Stranded in Madrid With Nothing But My Health

Gone – my iPod, camera, passport, wallet with my license, cash, every credit card, really, any card with my name on it was gone. I was in Madrid, Spain for a trade show, with nothing to link me to my actual identity, I had a mere sixteen hours until I had to catch my flight and, hopefully maintain my identity, credit rating, etc.

Long story short, at the trade show, I put my bag behind the booth for just three minutes while typing an email on my Blackberry. When I went back, it was gone.

If you are unprepared like I was, follow my example as it seemed to work pretty well. However, if you are reading this, you already know better than to be unprepared.

While crying, I took inventory of what I did still have: my Blackberry. If you have every read the book Hatchet that is what my blackberry meant to me.

Next, inventory of my credit cards. A nearby booth had computers with internet, so I got phone numbers for each credit card company and I started cancelling them. While online, I got the address and phone number for the U.S. Embassy in Madrid and my hotel (fax number too!). I called the U.S. Embassy’s emergency number to find out what I should do.

Next call – my parents. Three years ago I had given them a photocopy of my passport so I hoped and prayed that they still had it and could fax it to my hotel.

In case my parents didn’t come through, I emailed my employer. When you are employed they always photocopy your driver’s license.

I went straight to my hotel and immediately got a new room since the thief had my hotel room key.

The front desk pointed me to the police station (the embassy asks you what measures you took to find/report your lost passport). My friend who lives in Madrid accompanied me (unfair advantage, I will admit). It only took an hour, but would have taken double the amount of time without her as my translator.

We arrive at the embassy when it opened at 8 a.m., and get in the line for American citizens. When you get in, you take a number, fill out three forms, and take a picture (which costs 4 Euros). Although they didn’t ask for an ID, they did take the faxed photocopy of my passport when offered (shout out and thanks to my mom & dad!).

I now had a temporary passport which would be valid for 3 months after 1.5 hours and $100 dollars, which my gracious friend provided (another note: keep cash separate from your passport). They do accept Euros, Dollars and credit cards, but lucky for me the credit card network was down. PS: Don’t expect sympathy from anyone at the embassy.

What you should do before leaving:
  • Before leaving: Leave photocopies of your passport and the front and back of my credit card with someone you trust. It could be beneficial to leave a copy in your office as well.
  • Memorize your Social Security Number and passport number.
  • Create a document with phone numbers to:
    • The keepers of your photocopies
    • Your credit cards companies
    • The U.S. embassy for wherever you are traveling. Email yourself the document and keep one hard copy – separate from your wallet.
  • Take no more than two credit cards with you.
  • Whether traveling for work or pleasure, back up your computer!
What to do in the country you are visiting:
  • Keep your passport and extra cash in your hotel safe. Don’t keep it all on you.
  • Keep your valuables/credit cards in multiple places.
  • Keep bags and valuables visible at all times.

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