You never think your worst nightmares will come true. However, our worst nightmare while travelling: Losing our passports while abroad, oh, and our wallets, driver’s license, and cash. Yeah, it came true.
Our 2nd day in London was gorgeous. It was mid-December 2019, and we got lucky with the beautiful morning sun on Tower Bridge. A kind attendant gave us a student discount to the Tower of London despite not having a student ID on us. And to top it off, I (Alex here) got reservations for the day of at Coppa Club (the dome restaurant) that had been booked almost three months in advance when I looked last. So what could go wrong?
That’s the question I should’ve considered when I set my Peak Design 10L Sling bag on the ground to jump up on a wall to take a picture with Kat. I asked a non-threatening tourist couple with a DSLR to take a picture of us with Tower Bridge in the background. When I jumped down to take a look at the photo and take my camera back, that’s when panic and dread hit me. I no longer saw my bag next to the wall. All of 60 seconds and it was gone.
I’ll spare you, dear reader, the next hour of Kat and I running around seeing if we could maybe see where our thief had gone, including my desperation with my Tile tracker that was in the bag that went offline almost immediately. It wasn’t pretty, and emotions were high. Once we had mostly calmed down, I did the next logical thing, file a police report, knowing full well it wasn’t going to do much. Of course, they wanted to know the contents of the bag. This is the point where our rookie travelling becomes apparent.
Stolen Bag Contents:
- Kat and I’s wallets and all of our cash and cards
- All of my SD cards (minus those in my camera)
- My checkbook (why I had this, I don’t know)
- Two camera lenses
- Some very unique embroidery patches I’m still sad about
- and the kicker, both of our US Passports
Things not stolen:
- The camera that had been in use
- Our cell phones
- Our Airbnb key
So, here are two 22 year-olds with no cash, cards, chequebook (lol), or identification and utterly unprepared for this situation. However, we learned a lot about what happens in this situation, why you won’t go starving because you have no wallet, and how to navigate the whole mess from banks to the Embassy. The TL;DR is that everything worked out in the end, it just cost us a lot more money than we expected, but people restored some faith in humanity as well!
No wallet, no money, no food?
Okay, so my first thought after realizing everything was gone was to go to the US Embassy and get new passports. So we walked to the Embassy and discovered it was closed. And after walking in the cold for 40 minutes, we worked up an appetite. Oh, and I remembered I had those fancy dinner reservations at Coppa Club. After realizing we weren’t going to get anywhere with passports, my brain turned to the fact we didn’t have any cash or cards on us and that we’d frozen all of our cards as well. “We’re going to either starve or resort to begging,” I thought.
This turned out not to be the case, and this is also where I will recommend my favourite travel credit card, the Chase Sapphire Preferred. We were starving in some mini-mart when I called Chase. Chase’s Sapphire team helped so much that day. First, they let me know that they would reissue my card immediately, with 2-day international shipping to our flat in London. Also, they pushed my reissued card number to my iPhone’s Apple Pay and verified it for me, which meant we had money again! After testing that and ensuring that it worked, they let me know to expect the physical card in two days and wished me well.
Remember that fancy dinner I had gotten reservations for? We decided with everything that had happened, we might as well make lemonade out of robbery and went to Coppa Club. Of course, the only method I had of paying was my phone’s Apple pay, but this is when the best discovery about the UK and its commerce systems happened. Almost everywhere (one crucial place did not) we went accepted Apple Pay, including the waiters at all the restaurants we went ate at. Of course, I received my physical card two days later and am happy to report we did not go hungry at all for the rest of the trip!
Lose a passport? No Cash? Western Union is here for your money 🙂
Being in a foreign country without a visa or passport is never a good idea. Yes, we had ours scanned before entering; however, it felt necessary to do it the very next morning. So we went to the Embassy, which had a pretty short line, and was told to wait. And we waited for about 2 hours when our ticket was finally called. If you ever have filled out a US Passport application, it was just that but in person. They had a little booth to take your photo in; it took me three tries to get it to accept mine. It cost you the same amount as applying for a new passport, oh, unless you don’t have a physical credit or debit card or any cash. Yeah, the US Embassy didn’t take Apple Pay.
So how do you pay for a new passport with no cash, no cards, and doing their dishes isn’t an option? It turns out you have to Western Union yourself money at the world’s worst exchange rate. At my home bank, I got a decent rate with an 80-83% rate. However, I was already at a negative, having lost all of that cash. Western Union must deal with rookies like us a lot, as their rate was closer to 60-65% of every dollar. Situations like this are when a phone call to the parents is helpful, as they can give you a little loan at 6 a.m. their time.
After a complicated dance of sending myself money from my brand new checking account (remember I had my checkbook stolen which meant I had to get a new account), we returned to the embassy to pay for our new passports. Emergency passports are only valid for a year and have only like 5 pages, so we would eventually have to send them off to get swapped for full ones. This occurred during the pandemic and was a whole story in itself. The one thing that helped speed this whole process was we had put our Passport information in our Fly Delta app, and having it all on hand allowed the attendant the ability to use that information. Otherwise, they would’ve had to do some looking up and verifying that might’ve taken even more time.
We received our new passports another hour or so later, these at 140% higher cost than our original ones.
Restoring our faith in humanity
It ended up a few things we wanted to do that turned out to be cash only. And I was getting increasingly frustrated with the Western Unioning, especially after the app started crashing and refusing to verify my account numbers and my hyphenated last name. Cutting pretty close to dinner, we went to one of the stores with a WU to get some cash. My frustration must’ve been apparent to the Indian shop owner as he offered me the best exchange rate I could’ve asked for. He offered to charge me £210 on his register, and give me £200 back. And the Chase Sapphire card has no foreign transaction fees, which meant I was only spending £10. Bless that man and his shop!
So what did we learn from this whole event? Don’t carry all your cash and IDs in one bag; split them between on your person, where you are staying, and maybe a backpack. Have pictures of your passport for back up, and keep them secure and on you. Of course, if you look of the drinking age, you might not need to have them on you; however, being young, we still get carded and abroad, the passport is all that some places accept. And if you read the mulled wine recipe, you know we fell in love with drinking that stuff! And finally, as the British say, Keep Calm and Don’t Panic; you won’t go hungry without cash or wallet, just don’t lose your phone.