Lost or Stolen (Don't Panic)

by Thomas R. Zahn

Lost or Stolen Passport

Feb 26, 2020 

Okay, full disclosure, this article is based on a recent incident that occurred to me, while I was traveling in Greece with my 12 years old son. The intent of the article is to provide some tips to help other travelers, in the event of a similar circumstance. This does not imply that by following these tips you will be guaranteed trouble-free travel, or a similar outcome. It is simply our hope that you will be more prepared than we were.


Let me start with the circumstances we found ourselves. After three absolutely perfect days in Athens, during which we left important documents and the bulk of our cash in a small zippered pouch. The pouch remained with our luggage safely in our room during our stay in Athens. We took only what we thought we would need as we toured the city.


On the fourth day, we set off for a flight to Crete. I placed the pouch in a bag that I wear over my shoulder. Since we had used the transit, metro and bus, without incident upon arrival, and our transit passes were still valid, it seemed only natural that we would return to the airport the same way. Unfortunately, the bus we chose was crowded, and this is where the pouch went missing.


I blame only myself, for not placing the pouch deeper into my bag, and securely zipping the bag closed. But hindsight is always 20/20, and it makes little sense to retrospectively say “What if?” 

We learned about the missing pouch only as we were about to board our flight to Crete. At that moment, with a line of people behind us, and with our luggage already checked, we believed the pouch had to have been packed accidentally in one of the checked bags. The boarding agent asked for some other photo identification, which I had for myself (a driver’s license), but not for my son. I showed an insurance card I had for him, and the clerk let us fly.


Immediately after retrieving our bags at the airport after landing in Heraklion, it became clear that the pouch with passports and cash was gone. Fortunately, I still had money and a credit card in my wallet, and our apartment in Heraklion was already paid for. The trouble was now how would we get back to Athens, where the US Embassy is, without passports.


So, here is where panic began to set in, and the first, most important piece of advice. Don’t Panic! We contacted our host, told him of our circumstance, and got directions to our rental. Another bus! This one thankfully empty.


Once we were checked into our apartment, it was necessary to inform family back in Prague about the circumstances. Then get on line to find the web pages for the US Embassy in Athens. No surprise to find that there are no offices on Crete, but that we would need to get back to Athens on a week day. The Embassy hours there are from 8:30am to 11:30am, without appointments.


Next call was to the airline, to book the earliest possible flight, Friday at 6:30am, less than 14 hours after our arrival. It was lucky that there were still some available seats, but the sales clerk could not promise that we would be allowed on the flight without some phot ID for Vincent. She did advise us to make a police report in Crete. This advice proved to be vital, although it was quite complicated.

Having considerably shortened our stay in Crete, and gotten the police report, we managed to find our way back to the historic center, just in time for a boisterous masquerade parade. It was time to enjoy a hearty dinner, and to let go of the concerns, at least for the moment. There was nothing more to be done.


In the morning, we arrived at an airport by 5am. To our surprise there was already a long line, and only 2 check in counters open. To put my mind to rest, I went to an empty sales counter for the airline, just to inform them of our circumstance. I was assured that, given my own photo ID, and whatever I could find for Vincent, we would both be allowed to fly. From Prague, I received a copy of his bus transit pass. And so we were allowed to fly back to Athens, the first obstacle.

In Athens, we took a taxi directly from the airport to the US Embassy. This is the second tip, do not expect to get into an Embassy with your luggage in tow. Fortunately, we could leave our bags at the home where we had previously stayed. This done, we quickly returned to the Embassy. But we were not home free yet.


If you keep copies of important documents on a cell phone, or iPad, as I had, these can not be taken into a US Embassy. It was necessary for me to sit outside with a pen and pad, and to copy down all the necessary info from an iPad. While it was a bit expensive ($145 for me, $115 for child under 16), the Embassy did accept payment by credit card. Photos, however, had to be paid for in cash (10 Euro/each).


In the end, we had our temporary passports in hand by 12:30, and we were joyfully on our way. Needless to say, we did not take another bus during our final day in Athens.


In review, some tips I will certainly remember:

1)   Be more alert!

2)   Keep important documents better secured.

3)   Keep a paper copy of passport and travel tickets separate

4)   In the event of a stolen or lost passport, get a police report ASAP

5)   Don’t bring your bags to the Embassy. You won’t get in.

6)   Keep any money or credit cards you have separate, preferably in two or more places.

7)   Don’t Panic!          


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