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Foreign Travel Is a Dream – Losing Your Passport a Nightmare

Category: Travel

March 5, 2018–
Lucy asked, “Did you pull my passport out of the safe?” That question sparked a sharp jab of worry, which quickly rose to a full scale panic. “Nope,” I replied, “you must have it.” Except she didn’t. We started searching her purse, her backpack, her suitcase. Then the same for me, checked the safe again and the money belt and the neck pouch. Nothing! By this point the rest of the tour group was waiting in the lobby to go the airport. I took the tour leader aside and told him my wife couldn’t find her passport, and a look of alarm overtook his face. (Note: Here is Lucy’s entertaining, if painful take on this experience.

Soon the hotel staff as well as our guide were thrown into action. Security came and we all searched our luggage and the room. Nothing!

Declining powers
Let’s face it, as we age most of our powers are headed in the wrong direction. And when it comes to traveling, at times a fairly anxiety producing activity in spite of all its other joys, declining abilities aren’t helpful. This article will focus on tips and strategies that can make your trips more fun and less stressful.

Don’t lose your passport
We won’t bore with the details, suffice to say you do NOT want to lose your passport in a foreign country. Getting a replacement means going through multiple bureaucracies and can take days to complete. You will have to visit a foreign police station and go to the American embassy. In our case we also had to get a complicated form from our hotel, and also visit the Indian visa office (a special experience). Also required was a new passport photograph, documents had to be copied and uploaded, all the while dealing with low level officials for whom urgency was not in their job descriptions.

So what can you do?
The first is what we will call document discipline. Start that by designating specific compartments for your stuff in your purse, backpack, luggage, and any money belt or neck pouch. If traveling with someone else, make sure you each know the other’s system. Here are the elements of our new document discipline plan:

1. Zipped compartments for travel docs. Important documents like passports, visas, tickets go in one compartment unlikely to be opened frequently. Money and credit cards go in another.

2. Documents go back to their compartment as soon as you use them. It is all too easy to jam something in your bag when, for example, you go through a security line. But you must resist that temptation, and replace it where it belongs. Every time in the same spot.

Other ideas for not losing stuff (or having it stolen) while you are traveling:

1. Copies. We made 2 copies of all travel docs, including passport, plus sent photos or PDFs to our emails. Then we exchanged them with a traveling companion, which proved to be helpful.

2. Telephone numbers of credit card companies to call if a card is lost or stolen

3. Keep PINs or passwords you can’t live without in a separate location and not easily identified

4. Join a tour or hire a guide or driver. If you are not going on a tour, hire a guide and/driver. That way, if something goes wrong, you will be so glad you have an agent that can speak the language and navigate the bureaucracy on your behalf. We know we could have spent forever going through all the steps without that help.

5. MOPHIDD2. One aid for not forgetting your stuff is to do what pilots do, use a checklist. It is kind of hard to use a paper checklist, so that is where a mnemonic or acronym can be useful. So when you leave your hotel room to check out, or after passing through airline security, you stop and take inventory, using the acronym. You will probably make up your own to fit your situation, but in our case, MOPHIDD22 stands for :
IDentification (passport, drivers license, visa)
2 (kindle and camera)
2 pieces of luggage (backpack and suitcase)

Airline security lines
Airline security lines are just about the easiest place to lose something important. The process is stressful to begin with, and then if there is a glitch, like you forgot to empty all your pockets or take off your belt, you can get so discombobulated you are almost guaranteed to forget something.

A good idea is to stop before the line and put everything in your pockets in an extra bag and put that in your carry on. Then, as you exit account for everything using your acronym. If we had done that recently, we wouldn’t have left our money belt at a security checkpoint (the look from the Indian security person was priceless).

Bottom line
It’s easy and human to lose things. As we age it gets even easier. But you can counter that by using discipline and other techniques.

What techniques work for you to avoid losing things and minimize the stress of travel? Please share them in the Comments section below.

Coming up soon – our Bucket List report on a dream trip to India (except for the passport fiasco!)

PS – Most of this article was written while waiting in the Indian Visa office!

Posted by Admin on March 4th, 2018


  1. I am sorry anyone would have to go through this, but appreciate this article very much as during my last trip I noticed I was more anxious about having ID ready along with my boarding pass and going through security with my carry ons. I did not want to admit to myself this was stressful, so I was happy to read all of the great advice which I will use. HoweverI have decided for my next trip I will happily pay the $35 or $40 each way to check a bag and my carry on will only be my purse with the few things I need for the flight. My other travel rule will be not to allow the guy behind me in the security line to rush me through with his huffing and puffing and rushing I will take my time collecting my things.

    by Darla — March 6, 2018

  2. Make sure to make several copies of your passport and credit cards (front and Back) that you will be taking with you. Keep one set of all copies at home or give to a trusted person in case you need to call them. Take copies in your luggage as well (I lock a set inside each bag checked in a secure place within the luggage). Also keep a copy in your purse somewhere. You just cannot be too careful and yes take your time in security but also keep your eyes on your things, You do not want someone at the other end of the security line to grab your items while you are still being scanned, etc.

    by Jennifer — March 7, 2018

  3. I consider myself a pretty savvy traveler, but was scammed.
    I was on a trip with two friends, and they were watching my luggage (this was at the Venice airport) while I went to get local money. A woman tapped my friends on their backs, and asked, in heavily-accented English, if they could help her. When they instinctively turned around, another person grabbed two pieces of my luggage and fled the airport. It happened so fast – of course, my passport was inside one of the carry-on bags they were guarding. Had to take a train to Milan to get a new temporary passport – couldn’t do it in Venice. Took an entire day.

    So, even if you think you are being careful, watch out!

    by Jan — March 7, 2018

  4. I learned the lesson of making a copy of your passport when I went to Italy on a group tour many years ago. My roommate got her wallet stolen in Verona and her passport was in it. Luckily she was a very organized person and had made copies of her passport and credit cards. Still, she had to go to the American consulate in Naples and was there for most of the day.

    by Carol — March 7, 2018

  5. Some great tips here. I make copies of passport, credit cards, and carry extra passport pictures for the two of us, as well as leave copies with someone at home. I also wear a money/passport holder under my clothes. We led student tours outside of the U.S. for years and required copies of passports be given to us which would be locked in hotel safes. Occasionally a parent or student would lose their passport, and one of us would have to take a day to head to embassy and help individual get a new passport. Not fun! The last straw for me was the 16 year old girl who had lost her passport in Ireland, got a new one with my husband taking a day from the tour, and then when in Shannon Airport, left her new passport in a bathroom stall! Fortunately I used the stall next, and found the passport. No, I didn’t hold onto it until she noticed it was gone, but sometimes I wish I had, LOL.

    by Marianne — March 7, 2018

  6. Dear Jan and all other savvy (or not so) travelers: Yes, we had that same scam happen to us when we were in Madrid. There was even a specific line on the police report: Theft by Distraction. In our case it took four for the scene to play out: one to get my husband’s attention, one to make me turn my head away to see what the devil he was up to, one to do the actual theft, and me — the poor distracted schmuck.

    We got our backpack back that evening because we had a copy of our itinerary in the bag and someone actually found the bag and took the time to look through it. Our daughter, who was doing a semester abroad in Madrid said that “all Spaniards are very nosy” so of course they had to see what was in the bag. (Good tip! Put your itinerary in all bags). All that was missing was about $20 in Spanish money, our lunch and a paperback. The thieves missed $1500 worth of train tickets which could have been turned in for cash!

    Makes a great story, doesn’t it.

    by Pat Kennedy — March 14, 2018

  7. Before you ck your luggage, snap a pic on your phone.

    by Pat Luftman — March 21, 2018

  8. I do a lot of overseas business travel.. suggest emailing yourself copies of your passport (including visa pages) and vaccination card, and have those pics on any smartphone/iPad you’re traveling with. Share them with your traveling companions. Include any immigration card you receive upon entrance. if everything is lost/stolen you can retrieve the copies by logging into your email from a computer (taking normal access precautions).

    by Greg W — March 22, 2018

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