As I sat in the airport in Prague, crying hysterically on a bench while the unfazed, jaded Czechs bustled by, I think I heard a record scratch and my life hit a freeze frame as a zoomed out from above and almost heard a narrator speak: you’re probably wondering how I got here; in a foreign country all alone without a passport, ID or credit card while everyone else I know in the world is fast asleep far away in classic dramatic fashion. Honestly, I was wondering the same thing.
After a week and a half in Portugal with my best friends, I had planned a quick solo trip to Prague, where I lived last year for four months. I got to Prague after a 4 hour delay at 1 am all alone and very exhausted. I had left the plane in a hurry, all I could think about was my bed at the hostel— unwittingly, leaving behind my passport and entire wallet that had gotten shoved underneath the seat in front of me. It wasn’t until I was sitting numbly in my Uber to my hostel that I suddenly noticed my unusual lightness. In a panic I had tried to explain in very broken Czech to my Uber driver who definitely didn’t speak a lick of english, while he nodded and smiled politely pretending he understood and dropping me off at my hostel confidently 15 minutes later with no identity and a lot of panic. So here’s what I’ve learned on a solo trip in a country where I didn’t speak the language with nary a passport or wallet in sight:
Step one: cry. Get over yourself and just cry in public. I somehow felt a little more sane after every time I had a meltdown. It’s also shocking how little everyone else is shocked by a sobbing 22 year old woman in public. I got really good at this.
Step two: check lost and founds, baggage claims, any form of customer service. I did all of the above and everyone just glanced at me with a glazed over look in their eyes and told me they had nothing. Prepare for this. Pick yourself up and try the next one. Repeat step one if you have to.
Step three: go to the police. In my case, the police weren’t super helpful because they spoke very little English and I speak very little Czech and they generally were uninterested in my story. However, if you can it’s good to file a police report that you can turn into the Embassy for your identity’s safety.
Step four: if you’ve lost all of your cards, money, etc. it’s possible for someone at home to wire you money at a Western Union. I luckily had one card left, my Discover that I never use in Europe because it’s accepted basically nowhere, especially in central and eastern Europe. I was able to find one ATM that would accept it in Prague via online searching and withdrew a lot of cash so that I was able to eat food for the next few days.
Step five: try to enjoy your trip anyways. For me there was absolutely nothing I could do because I lost my passport on a Friday evening and the US Embassy didn’t open until Monday at 9 am. Fun fact: embassies don’t consider lost or stolen passports emergencies so you just have to wait until office hours open. I had to choose to stop thinking about the mess of my life and just enjoy being in a beautiful place.
Step six: when the Embassy opens, try to get there as early as possible. In my case, I showed up a half an hour early in the pouring rain and there was already a line. Pro tip: mention you’re a US citizen as soon as possible. This will expedite your process, getting you to the front of the line because we have this cool thing called rights. You can’t use any technology in the Embassy so also bring a book to read because this could take a while. It was an alarmingly simple process in which I filled out a few forms, including my social security number and parents names. I spoke to the consulate explaining my situation (he was super nice) and waited about an hour for my emergency passport to be printed. A mere $145 later and I was on my way, a legal citizen able to travel.
Step seven: revel in your ability to survive. You did it! You lost everything and also are still alive. Losing my stuff was always my greatest fear when it comes to solo travel. While it was a horrifying experience, facing your fears is always a crazy learning experience. You will learn how resourceful, resilient and badass you can be if you absolutely have to. It will also be a good story in a few months once you get over the initial emotional damage of the entire thing.
So I never found any of my stuff. It’s probably somewhere in the Prague airport sitting on a shelf to this day. But I made it back to the US in one, somewhat teary-eyed piece and am wiser for it. So while I will probably be taking a short break from international travel because I am emotionally and mentally scarred, I made it. And you will too. Think one step at a time, focus on all the stuff you do have and cry when you want to.
Best of luck and safe(er) travels.