I had every international traveler’s worst nightmare happen to me 3 days ago.
When leaving Vernazza, Italy, we had to get on the train to go two stops in order to get back to our rental car back in Levanto. We got on a pretty crowded train with all of our bags. We stayed near the door of the train, since our luggage really couldn’t fit into the aisles of the train. At some point these girls came into the area we were standing in and hung out for a bit. We were literally on this train for 3 minutes, when an Italian couple told me to zip up my purse since those “gypsy” girls were looking into it. I hadn’t unzipped my purse. I did a quick check and my (new) wallet with 150 Euro, all of my credit cards, my driver’s license and most terrifyingly my passport was no longer there.
The couple told me to run to the front to try to stop the train. I tried, but the final front car wouldn’t let me get to the front. When I got to the front, these four Italian young people asked me what I needed help with. I told them. There were two boys and two girls. The boys were going to jump off the train first to see if anyone was running. We jumped off the train, and we were stuck in a crowd of tourists and beach-goers. No luck.
Several people told me that I should go look for them and file a police report. I really just wanted to get back onto the train and get on with my day. The thought of filing a police report with the Italian Polizia seemed like a frustrating waste of time. And I knew I would never get anything back – those girls were gone. But I took their advice. I spent 20 minutes looking for the girls, but lost hope in finding them pretty quickly. I went to the police report and spent an hour trying to tell this police officer in my travelers Italian and his limited English what happened to me.
After I had my beige stamped papers in hand, I went back to the train station where I had left my friend, Megan, with all of the bags. And we went on our merry way to Barolo, Italy.
I was left with 30 Euro that I had in my change purse. No passport, no credit cards, no debit cards, nothing with my name or picture on it.
Luckily I did have a few things:
- My travel partner, Megan – I seriously am not sure I could leave the country without her.
- A police report – which turns out to be very valuable when trying to prove that your passport was stolen.
- My cell phone – with all of my photos and access to information.
- Time – I had a few days before our next flight. My wallet was stolen on a Saturday and the Consulate is only open Monday through Friday.
- A picture of my passport – luckily our previous hotelier had taken a photo with his cell phone – Cinque Terre isn’t very formal.
- A positive attitude – I realized pretty quickly that everything was going to be okay (because of everything above). I really focused on not letting it ruin our vacation. I was going to be okay. And if not, I guess I would just be stuck in Italy a bit longer… not the worst situation ever.
Once we got to our next place, I borrowed a landline phone and tried to figure out how to cancel my cards. I didn’t have them on me, so I didn’t have the international numbers needed to call collect. Through Google, texting my husband back in the US as well as Megan’s card info, I was able to cobble the phone numbers for the various credit card company’s that I had to call (for a review of who was the best and the worst, see the bottom of the post)
But I couldn’t figure out how to dial out to these collect phone numbers. Marina, our host at our apartment in Barolo, told me to dial 0039 to get out to the US. My husband found that if I dialed 001 then then number it should work.
Okay next goal – get a temporary passport. The US Consulate in Milan accepts walk-ins Monday – Friday from 9:30 – 12:30pm. We were already scheduled to go to Milan on Tuesday and we were flying to Paris on Wednesday afternoon. If we drove in really early to Milan on Tuesday, that would give us two “walk-in” days just in case.
We left Barolo at 7:30am and get to the Consulate at 10am. I went to the line for “US Citizen Services”. There was another area for non-Americans that probably had 100 people in it. Luckily, I was able to quickly phone up to the Consulate office and explain what happened. They told me that I needed 107 Euros in cash (not true, they accept credit cards inside except for the 5 Euro passport photo fee). Thank goodness for Megan, what would I have done without money! So we went to get cash and went back to the Consulate. Megan had to wait outside with my purse. I was able to bring in my wallet and my paperwork, but had to leave my phone in a little locker.
After going up and getting a number, I was asked to fill out the application on these two brand new mac computers next to the window. Apparently, I could have done this in advance and it would have saved me some time. I filled out the application and gave it to the American man behind the window. I then had to pay my 102 Euros and get my 5 Euro passport photos. Done and Done. Waiting. Waiting. My number is called! I am being talked to by a different man, referred by the other guy as the Consulate… really? The Consulate is handling my stolen passport? Seems a little trivial, but who knows.
He asks me a few questions and seems genuinely concerned about me and my experience. He feels bad for me. He also suggests that I should check to see if I had any travelers insurance that would cover these costs. I hadn’t thought of that; thanks for the advice, Consulate man!
Waiting. More waiting. I watch two couples get their marriage license for their Italian weddings in Lake Como and Milan respectively.
After about a total of two hours, I finally had a temporary passport in hand. Once I got my phone back, I had a notification from FedEx, that my Citibank Visa had arrived at my Milan hotel.
At the end of the day, this cost me about $500 cash between the cash, cost to replace passport, driver’s license and wallet. It also took about 4 hours out of my vacation between the police department, phone calls with credit card companies and time at the Consulate. It did not ruin my vacation. I am a real person again. And can hopefully get on a plane tomorrow.
Various Banks Experiences
Citicards – THE most helpful, they offered to overnight a credit card to Milan, which I did and it arrived in perfect timing.
Bank of America Debit Cards – THE Worst- they only would let me transfer money to Megan (who is also a Bank of America checking account holder) online. Which requires your card information. “But I don’t have a card. I can’t verify my identity that way. Do you have any other options?”. Customer Service rep, “Well you can come into a branch and get a temporary card.”. Me, “I am in Italy”. CSR, “I can check if we have any locations in Italy”. Seriously Bank of America? My money is now held hostage. Without ID, I had no way to withdraw cash.
Bank of America Credit Card – no comment – nothing special, just cancelled my card
Chase Sapphire – they get second best since they didn’t try to make me go through an IVR and I got straight to a human on my first ring. All of the others – “Please enter your card number….. Please enter your card number… Please enter your card number” – By the third time, I am screaming operator. I just can’t handle it. I only ask that you give us poor people without our card an option, per favore. They get a negative star for being the only one without a working international number on their website.