My First Solo Trip: Lost My Passport in Seattle

I have hardly told anyone that I have been to Seattle; as I hate to think about my passport loss experience. Seven years have passed, and I finally feel the need to document what really happened.

At that time, I was on a student visa in the USA, and I was in the process of finishing my degree program in Hawaii.

Lesson learned

After I lost my passport, many people suggested that carry the most important valuables with me instead of putting them away at my accommodations. I am not comfortable carrying my passport when I walk around cities, but I can tell you that losing my passport abroad is the most troubling and annoying thing that ever happened to me. It is really an extremely difficult situation to deal with when it strikes you.

I am not the only person to have been in this situation. Before this incident happened, a friend who was traveling around Europe and lost her passport in Greece. Another Chinese friend of mine studying in the USA went on a road trip to Montreal and lost his passport too. He managed to legally re-enter the USA. In any case, you should always keep a copy of your passport with you and put it in a separate place. If you forget to backup your travel documents, at least memorize the number of your passport.  In an extreme case, if you must go through an international border without your passport, remembering your passport number will save you lots of trouble.

So how did I lose my passport?

It was a normal travel day. I arrived at the Seattle-Tacoma Airport at around 9a.m from Hawaii, on a 5-hour red-eye flight. I think that during my first solo travel, someone decided that I needed to learn how to protect my valuables the hard way. I arrived at the hotel at around 10am and was told that the check in time was five hours later. I followed the advice given at the front desk and left my backpack with my passport, debit card, and laptop in the storage room. I remember being a bit suspicious when I entered the storage room. There was little light in the room. There was old furniture, wires, abandoned clothes, and papers on the floor. The receptionist told me that that was where guests stored their luggage. I assumed that was a common practice in the hotel, so I was not very worried. That was my first morning in Seattle and I could not wait to head out and explore.  I left my backpack in the storage room and headed out to the West Lake.

After a long day’s walk around the city center, I returned to my hotel around 8p.m. I checked in at the front desk and asked to retrieve my backpack. I was led to the storage room only to find that my backpack was not there anymore. The receptionist informed me that after I left that morning, one of their drivers went to the storage room to work on something. It was possible that my backpack had been moved to another location. I was asked to wait till the next morning when he returned to work so I could ask him.

At that time, I did not know that I would never find my backpack. I went to my room and put my head down on the soft pillow.

The next morning I went to the front desk and met the driver. He seemed to have no idea of what I was talking about. He took me to the storage room to check again. We spent the morning searching for my backpack everywhere at the hotel to see if it had been. Unfortunately, there was no trace of my belongings.

In all the confusion, an employee told me that there was another guest who had gone into the storage room and picked up his belonging on the same day.  It was possible that he took my backpack intentionally, as the receptionist described him a bit “fishy”. I remember there was indeed a man sitting on the couch when I first walked into the hotel, but I had not paid any attention to him. I was very naive for not having been aware of my surroundings.

When we finally knew there was no way that my bag could have been at the hotel, I was asked to file two reports: an incident report at the hotel and a police report at the police station. Luckily, I had a backup credit card, my driver’s license and some spare change with me. The hotel manager contacted the insurance company and scheduled an appointment with us to discuss the reimbursement. The receptionist offered to upgrade my room for free. I refused, as all I cared about was finding my passport and the rest of the things in my bag. Once the reports were done, I rode the subway to the West Lake Station and walked around the waterfront for hours. I’ve read that if you look at the ocean for 20-minutes it can transform any mood into peacefulness. However, by the end of the day, I still felt annoyed and had no idea what I was going to do next.

The most frustrating part is that I was on a student visa and needed to apply for a work permit in the summer to get full-time employment after graduation. There was a certain time period within which I needed to submit the copy of the passport documents (forgot if the original documents are required), as part of my application. Considering the length of time it would take to reapply for everything, there was no window of opportunity left for me to apply for a work permit.

The process of dealing with my lost passport and the backpack

The first thing I did was to postpone my return trip to Hawaii. My original plan was to have stayed in Seattle for four days. I went to the airport and rescheduled my flight for a week later. The next day I got my police report.

Immediately afterward, I called the Bank of Hawaii to block my lost debit card. That was the next hurdle. After a few questions, the staff told me that they could not freeze my debit card. As my card had been had stolen, they were not able to verify if I was the card holder or not. They needed me to report to the bank in person. I burst into a tirade and started to speak in high volume. It seems that sometimes displaying a little temper does help. In less than a minute, my card got canceled.

I then called the Chinese Embassy in L.A. and was told that, in order to get a replaced passport, I needed to hand in the application in person. There was no way to talk my way out of this one. As you may know, from Hawaii to L.A is another five-hour one-way flight.

The next day, I met with the insurance company. By using some weird mathematical calculation and accounting formula, I was told that I would not receive any reimbursement. Here I was, all alone in Seattle, battling with emotions and ugly bureaucracy.

At that time, I was still at school and in the middle of the semester. I had vision of not finishing school assignments and the internship became the least of my worries.

The end

The first thing I did when I returned to Hawaii was to report to the international student office and see if there was a way to get my work permit without enough documents. The international student office director advises me to apply for the work permit and the rest of the documents together. I was told to submit the copy of my police report, passport, I-94 application confirmation, the student visa, and the police report to Immigration USA for my work permit application. I also wrote a letter of explanation to the immigration office explaining the reasons why I have missing documents and I-94. Thankfully, it worked. After two month few months, I received my new I-94 form and the work permit.

I was relieved to hear that I could still stay in the USA. Although my passport and the entry documents were lost, they had not jeopardized my student visa status. The immigration office was able to track my records on their computer system so I no longer worried that much.

The reimbursement process was the most time-consuming and frustration process. The insurance company insisted on not paying me anything; I called them twice a day for two months and, in every phone conversation, I stood my ground. In the end, they gave in and decided to pay me $826.00 as final settlement.

In July, I flew to L.A and got my passport issue sorted out.  I was taking classes that summer, but I decided to spare a few days to explore the city. I am glad that I met so many kind people in L.A and we watched a soccer game, explored Universal Studio and went to Santa Monica beach together. I also met several old friends.

I also have become quite well-known within the international student community, as I kept showing up at the international student office for my passport issues. I remember walking on campus one afternoon while another international student passed by. He looked at me and turned back as if he knew me, “Hey, are you the one who lost your passport? I saw you at the international student office”, he said.

Well, all this happened in the summer of 2009. I lost my passport, and my student visa and I-94 along with it. I lost my bank card. I lost my favorite laptop.  Seven years later, I sat in my Toronto home to type up this story. I have a passport that has been used for seven years, a laptop, and bank card.  I did learn that losing your passport is not the end of the world. You just have to deal with it, learn your lesson, and come out stronger than ever. Regardless, I hope that none of you will ever experience that terrifying situation.

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My First Solo Trip: Lost My Passport in Seattle

Julie Cao

Julie Cao is a travel blogger, travel writer, and global citizen currently living in Toronto Ontario.

15 thoughts on “My First Solo Trip: Lost My Passport in Seattle

  • October 16, 2016 at 2:59 pm
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    Travel teaches you a lot. Glad you were able to get the things sorted out.

    Reply
  • October 18, 2016 at 7:40 pm
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    I’m sorry you had to go through all that. It really is the worst feeling to find out your stuff is missing and then realize you have to spend hours and days recovering it all. I’m glad to hear everything worked out okay.

    Reply
  • October 18, 2016 at 9:14 pm
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    Oh man…I can’t imagine the stress you went through when you lost your passport! I stress out enough when I can’t find my cell phone 🙂 But I’m glad everything worked out okay.

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    • October 23, 2016 at 4:51 pm
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      It was really stressful, but after that I have never stress out on losing anything anymore, because there is nothing worse than losing my passport 🙂

      Reply
  • October 18, 2016 at 9:17 pm
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    Thanks for the tip on making a copy of the passport. That hasn’t crossed my mind.

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  • October 18, 2016 at 10:29 pm
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    Not a fun experience by any means. I’m glad you were eventually able to get it sorted but what a hassle. Glad that you told this story because by sharing it, hopefully it will maybe prevent someone else from going through this experience too. My sister had to deal with a stolen passport in Italy when some guys opened the car doors of the vehicle they were in and just grabbed all their stuff including bags, passport etc. What an ordeal!

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    • October 23, 2016 at 4:53 pm
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      It is must be very frustrating for your sister too. I hope it worked out fine for your sister and that she had a great time in Italy. I am glad this post offers valuable information for readers on preventing them losing their passport.

      Reply
    • October 23, 2016 at 4:55 pm
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      Thanks Nicole! People from Seattle are really nice from my experience, but too bad I could not make the most out of that trip. I hope I will have a chance to visit Seattle again. It is really my favorite city on the mainland US.

      Reply
  • October 19, 2016 at 10:07 am
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    Wow that sounds like quite the ordeal! I’m so glad you were able to stay in the US and not have any issues with your student status. As an international student who studied in the US I know how stressful the process can be even when you have all the documents in place so this must have been quite difficult. Good for you though standing your ground with the bank and the insurance company. All’s well that ends well!

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  • October 19, 2016 at 11:21 am
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    Losing a passport when you are overseas is a nightmare. My partner’s was stolen last year. The tourist police weren’t interested in filing a report as we were expats not tourists. And the regular police required a payment to their tea fund. Then there were lots of hoops to jump through, not to mention the cost, to replace it. And several six or seven hour trips to the capital city. It is not fun. Fortunately we didn’t need to cross any borders, although it meant he missed out on a trip to Vietnam.

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    • October 23, 2016 at 5:00 pm
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      It must be lots of hassle for your partner to go through as well. And you are right, it is not just the passport problems we have to deal with, it is lots of bureaucracy ensued. Too bad the police cannot do too much in this regard, and the payment requirement sounds ridiculous to me. Hope he made it to Vietnam after sorting out his passport issues.

      Reply
  • October 19, 2016 at 5:04 pm
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    Yikes! What a bummer. Glad you got in sorted out, but what a crazy time you must have had!

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  • October 28, 2016 at 7:56 am
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    What an awful awful experience.
    You handled it amazingly well.
    I’m really lucky that I’ve grown up in a family that likes to travel, so I’ve been travel savvy since before I even carried my own passport. When I’m travelling, it’s always in an internal compartment of a secure bag that I’m carrying at all times, either a robust handbag that I wear diagonally across the body so it can’t be slipped off my shoulder, or a bumbag (fannypack) type thing. Once I’m at a hotel, if I feel the safe is genuinely secure, it’s usually transferred into that. If the safe doesn’t feel secure to me, or there isn’t one, I’ll either keep it on my throughout the trip (which I did on a trip last week) or if that feels the more risky option, I’ll put it at the bottom of my unpacked suitcase and keep that case padlocked any time I’m out of the room, and make sure I don’t forget to lock it.
    That hotel provided really poor care to you in terms of their left luggage service. It’s become more and more common that hotels tag the bags that go in and match the tags to the slip you kept, before releasing your luggage back to you. I appreciate this a lot!
    Really glad you were able to handle the whole thing in a way that didn’t impact your studies or work permit, and that you persuaded both the bank and the insurance company to honour their obligations!

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    • October 28, 2016 at 6:10 pm
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      Thanks Kavey! I hope I learned how to take care of my belongings like you on my trip in Seattle. Right now I only carry my driver’s silence with me for domestic travels. As for international travel, i will keep your strategy in mind. I am pretty sure I will get the money belt at some point on my trip to South America.

      The hotel has upgraded their luggage storage service ever since I lost my passport. They tag the bags and document the name and the number of the bags on the paper, but that was too late for me.

      Reply

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