Dealing with it: 5 lessons I learned after losing my bag

lost my bag abroad

We were sat at a table of 5, in broad daylight, and the last time I checked, my bag had been at my feet.

We were in a small bar in the old town of Cartagena, Colombia, lazily discussing how I was going to meet my new travel friends in Nicaragua once I finished my internship in Medellín. I stretched out my leg, and was surprised when it didn’t touch my rucksack. I looked under the table.

“Guys, who’s got my bag?” Everyone gave half-hearted replies and went back to talking about which Nicaraguan volcano they were going to climb first and I looked under the table for a second time.

“Guys… seriously, who’s got my bag?” The message sunk in and this time everyone started looking around.

“No way,” one of them muttered, something I was reiterating myself. There was just no way it could have been stolen. There were five of us at the table and it was the middle of the day. Surely no one could have taken it.

Flash forward to thirty minutes later, we were watching security footage from the previous hour displayed on a large TV screen over the bar. It seemed as though, actually, someone could have taken my bag. A crowd of about fifteen people had come in off the street. They probably thought we were watching a game of football but had stayed around for the suspense. A woman who spoke much less English than I spoke Spanish was repeatedly telling me how “man took bag,” and seemed to think I couldn’t understand as she was beginning to mime how to steal a bag using a bar stool.

Someone gave a cry of excitement and I drew myself away from the ladies’ performance to see security footage of a man leaving the bar and getting into a van with MY BAG. There was a flurry of excitement as we rewound the tape to try and catch the exact moment it was taken. The woman was now tucking her own bag under the table and was trying to get my attention to perform a more realistic interpretation of the theft. I gave her a smile and returned my gaze to the TV screen.

More people were entering the bar, and snacks were now being provided to the small crowd. Someone took a picture of my face to make a quick poster for outside. “Watch this foolish man get his bag stolen LIVE.”

We were so close to seeing the moment. We had now seen the man putting MY bag on his back and leave, but just how did he take it?! The excitement was rising. Colombians had started to notice that I was the man who had had his bag stolen and were asking me to sign napkins and leave things on the floor so they could pretend to steal them. The miming woman had apparently left to buy a hat so she could look more like the man in the video and was now waving at me to look at her. “MAN TOOK BAG,” she said.

Suddenly, the room went quiet and my friend Elly came over and held my hand. It appeared the moment was upon us. We all stared up at the TV screen and watched as the man hooked my bag strap around his foot, slung it up onto his lap and left the room. It was all over in a matter of seconds. The room erupted into cheers and I felt myself clapping before remembering what I was watching. The woman (now equipped with sunglasses and fake moustache) shouted “I tell you.” I’d expected to feel angry and sad but overall, I felt alright. There were only clothes in the bag, I had my phone and wallet in my pocket and the man was obviously a professional. There was no reason to be scared, this could have happened just as easily on the tube. That said, I did learn five very valuable lessons.

 

lost my bag abroad

 

Lesson 1:

No matter when or where you are, ALWAYS physically hold onto your belongings.

I went over to speak to a policewoman to begin the process of officially reporting my stolen bag. She asked me what was in it and I told her it wasn’t too bad, it was just some clothes and my watch.

Policewoman: Phone in bag?

Me: No, I have that, it was just clothes.

Policewoman: Money in bag?

Me: Oh, actually, a little bit, but I have my wallet… It was mainly just clothes!

Policewoman: Passport in bag?

Pause.

Me: Ah…

Lesson 2:

ALWAYS keep your passport on you. It’s much more important than you think.

The stakes were raised once I’d discovered the man had gotten away with my passport. We all did a quick search of the nearby streets just in case he had decided to take pity and throw it out but, alas, he had not. I tried to comfort myself on the fact that a Colombian man or unfortunate-looking woman (my passport photo could pass as both) may be able to embark on a new life in England under my name, but that surprisingly didn’t help. What if they completely stole my identity and my friends liked them more than me?! I dropped a little message to one of The Intern Group representatives in Medellín, Adriana, and she became my knight in shining armor. She organised the police report and ensured I had everything I needed and was safe to return home to Medellín via bus.

Lesson 3:

ALWAYS get a police report as soon as possible. You’ll need it for your insurance and the sooner you get it, the better.

It was really great having Adriana to help as, unsurprisingly, foreign language skill levels deteriorate dramatically when you feel quite stressed. Let me just take a minute to point out that without Adriana I would still have no passport and would probably still be attempting to walk the 640km home from Cartagena. The mind does weird things when it is passportless and I can’t explain why. Chats with friends at home did little to quell aforementioned stress:

Me: Lost my passport.

Friend: OH NO, your passport!?

Me: Feel quite stressed.

Friend: Oh, well yeah of course, I mean you’re trapped there now. Can’t even leave if you want to.

Me: Thanks, that’s great.

Friend: Don’t die

Luckily, Adriana handled everything and even called the embassy to start talking about emergency travel passports. By this point, it was time for me to leave Cartagena and get my night bus back to Medellín. I said goodbye to everyone, thanked them for their help, and promised I’d get to Nicaragua to see them again somehow, even if I had to buy my own passport back off the black market. With a final wave I solemnly walked away, turning back to hear them say, “Oh, Alfie, wait! You forgot your bag, mate.” Cue laughter. I turned and walked away again, less solemnly.

A week later, I was on a different overnight bus to Bogotá, ready to collect my emergency passport. The process was actually quite easy, all done online and my knight in shining armor helped me along the whole way. At the same time I was making an insurance claim and everything seemed like it was going to be ok.

 

lost my bag abroad

 

Lesson 4:

Always keep your receipts OR take pictures of all your possessions in a room with you and your bag. It may sound silly, but you are going to need to prove you owned your lost belongings if you want any money from an insurance company and photographic evidence is the only way you can.

I had, of course, done neither of these things, so the process was much more difficult. It’s time to shout out to my second and third knights in shining armor. Mi Mamá y Papá. They managed to scout all receipts I’d left lying around in England AND were able to call the passport office in the UK to discuss what my options were, saving me infinite amounts of time and money. Cheers guys, u da best.

It is now also important to quickly discuss that, for a normal person, the entire process is incredibly easy and and involves minimal stress. If you follow the rules I’ve laid out here, then you can lose anything you want and it will probably cause less problems than if you were to stub your toe. I, however, am what some would call a drama queen. WHAT was I going to do? HOW was I going to live without my passport? WHEN would I ever be ok again?! A chat with a different friend went something like this and really put my struggles into perspective.

Me: It’s just so scary, as I can’t even come home if I want to.

Friend: Well, do you want to?

Me: No, of course not, I’ve got two months left.

Friend: I don’t get it.

Me: Well, of course you don’t, you have a passport.

Friend: Bye.

Lesson 5:

ALWAYS remember that in weeks to come, this will all be remembered as a small blip. No matter what you have lost, you are still incredibly lucky to be in the position to have lost your bag sitting in Cartagena, talking about going on holiday to Nicaragua with your friends and there are plenty more fun things happening to you than bad. DON’T STRESS!

Emergency passport day was incredibly long and boring and I was determined to feel sorry for myself. I even chose to sit on the floor at the bus station when I arrived, wrapped in a blanket for 45 minutes instead of in a cafe that was only 3-5 meters away. Someone innocently threw coins at my feet. I managed to drag myself to a cafe where I sat (still blanketed) and watched RuPaul’s Drag Race in an attempt to cheer myself up, yet even watching Roxxxy Andrew’s wig reveal didn’t help that much. Would I ever be ok again?

Hours later I sat in the passport office, trying to work out how I was going to be able to fly to Nicaragua on an emergency passport. Upon discovering it was going to be 100 pounds more than expected, I angrily looked to the side and choked back the tears. What had I done to deserve this? At this moment another man walked in and we had a small chat.

Him: Getting a new passport?

Me: Yes, you?

Him: Well I left ALL my things at a bus stop, and I mean everything. Ended up being stranded in a city I barely knew without any belongings. Had to walk around for about eight hours until I found my friend’s house but ended up injuring my leg. It’s infected now. Just want to get this passport so I can fly home. The insurance people are being so difficult as well, not sure I’ll get much. What about you?

Me: I might have to pay an extra 100 pounds to go to Nicaragua. It’s just so tough.

See, I really am a drama queen. The lovely lady, Natalie, at the passport office was excellent and within a few hours I was strutting down the street holding my lovely new golden emergency passport, that some would describe as fabulous. I had to admit, it did suit me more than a maroon one. After a final night bus home, everything was back to normal.

Losing things can be incredibly annoying and unsettling, but it can also happen anywhere at anytime. Be careful and you can avoid most incidents. The best thing about the fact that I lost my bag abroad in Colombia was that once everything was sorted out, I was still living in COLOMBIA, getting to travel, meet new people and do great things every day. That kind of cancels out most bad things that can happen to you. And, hey, if there was a Colombian man living in my house when I got back, at least we would have a lot to talk about.

 

Content and photos by Alfie Flewitt.

 

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