I use this blog as a way to share my travel experiences – both good and bad, and this one is a doozy. It started with a lost passport and ended with our dead-in-the-night scramble to get out of Portugal. As you read through this article, you’ll think to yourself, these are all rookie mistakes that I would never make. Trust me, I thought so too – until we made them all. Given that we have been traveling extensively for the last 8 years, it’s downright embarrassing, but what can you do? Sometime shit happens.
Let’s rewind and start at the beginning. A few months ago while trying to figure out where to go for Memorial Day, we saw a cheap flight alert to London. On a whim we decided to book the flight as a way to get us to Europe, thinking that we’ll figure out the rest later. We dutifully filled out our Excel spreadsheet with the flight information and promptly forgot about it. A few months later, after some back and forth, we finally decided to go to Portugal. Using the aforementioned flight information in the Excel spreadsheet, we booked our connecting flights from London to Porto and all the subsequent trains, hotels etc. Rookie Mistake #1 – we should have double checked the date of the original flights instead of relying on the information on the spreadsheet, but more on that later.
The plan was, we were going to fly into London and spend a night there before catching an early flight to Porto. There we would spend a few days before taking a train down to Lisbon. Once in Lisbon, we were going to rent a car and travel to the coast for a few days before heading back to the city where we will catch a train to Porto then flight onward to London before heading home. It’s a terrible itinerary with a lot of round-about travel which is a big time waster. But since we booked our second flight from London to Portugal at a later date, there was not much choice, at least not for the amount of money we wanted to pay. Rookie Mistake #2 – don’t overly complicate your travel plans, especially with all the connections.
The day finally came for our trip to start. We hopped on the plane and had an uneventful flight to London. After 6 hours, we landed at Heathrow and proceeded to immigration, not realizing that I left my purse with my passport under the seat. The crazy thing is, throughout the flight, I kept reminding myself NOT to forget my purse. I walked all the way to immigration before it dawned on me that I didn’t have a purse or any identification. Panic set in as I rushed back to the plane. Unfortunately at this airport, once you pass a certain point you are not allowed back. Luckily, I saw one of the Virgin Airline flight attendants and I stopped her to ask. She said they had found my bag, and someone with bobbed hair would bring it along soon. Assured, we waited while keeping a sharp eye out for the bobbed hair woman to pass. Eventually the flood of people slowed down to a trickle and then there was no one left, and still no purse. This is when panic sets in again. We ran back to the immigration area, hoping someone there can help us. While explaining my situation to the immigration officer, I happened to see a Virgin Airlines flight attendant with bobbed hair walking by. Hallelujah! I flagged her down to ask if she had my purse, but alas, she didn’t. Apparently someone else had it, but she assured me that it would be coming, eventually. Then she must have felt especially bad for me because she said that she’d go and bring it back herself. Bless her heart. In the mean time we had to wait in the roped-off quarantine area while everyone stared at us. Half an hour later, me and my passport were reunited and we went through immigration and customs without further problems. Because of the delay, we missed our connecting bus and had to wait another 2 hours, which seems par for the course at that point. Rookie Mistake #3 – DON’T leave your valuables behind on the plane, ESPECIALLY your passport.
Once that drama was over and my heart went back to beating a regular rhythm, we got on another flight to Porto. For a whole week, we enjoyed the sights, the food and the hills of Portugal. Things were starting to look up.
It was Friday night, we were in Cascais, a small beach town 45 minutes outside of Lisbon. We had a few more days left of the vacation and we were hoping to spend the next day relaxing at the beach. While sitting around, Fausto decided to go through our flight information to figure out when we will get to London. He looked up at me and said “I thought our flight home to New York was Monday”. And I said “yes Monday June 6th”. He asked again, “are you sure it’s not Sunday?” This was when I knew something had gone seriously wrong. The itinerary was supposed to be Lisbon on Saturday, Porto on Sunday and London on Monday, but it wasn’t. Remember when I said we should have double checked our original flight? Well, we didn’t. Our spreadsheet was wrong. Rookie Mistake #4 – This bears repeating, before making subsequent bookings, it’s best to confirm the dates and times, especially for a complicated trip. In fact, check it a second then third time. Better to be careful than screwed.
At this point the gravity of the situation dawned on us. We started scrambling to figure out what to do. We were scheduled on a flight that gets into London a day later than it should be and really no way to get home. Our options were: 1) rebook the flight from London and pay the change fee, or 2) find another way to get ourselves to London earlier. The second option sounds easier than it was, because last minute one-way tickets from Lisbon to London were all around $400-$500 per person. Never mind all the nonrefundable hotels and train tickets we had already booked for the rest of the trip. At this point we really just had to laugh about how we found ourselves in this situation. It was getting close to midnight, hunching over the computer we frantically searched for a way to get out of the country. There was no train or bus that would take us to London in time. Searching through the award tickets on the British Airways and American Airline websites yielded few results. We only had one option and it was to leave Lisbon on a 7:25 am flight on Saturday morning, less than 10 hours away.
After an hour of sleep, we woke up, packed up our stuff, and left for the airport. Luckily, we had a rental car that we could use. Unluckily, we picked it up in Cascais and were supposed to return it there. We tried to call AVIS to change the drop off location, but no one picked up, so we decided to take a chance at the airport. We left the hotel in the dead of the night, trying to navigate our way into the city using only coastal roads to avoid tolls. Why you ask? Because we didn’t rent the transponder (like an EZ Pass) thinking we won’t need it since we were only traveling around town. Due to the change of plans, we did need to get on the highway, but we couldn’t, at least not without incurring some ridiculous fines. Let me tell you, Google Maps does not like coastal roads, the navigation lady was trying her darnedest to get us on the highway. We eventually got to the airport and was able to drop off the car. Thank the Lord something went our way. Rookie Mistake #5 – If you rent a car in a foreign country, make sure you understand all the laws and regulations. Our mistake of not renting the transponder could have turned into major fines if we unwittingly got on a toll highway.
All’s well that ends well you could say. Our trip to Portugal read like a long list of things NOT TO DO when you travel. After so much stress, lost time and lost money we finally made it home in one piece. When you travel, there will be times when things happen that are out of your control. This time everything that happened we could have prevented. But that’s a lesson learned for next time. It goes to show that even after 8 years of traveling it’s still possible to make a bunch of rookie mistakes.
[All gifs are courtesy of tumblr]