While I’ve probably done plenty of stupid things while traveling, I would never, ever consider leaving my passport sitting somewhere. I’m pretty paranoid about this, checking and rechecking the pocket where I have it stashed, unconsciously fingering the stiff cover through my purse as I walk. As soon as the flight attendants hand out immigration forms on a plane, I always fastidiously copy down my passport number, place of issue and expiration date and then carefully tuck my passport away again.
So the time I actually DID walk off leaving my passport on a counter in a public place was not something I ever expected of myself. But first, some other passport faux pas:
- Not applying for a passport at all.
Yes, this did happen to someone I know. I guess they didn’t know they would need a passport to get into South Korea?And that’s all I’m going to say about that.
- Waiting until the week before leaving for Colombia to apply for said passport.
Again, I guess they didn’t realize applying for a passport requires dealing with government bureaucracy.
And the best yet:
- Three American travelers camping in a tent on a beach in Venezuela put all their passports in the same bag. Oh yes, the bag that was at the edge of the tent. The one bag that the lonely midnight thief managed to snag by reaching into their tent. While they were sleeping in it!
Mistake one: camping in an unsafe area. Mistake two: putting all the passports in the same bag. Mistake three: not having that bag strapped to your body at all times. Mistake four: getting a passport stolen in a country that doesn’t have such great relations with the US.
So what was my passport mistake? Well, I left Kano, Nigeria on a midnight KLM flight to Amsterdam. Which meant I had to check in about 3 hours early. And that I also had to deal with Nigeria-style bureaucracy, (i.e. which makes US bureaucrats look terribly efficient.)
To get in to the airport, I had to show passports, which meant my friends couldn’t even come in with me. I entered the airport and was faced with an airport official seated at a worn wooden desk, flanked by two soldiers. The guards told me I couldn’t leave unless I proved that I spoke the local language. Which, yep, I hadn’t learned that in 8 days. I eventually figured out he was (sort of) joking and repeated some phrase I heard from the person beside me. I was really ready to be home at this point, so the idea of him not letting me leave made me edgy.
Eventually I got past him (nervously checking over my shoulder to make sure he wasn’t changing his mind) and looked for a check-in counter. There didn’t appear to be one, until I saw another soldier-type beckoning me to a roped off area beside a luggage x-ray machine. He opened the barrier for me, and I strode to the counter, where a KLM employee stood ready to help.
I handed him my ticket and passport, keeping a firm grip on my bag. The agent glanced at my passport, set it on the counter and turned to his computer. As I watched him type, I felt a tickle on my upper lip. I swiped at it and realized blood was trickling out of my nose in a warm stream.
Everything went into fast-motion. I pitched forward to avoid getting blood on my clothes and pinched my nose. Someone grabbed me and pulled me behind the barriers into a seat. The Muslim man with 3 wives and 4 kids listening to a droning sermon on the radio turned to stare at the white woman who was bleeding. I huddled in the chair, willing my nose to stop gushing and praying I could get home.
Suddenly I realized I had just walked away and left my passport out in the open, where anyone could grab it. I panicked and tried to get up. But my lovely friends made me stay there, while one of them retrieved my passport. Thankfully, nothing had happened, and the agent got me checked in for the flight without me there.
Awkward, embarrassing and bizarre? Yes, getting a bloody nose in the Kano airport was all of that.
Moral of the story: never think you are infallible. I’m certainly not.