As a single traveller in 2017 there is one app that I use quite a bit when arriving to a new city or country. It’s not Citymapper, Tripadvisor or Google Translate. It is in fact Tinder.
If anyone was wondering.. and even of you’re not.. this is what the first page of my tinder looks like complete with bio:
So aside from the elbow licking and the Josh story which you can read here if you haven’t already, the most common subject guys message me about is the whole international flight/passport thing. A lot of whom ask me if it really is true.
So I thought I would delve into the story a little further and assure you all that I’m not making up stories for what is essentially a hook up app. Not that I use it for that of course. In fact I once had the tagline ‘LOOKING FOR A HUSBAND’ to put off those who use it for casual encounters yet still received messages that simply read ‘DTF?’. Now if you don’t already know what DTF means then you don’t want to so please do not google it. Family members that means you. I don’t want a reoccurrence of when my parents asked me what the word ‘twat’ meant over the dinner table. They were convinced that it was simply a cross between the words ‘twit’ and a ‘prat’. Yeah. It does not mean that.
Now a few years back I decided it would be a really great idea to spend my birthday in Amsterdam with some friends. Then, on the flight from London to Schipol Airport I did something that you should never, ever do and something I have never done since after learning some hard life lessons. I put my passport in the little sleeve thing on the chair in front of me. You know the sleeve where the safety instructions go and that little in-flight magazine and menu? Yeah never put it there. You will forget it and you may end up being in the county illegally (which may have been what accidently happened to me).
I remember getting off the plane, arriving to customs and then suddenly having that heart stopping moment when you realise you have left something behind. I started frantically patting myself everywhere just in case I still had it. Alas, I didn’t. (Did I seriously just use the word alas?) As we had just stepped off the plane I quickly spoke to the crew and told them I had left my passport in the sleeve thing. They said it was too late to go back.
So at customs I had to feebly explain that I had forgotten my passport and had to spend a couple of hours filling out some forms and answering questions regarding who I was and why I was in the country. They then issued me with a very special bit of paper that allowed me to legally stay in the country.
BREAKING THE LAW (BY ACCIDENT)
They really stressed the importance of the special bit of paper. It had a stamp on it and without it, I was basically in the country illegally. Under absolute no circumstances at all was I to go anywhere without this piece of paper and it was imperative that I brought it back for my return flight.So of course, the inevitable happens and following a series of events (some of which you could imagine forming the plot for The Hangover Part 4) I may have lost the document over the course of the weekend. I have absolutely no excuse for this happening except for A. I was in Amsterdam and B. 2006 version of me was a bit of a special case.
As everyone checked in I quietly sneaked over to the information desk to explain my predicament in that I had no passport or ID yet needed to get on a flight back to the UK. I soon ended up in a room with a security official who was quizzing me on why I had no passport. The security officer was basically a Dutch version of ‘The Freak’ from Prisoner Cell Block H if you remember that show? If not here is a picture of her for your reference.
She was terrifying. ‘So you left your passport on the plane?’, she checked, for the third time. ‘Yes. In that little sleeve thing’, I added. ‘ You should never leave it in that’, she told me before asking me about the special document they gave me at customs. I confirmed that they had in fact given me this. ‘So where is that paper now?’, she quizzed. Now I knew at this point admitting I had lost it would be admitting responsibility for the whole debacle and therefore I would not be allowed on that plane. I needed to ensure I answered in a way that was truthful yet did not admit to being the one at fault.
‘It’s gone’, I answered, hoping this would suffice. ‘What do you mean it’s gone?’, she asked, completely incredulous. ‘Well, I had it. But now.. I don’t have it’, I offered pathetically. ‘That was an official document’, she pressed, ‘You can’t just not have it!’. ‘Yeah I understand’, I responded, ‘And it was there and now it’s just not there’. I made a little shrug and looked sorry. I was sorry. She was giving me all this information and asking if I understood and it was taking everything not to respond with ‘it’s all Dutch to me’. See this is who I am as a person. I’m not proud of it.
‘You’ll have to go to the Embassy’, she told me sharply, ‘I can’t help you’.
Oh come on Sam, I thought, you need to get yourself out of this one. I looked at the lady and took a big deep sigh. ‘I do realise why I have to go to the Embassy and I am so sorry for using up your time. The thing is… I have work later today and I really need to get on that flight. I know I’m supposed to have the document. I understand that. And I did have it. But now it’s not there and I was just wondering if instead of going to the Embassy and missing my flight and taking up more of everyone’s time, I could instead please get on the flight and promise to never ever do this again and definitely never leave my passport in the sleeve thing from now on’.
The Freak (which sounds rude out of context but I mean it affectionately – I’d grown pretty fond of this lady after all this interrogation) looked at me like I was ridiculous and narrowed her eyes. She then got up, moved over to a computer, typed something in for a couple seconds and then came back and sat down.
‘Okay’, she said. ‘You can get on your flight’.
Really? Did that really work? Just by asking nicely and saying please? ‘I can get on the flight?’, I asked, not quite believing my ears.
‘Yes’, she said, sighing. ‘Just don’t do this again. In future if you get given ‘a very special bit of paper’, you need to look after it’. Please understand that I’m paraphrasing her and she did not call it a special bit of paper. She used its proper name. Which I forget. I’m pretty forgetful. You may be able to tell that from this story.
And with that I was free. I skipped out of that office and went to join my friends who had already gone through to departures. At every passport check stop I explained that I didn’t have it but it was okay because the nice lady in security had said so. After a couple of calls here and there back down to the Freakster, I was waved on through and onto my flight back home.
A SURPRISE IN THE POST
About two weeks later I received a white envelope through my letterbox. It was a lowkey envelope, the kind you might send a birthday card in and had a simple international stamp on the front. I opened it up to find my passport inside.
I couldn’t really blame The Netherlands for being for so sloppy with the security of my passport when I had been so sloppy with the paper they had entrusted to me.
More than anything I was just happy to have my passport back and that my passport could go on to accompany me in many more ridiculous travel stories to come.