All my adult life I’ve occasionally made serious and inexplicable travel errors; mistakes that could quite possibly have had disastrous consequences. Happily, I have so far gotten away scott free, except for one situation that cost me a few hundred dollars. But any one of these errors had the potential of wrecking my trip, or otherwise causing a lot of grief. Naturally these errors concern me, but just “trying harder” to avoid them isn’t necessarily the solution, since they happen when I’m already stressed. This sort of thing never happened in my law or computer careers, and doesn’t occur in my daily life. The issue seems peculiarly connected to travel.
These errors happen at times of particular stress: managing all my luggage at departure or arrival, for example, or going through airport security. They also fall into a particular pattern: I get many complicated details right but I forget one important thing.
The most remarkable incident was about twenty years ago. I left my former home in Lincoln in a rush for a five-week trip to New Zealand and Australia. When I got back I found that I had left the front door of my house unlocked! Not only unlocked, but actually standing open!! It had snowed and a small amount of snow had drifted into my entryway. But nothing was missing.
The one travel error that cost me significant money occurred in 2012 in Morocco. I had gone there for two weeks after spending two months in Paris. My landlord in Paris had required me to pay the $2,000 security deposit in cash, then had returned it in cash when I left. I tried every way I could think of to deposit the cash in a bank or have it sent back to me, but the only options would require the punishing expense of converting it to euros and then converting it back to dollars. So I had carried it in a waist belt all through Morocco, putting it in hotel safes whenever possible. On the morning of my flight, after packing and putting the cash and my passport into my waist belt, I realized that I had some time to kill before I had to leave for the airport. I was about to go out for coffee I had a twinge of anxiety: what if I was mugged and the money stolen on my last day in Morocco? So I moved the passport to my pocket and put the money belt back into the hotel room safe. After my coffee I came back into the room, did a last pass to make certain that I hadn’t forgotten anything, then took my luggage down to the waiting cab. Forgetting, however, to pull my waist belt back out of the safe! I realized my error in the airport departure lounge. I called the hotel but it was too late to send the money belt after me. I considered missing my flight but that would have involved uncertain expense and delay, and I was feeling very ready to get home. (In fact I was seriously ill for nearly a week after getting home — that cup of coffee maybe?)
The hotel was honest and extremely cooperative, but there was a problem: money legally cannot be sent out of Morocco, so even conversion to Moroccan currency wasn’t a helpful option. Finally I contacted an acquaintance with a business in Morocco who was willing to help. She sent a car and driver to Casablanca to pick up the cash, then credited the money to me, less that expense. I then made a donation to a Moroccan charity in further appreciation of her help. So it was a hassle and an expense but not an outright disaster.
The other errors have generally involved leaving my passport or a key piece of luggage behind as I move through the travel process. This kind of thing has happened several times over the last few years, and happened again at the start of this trip. In all these cases I retrieved the missing item with minimal hassle or expense, but it could have been catastrophic.
One lesson is that I’m lucky. Another is that I’m flawed. And a third is that travel for me has this inherent risk, in addition to all of its other little hazards. Fortunately the rewards of travel are also great.