Saturday, February 09, 2013

Travel Misadventures and Lessons Learned

Tea at Pearson Airport
My recent trip to Mexico started out as routine as any trip can be. I am aware that flight changes, misdirected luggage and weather delays are not unusual occurrences for the average traveller. I know the procedures at security and immigration checkpoints and my travel documents are organized and readily available. I once lost my boarding pass at the security area of the Las Vegas airport and after getting another one printed at the airline desk, found it in the sleeve of my coat. The taking off and putting on of shoes, jackets, belts, scarves, laptops, loose change and cell phones at assembly line speeds is confusing enough even if you are not selected to go through the full body scanner.

Regional Mexican Airline
Last month my brother and I landed in Mexico City and went through immigration and customs. Before we entered the non-secured area of the airport to get our next plane, we had to go through a final security check. We were last in line and put our carry on luggage in the grey bins to be scanned. My brother was questioned by one of the four or five employees there about something in his bag and had to open it up for further inspection. I was watching him, my attention diverted as I waited for my things to come through the scanner. We were finally cleared and less than five minutes after leaving security, I noticed my passport was missing. I quickly got permission to re-enter the security area and re-traced my steps with a supervisor. I realized that I had my passport up to the time I was at the security scanner. The supervisor told me with finality, “Your passport has been stolen.” I felt sick but there was nothing more I could do. 

Fortunately I was able to get onto the regional flight using my drivers license as photo ID. I emailed the Canadian Consulate in Puerto Vallarta that night to report my missing passport and to ask direction about what to do next. 

Canadian Consulate Puerto Vallarta 
The staff at the Canadian Consulate were very, very helpful and friendly. It takes four weeks to get a new passport in Mexico but a one time use Emergency Travel Document can be issued in two days with the appropriate documentation which includes:
  • a police report
  • four passport photos
  • a completed passport application 
  • four references
  • $87.00 - the price of a new passport
  • photo-ID, in this case my drivers license which had to stay at the consulate

All these things had to be taken in person to the consular office and then I had to return the day of travel to pick up my papers. I was told that it is not unusual for travelers to lose documents at the Mexico City airport. In fact, all the security police there had been fired in August 2012 because of corruption and drug trafficking. I am not sure who was hired in their place! The consular staff recommended that I change my return flight and leave from Puerto Vallarta rather than going through Mexico City again. 

Driving back to Tepic with my nephew
I am very thankful for family who were ready and able to help me travel to Puerto Vallarta twice, a 6 hour return trip by car from their home. My nephew drove us in my dad’s car and was my translator when we had to get the police report and photos. He knew his way around Puerto Vallarta well and we made good time. My brother kindly changed his return ticket too which cost us both an extra fee. The entire process would have been very stressful if I had to use buses and taxis to get to the necessary appointments. I am also very thankful for the people who acted as references for me. I chose people who would be easy to reach by telephone but I did not expect that they would be asked to provide a physical description of me including my eye colour, age and height. 

 My brother and nephew. Why did I leave my purse on the car when I took this picture!?!!
My papers were ready the day we left and I was very happy to make it back to Canadian soil. But in every airport, Puerto Vallarta, Chicago and Toronto, I was removed from the regular immigration and security lineups to have my documentation verified which took extra time. I applied for a new passport right away when I came home and received one in five days. I was warned though that if I lose this one, I cannot get another until after April 2015 which is when my stolen passport would expire. 

I had one other problem arise. My credit card was cancelled because the issuer noted an out of country transaction and we hadn’t informed them of travel plans. I never contacted our credit card issuer about travel plans for our last five trips and had no problems. 

What did I learn, and what will I do differently?
  • I had my passport number (and all other important numbers) in Dropbox but I will make sure I have a scanned copy of all my documents in the future in cloud storage.
  • I will have the phone number/email of the nearest Canadian Consulate with me
  • I will hold my travel documents in my hand when I go through security. 
  • I will ensure that my wallet is in a zipped inner section of my handbag. My passport was in an outer pocket of my handbag and was easily accessible.
  • I will be alert for diversions that take my attention away from by belongings
  • I will have two pieces of photo ID besides my passport. I had no photo ID during my stay in Mexico as my drivers license had to be turned in at the consulate
  • Keep your clothing and luggage simple. Traveling with a tablet rather than a laptop computer is better in security as you can leave a tablet in your bag. 
  • Technology make things easier! Internet access is vital if you have a problem like this. My nephew tethered my iPad to his iPhone to get me internet access in Puerto Vallarta. If he had not been there, I should have purchased a SIM card for Mexico. My brother had international cell phone access but I did not. If I travelled alone I would make sure I had phone/internet access at all times. 
  • Install Skype on your mobile device. I was able to call a Canadian 800 number free of charge on Skype to get my credit card reactivated. Canadian and USA toll free numbers cannot be accessed by land line in other countries. 
  • If you ask friends to be references for a travel document, do them a favour and remind them of your eye colour, height, workplace and age. 
  • Inform your credit card carrier about your travel plans. This can be done online. 
View from the Consular Office in PV
Mexico gets plenty of bad press and is infamous for corruption. But theft can happen anywhere. I read a similar account of a passport theft in security at Heathrow Airport in London England. In the big scheme of things, my lost passport was a minor inconvenience. Dealing with an accident or illness, or losing all your ID and luggage would be far more difficult and stressful. It is best to be prepared for the worst scenario and to have a backup plan before you leave. 


  1. Such a hassle and costly too. Glad it all got sorted out. Could have been such a nightmare. Such good advice all in a nice check list!!!

  2. Sorry it was so difficult but thanks for the tips.

  3. You are ready to prepare your own travel guide, after this experience.
    Yes, sorry for your hassle--but glad your attitude was to learn from it rather than rail against it.
    And, I too know how easily something can be stolen. I had my wallet stolen in Madrid, Spain--classic diversion tactic by a woman in front of me, and I had stupidly put my wallet in the snap closure part of my purse. After that, I purchased a travel purse with zippers everywhere, and now the wallet resides inside a zipped area anytime I travel.

  4. Wow. That was a good reminder. I've traveled with the extra photos and passport info tucked away, but I know I'm not careful enough with where I keep my passport. Glad you were able to get travel documents so quickly, Ruth.

  5. I am glad that everything worked out for you. Should I ever travel abroad,this information would be good to know.

  6. What an odyssey Ruth. I would have been panicked beyond belief. Glad you kept your head about you and went methodically about getting a new passport.

  7. What a hassle to have to go through. I am sure I would not have done half of the things you suggest. This kind of thing makes me think again about travelling alone.

  8. Ugh, not my worst nightmare, but one I obsess about while traveling, checking my little travel purse slung about my neck and under my jacket with compulsive regularity. Sounds like it went as well as could be expected.

  9. Anonymous7:43 am GMT-5

    Traveling can be intimidating. I was waiting between flights recently, I got to thinking about some people I know that have NEVER traveled far from there home town. They would be lost for sure, never to be seen again. LOL


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