When something that seems unimaginable happens to you, naturally you share that occurrence with friends and family. They gawk as they hear the words coming out of your mouth, their eyes increasingly widening in disbelief. Now two months into my study abroad experience, I have a story to tell you that felt so unbelievable and overwhelming to the extreme that I had to take a break as I was writing it, as the stress from the story vividly darkened my memories.
There’s a handful of emotions that make my stomach feel as if it’s dropping to the ground—losing my passport the morning of my flight takes precedence.
My morning begins at half six, having five hours of shut-eye—a lavish amount as compared to the night prior. It’s Monday morning and I’m due for a flight out of Munich, back home to Paris, in just two and half hours. I have class back in Paris at 1pm and a presentation to prepare for that evening. I had packed my suitcase the night before, so my morning routine was limited to tidying up the Airbnb and changing out of my pajamas. My three travel companions, myself, and the sun are the only ones awake in the quiet residential neighborhood.
We call a taxi-cab and carry our suitcases out the door. After a final sweep through the flat, we leave the keys on the table and shut the door—a fleeting moment in time that altered my entire morning. Sofia, being the responsible friend she is, asks us if we have our passports and plane tickets ready. In that moment I realized that I hadn’t seen my passport since we arrived to Munich on Friday morning.
My calm expression quickly changed to one of urgency as I unzipped my suitcase and ransacked through the clothes and shoes I had packed. Suitcase interior—empty. Top flap—empty. Bottom flap—consisted only of my toothbrush, iPhone charger, and copy of Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises.
My heart sunk to the pit of my stomach as every minute passed. A minute gone was a minute closer to the flight, and I had calculated every minute so that I would make it from the Airbnb to the airport in time. Running low on options I asked Sofia to phone the apartment owner and ask if she could bring a spare key to unlock the door. She agrees and charges a taxi in my name to reach the apartment and deliver the spare key.
By this point, my two other travel companions have to go to the airport. Sofia waited behind, keeping me company in what felt like a meltdown.
Do you know that quote that Einstein supposedly said, calling insanity the result of doing something over and over again and expecting different results? Well, in retrospect, that was me as I nervously checked my bag over and over again, hoping that I had overlooked a centimeter where my passport could have been hiding. Realizing that stressing over the situation would only make me more nervous, I collected myself and looked at my options realistically:
- The passport fell behind the wardrobe where my suitcase was positioned and all I needed to do was move the wardrobe to get to my passport
- I make it to the airport in time
- I don’t make it to the airport in time and need to catch the next flight
- My passport is lost and I need to get a new passport so I can return to France
- Call the US Consulate in Munich
- Take a 4×4 standard passport picture
- Fill out two forms and receive a temporary passport in a few hours
- Leave Munich in the next 2 business days
With my options laid out on the table, I prayed silently as Sofia paced up and down the stairs. Minute by minute passed and we waited, both eager for the arrival of the Airbnb host. We agree that when the host arrives, we’ll search in the bedroom of the apartment, specifically where I suspected that my passport had fallen out of my suitcase.
Sofia runs up the stairs, panting as she runs to unlock the door to the apartment. “She’s holding the cab for us,” she calls as she swings the door open. I drop my coat in the center of the living room and run to the bedroom, immediately looking behind the wardrobe where I had placed my suitcase. “I found it!” I exclaimed as I rush to push the wardrobe back in place.
We both run down the stairs and book it for the taxi, apologizing to our host as we exited the apartment complex. “Not a worry, these things happen,” she said, making me feel just a little better in that moment.
With 52 minutes left to make the flight, we sit in the taxi and are finally headed to the airport. Fortunately for us, our host had told the taxi driver my situation and he agreed to drive as fast as possible down the German autobahn and to the airport. Going 130 km/h, our driver zipped in and out of traffic, estimating that it would take 35 minutes to make it to the Munich International Airport. The entire car ride was spent in silence, as we both prayed for guidance and held our breath until we reached the airport.
100 euros later, we arrive to the airport and run with our bags towards security. Have it be Murphy’s Law, the airport security lined wrapped around the terminal in chaos. We sprinted down the corridor looking for another security lane. Moments later, we came across a shorter line where the passengers recognized our panic and allowed us to skip them in line. Every minute matters and we’re quickly approaching 9 am.
Though of course, there’s someone in front of us who slowly takes his laptop out of his bag and even more slowly struggles to separate the liquids in different plastic bags. Once he finally gets his belongs together, it comes Sofia’s turn to show her ticket and passport.
I sigh as it’s almost my turn to go through security, feeling one step closer to stepping foot on the plane. Once again Murphy’s Law came into action, as the person checking the tickets rejects Sofia’s plane ticket because it doesn’t have her full name written on it. She scrambles to connect to airport Wi-Fi to find the email with her confirmation. Once she finds it, it’s my turn to go through security and then to find our gate.
We find our gate and laugh nervously at the ridiculous events that have happened to us in the past hour.
The Transavia flight attendants come through the queue and tell everyone they can only bring one single bag onto the plane. I quickly confine my purse in my carry-on and wait back in the queue, only to find Sofia struggling with fitting her backpack and her purse in her carry-on. I suggest she hides her backpack under her jacket and sneaks it on the plane.
We get past the queue and joke that we had felt every single emotion possible in the past two hours: calm, nervousness, fear, desperation, faith, numbness, anger, happiness, thankfulness.
I step foot on the plane and find my seat, feeling as though I can finally take a breath. A kind man in my row helps me place my bag in the overhead compartment. Every ounce of kindness sent my way feels magnified as I am in the state of complete and utter gratefulness.
The plane takes off, exactly on schedule. I realize that I had just done what felt like the impossible. We left the apartment at 8:08 and made it through security by 8:55. I thanked God over and over again, counting my blessings and ready to return home to Paris.
As I wrote this I had to stop and remind myself that what had happened is now in the past, as the intense emotion I felt made my heart race just by recounting it. I learned several things from this experience, the most literal lesson being that I should listen to my dad and wear the money-belt-passport-holder he always makes me wear before every international trip. Had I listened to him, I would have never been in this situation. When you’re in a situation where your options are limited, it’s important to be realistic. Because you can’t change the past, it’s vital to list out your options and set a game plan.
Another valuable lesson is not to rush in finite situations. What I mean by this is when something is so finite, like locking the door of an apartment and leaving the keys inside, you shouldn’t rush past the moment. You should stop, make sure you have everything you need and all of your belongings, then go ahead and execute the moment. The same thing has happened to me at Metro stations in Paris: I buy a metro ticket, put it away in my purse or pocket as I walk through the turnstile to rush on the train, then when it comes time to leave the Metro station I can’t find my ticket.
It’s now Sunday, one week later, and I have just returned from Milan, Italy. You can bet your finest dollar that I wore my money-belt on this trip.