen while we were in Italy. The process is never fun, but it sounds like you had such a kind soul on your side to help! Glad that the experience didn’t sour you on traveling!

    1. Oh it never can. It was a huge learning experience – goes to say that travel teaches you lifelong lessons, no matter what the situation..and we were lucky to have our friend. I hope your friend didn’t have a tough time following the passport loss.

  5. Oh my goodness I am so sorry you lost your passports! What a nightmare, although it sounds like you handled yourself very well! You also give very sound advice on how to handle a travel crisis like this. Mine would have to be to remain calm, I feel like I would be a hot emotional mess if I misplaced my passport! Thanks for reminding us of good people out there willing to help

    1. We were a mess too but when we knew we’d never find the passports, we had to hold ourselves together and get the process going. It really helped to have Anthony around and the folks at the embassy were super duper nice. We lucked out on that aspect at least. Thank you so much for your kind words.

  6. This is actually one of my biggest fears, and I’m sorry it happened to you. You two seemed to have handled it with ease; I would probably just start crying. You’re so right in that it’s so important to keep our heads on straight — there are certainly some bad people in the world, but I’m always hopeful there are more good people to counteract the negativity. Thanks for sharing your story!

  7. When I visited Italy, a lot of people warned us about the perils of losing one’s passport. This account just got back all that. The tips you have mentioned are super practical! Thanks for sharing your candid account!

    1. You’re welcome Divyakshi (what an interesting name!)

      Italy and Paris seem to the top destinations in terms of pick pocketing / crime. But we survived..and hope to revisit Italy.

  8. Misadventures on the road happen a lot (esp to me, as I call myself the queen of travel fails lol) So when they DO happen, Its hard to stay calm but she’s right, you must! One of my friends lost her passport (by lost I mean got mugged) in Spain and it was a disaster but it was sorted in 2 days – I know how it feels but hey you also learn from such experiences and tend to be careful, many times over, next!

    1. So true Jo. Now I am doubly careful even on an everyday basis (especially with wallet, keys, train passes etc.)

      This was a lesson learned and rightly so. Hope things went well for your friend – 2 days is great actually!

  9. What a story! These things can happen to anyone – so great that you were level headed about the whole thing, and that you had a friend on your side.

  10. That sounds like such a horrible experience. I would be devastated if I ever had to cancel a trip because I lost my passport. But it’s great that you are philosophical and learning a lesson from the experience.

  11. Oh no! That’s terrible, I’ve had this happen before, so know exactly the kind of panic and stress that it can cause 🙁 Even though mistakes do always happen, I’m sorry that this happened to you XX

  12. I imagine that eventually, paper passports will be a thing of the past. Fortunately, so far, the only things I’ve lost while traveling have been 3 black cardigans—twice left on airplanes. Judging how much the lost cardigans upset me, I’m pretty sure a lost passport would have me unhinged. Silver lining: there is kindness in others.

  13. OMG I would have cried!! I can imagine that were sick to your stomach! It is terrible sad that you had to cancel the rest of your trip! Your story is a great reminder on keeping them close and triple check as when we are traveling it is easy to get sidetracked and lose things! Your list of things to do if you lose your passport is awesome. Thank you for sharing.

  14. Things like this happen. I have copies of all my documents, like passports and credit cards both front and back, which I have stored online so that I can access them in case the worst ever happens. Having a copy makes things easier when you do need to get replacements.

  15. Stressful experience but it can happen. I just try to keep them as safe as possible and only carry then when it’s necessary. Most of the times a copy is all you need and store copies on my phone and online.

  16. I havent cocked up yet like losing a passport (touch wood). Great write up and good to know your experience on how you got through this. Really hope this doesn’t happen to me.

  17. With travelling so many unexpected things happen, add in a language barrier and unfamiliar customs and it can be overwhelming. It is also part of the joy of travelling and a situation where we also have often seen the best side of human nature shine through. Thanks for sharing these positive travel experiences.

  18. Even the most seasoned travelers make mistakes. One time I went to the airport without my passport. Luckily, all it cost me was an extra Uber ride back home. You were very fortunate that you had a French speaker to help. I live in Paris and it’s nearly impossible to deal with situations such as this even if you’re a native speaker.

  19. That’s very a tough situation to be in. I am still glad that they got papers processed in 2 days and were able to go back to India.
    The tips are required to be followed, not optional!

    I was planning a trip to Italy a while back and such incidents were mentioned by many.

  20. You got a point with trying not to panick – I am often freaking out when something doesn’t work. When I look back, many times it was not necessary to get angry like that, but many times, it’s simply too late.

  21. Love this series–great guest post! That’s such a bummer of a story and unfortunate you didn’t find the passports. Glad that Anthony was so helpful and that everything turned out ok and you made a friend in the end–always great to hear about kindness like this!

  22. When I traveling with my friend he also lost his passport but the problem was that we were 1000km away from the nearest Consulate or Embassy and the country was full of military checkpoints. Going to the capital was quite an adventure, as we had to give long explanations each time we found one checkpoint. Nice story, it’s good to read these kind of adventures from time to time.

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