Travel Troubles: What To Do When You Lose Your Passport Abroad

Some people are accident-prone. Others attract bad relationships. Me, I get into travel trouble. I once broke a piece off a plane mid flight – luckily not one crucial for flying. I’ve been robbed and swindled – in Bolivia, both in the same morning. There are friends of mine who joke that the only sure thing when traveling with me is that our flight will be canceled. I confess to you that I have even been deported.

Amazingly, I’ve never actually lost my passport. (Just a moment, please, while I race around knocking on every available wood surface in my apartment.) However, being embarrassingly prone to travel troubles, I’ve gone ahead and prepared for the highly likely possibility that this will one day occur. Here’s what to do when you lose that prized official ID, according to various subjective (me) and objective (the government) sources.

Panic
What? You’re not panicking? You’ve lost your PASSPORT. You might be stuck in a place that is not America FOREVER. I’m kidding. Do not panic. Definitely don’t. Do you know what happens when you panic? Well, it has something to do with the shift of blood flow and “fight or flight” and sweating and, see, it’s all very scientific so let me simplify things by saying that it’s the reason all those big-breasted, short-skirted girls run up the stairs in horror movies. In your case, it’s the reason you are currently braced against the nearest wall, starting to breath funny, and wondering if 25-year-olds ever have heart attacks. This will keep you from taking the necessary steps to remedy this unfortunate situation. So stay calm, guy. Everything is going to okay.If You See Something, Say Something
Of course, you might not have actually seen anything at all. When I was robbed in La Paz, the culprits set up an elaborate spit-on-the-target-and-abscond-with-her-stuff-while-she-is-wiping-disgusting-goo-off-her-neck ruse. I had no clue who these ninjas were. (Side note: referring to the people who rob you as “ninjas” makes you feel better than admitting they were probably not particularly gifted 12-year-olds.) Still, I filed a police report and you should, too. It’s important for making claims with travel insurance, at the very least. And you can rest a little easier that night knowing you’ve done your small citizen part to fight crime in Gotham City (or wherever you are).

Get thee to an Embassy
Turns out you’re not spending a lazy morning sucking down espressos at that quaint little bakery in rural France. Nope, you’re on the next train back to far less friendly Paris to visit your embassy. Here’s what will happen when you get there, according to the Bureau of Consular Affairs website: “You will need to speak to the American Citizens Services unit of the Consular Section … You will need to complete a new passport application. The consular officer taking an application for replacement of a lost, stolen, or misplaced passport must be reasonably satisfied as to your identity and citizenship before issuing the replacement. In virtually all cases this can be done through examination of whatever citizenship and identity documents are available, conversations with the applicant, close observation of demeanor and replies to questions asked, and discussions with the applicant’s travelling companions or contacts in the United States.” My unsolicited advice: don’t make any jokes about being a double agent or respond “Jason Bourne” when asked your name. I understand the embassy has a terrible sense of humor.

Ask for Help
Before traveling to any foreign country, I make sure to learn a few key phrases. How much does this cost? Where is the nearest restroom? Is what I’m eating right now technically food or are you just hazing unsuspecting tourists? Useful things like that. Another helpful sentence would go something like this: Help, please, I’ve just been robbed and I need to use your Internet/phone/bottle of tequila. (If you lost your passport over-indulging in the local wine, say, I recommend neglecting the specifics of how you ended up ID-less and only wearing one shoe and concocting a more sympathetic storyline. The travel gods will forgive you the white lie.) Losing a passport sucks, no doubt about it. But you might look at it as an opportunity, albeit an unwanted one, to witness for yourself the kindness of strangers. In any given place, even New York City, I promise you, there are compassionate locals ready to offer help. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to find them.

Back it Up, Back it Up, Back it Up
This is more of a post (or ideally pre) passport loss piece of advice – common sense but often ignored, as is the way with much common sense. You should have copies of all your important documents: passport and driver’s license, boarding passes, traveler’s checks. If you’re a real overachiever, you’ve stashed copies with a loved one back home and somewhere in your luggage – not to mention scanned the stuff and saved copies in your email. I’ve heard that getting new passport photos taken abroad can by a royal pain in the embassy so you might consider bringing these along for the journey, too.

[Flickr image via Howdy, I'm H. Michael Karshis]