The stories of a couchsurfer

The problem with passports

The fragile passport

The topic of this post is something that I have thought about for quite some time now and have been surprised not to see it shared by many other people that I have met. When I tell people about it, the majority have agreed with my sentiments but it’s the fact that many of them haven’t even considered it in the first place that astonishes.

It’s also something that while I complain about it, I don’t have a concrete solution to it, but I think most of the frustration actually stems from the fact that nobody else seems to be considering it and I’m sure minds much greater than mine could find a solution to it if they just realised it was a problem.

I’m talking about passports and the extreme dependencies placed on them. This, combined with their fragility, makes for a frustrating combination.

One event during my travels highlights this point. Before I begin to document the story, let me assure you that I’m completely aware that what follows is a result of my complacency and poor organisational skills. Nonetheless, the point of this article is to argue that there should be an improved method to passports such that, if such an event were to occur again, the ramifications shouldn’t be as large.

It all took place during my time in Rousset-les-Vignes watching Le Tour de France. Well, I lie a little. Not all – first we have to step back to when I was leaving Avignon.

I’m pretty carefree when it comes to losing items. My philosophy is that the majority of time they’re easily replaceable. Sure, there’s the inconvenience of having to replace it, and perhaps it’s not ever fully replaceable (lose my laptop and I lose all my photos, for example), but it’s really not the end of the world. Most of the time, I’m going to end up leaving my toothbrush or a pair of socks somewhere and I can easily move on from these losses.

There are, of course, a few exceptions to this rule. Because of these, I perform the “three point check” each time I’ve packed my bags and ready to move on to the next city. Essentially this checks for

1 – Wallet

Losing the cash that may be inside is not too much of a big deal for me. Having to cancel my credit card and somehow get another one from Australia would be a nightmare.

At this point of time my only access to cash was with my Australian debit or credit card. Losing these would effectively cut me off from any form of accessing funds.

2 – Phone

This is probably the least crucial of the three as it’s replaceable and any data on it would be backed up to whenever I last connected it to my laptop. But the cost of replacing it would be downright depressing and I would probably settle for a cheap model, therefore effectively losing any contact information.

3 – Passport

And so we come to the item in question. This is the number one priority as it’s loss could be devastating. It wouldn’t be the end of the world, but the uncertainty and inconvenience that it would cause would have me stressing for weeks. The passport itself would be replaceable, for a high fee, but my passport also contains my French Working Holiday Visa and who knows how much bureaucratic nonsense would be required to get it back, if at all.

Back to the story. I performed my three point check to success when packing my bags before getting on the bus. At the time, my wallet and phone would always be in my pockets for convenience but my passport would be in an inner pocket of my jacket so that it couldn’t be easily stolen.

This meant that I always had my jacket by my side, even though for the past few months I hadn’t been wearing it in the heat of the summer. Furthermore, with my backpack already full to the brim, there was no chance of stuffing my jacket into it so I would carry it around loosely whenever I moved between places.

On the bus I got. I had to catch two busses to get from Avignon to Rousset-les-Vignes but everything went without a hitch – the driver of the first even recognised my shoddy French accent and spoke to me in English to tell me which stop to get off at.

As has been documented, a relaxing and fulfilling stay with Jean-Michel and Patricia ensued and eventually it was time to move on again. I performed my standard three point check.

Wallet.

Check.

Phone.

Check.

Passport.

..

.

Then that sinking feeling washed over me. The dread piled up from the depths of my stomach upon the realisation that my jacket was missing. I hopelessly searched the household for it but deep down I knew immediately that it wasn’t there. It was a stubborn sense of hope that perhaps a miracle would surface itself and the jacket, along with the passport, would appear.

Normally I consider myself very good with remembering events, even the most intricate of details. This time however, I couldn’t conjure up the memory of where I last saw my jacket and therefore where it could be. My mind was so clouded in a mixture of shame, dread and rage that I couldn’t focus to think of it.

My immediate suspicion led to the bus. I couldn’t remember having it with me when I got on, nor could I remember having it with me when I got off, at either of the stops.

Soon, Jean-Michel, Patricia and Lucie were helping the search but it was in vain. Any chances of it being in the house had diminished to next to none. Panicking, I sent a message to Zeid. Perhaps I had left the jacket there. No reply.

Patricia rings the bus company to enquire if anything has been reported left behind. We all wait tentatively at the table, listening to one half of the conversation, trying to infer what could be happening at the other end.

Nothing.

No items have been turned in over the last few days. Unfathomable as it seemed, my spirits manage to stoop even lower than they had already been.

They ask for the exact busses that I caught, perhaps they can ring the driver in a last ditch effort, but the chances are really slim.

Thoughts and scenarios begin to run through my head, assuming the worst. Upcoming plans to go to the UK would have to be put on hold. In a display of resignation I begin to look up the steps at reporting a lost passport on the Australian embassy website.

Amidst all of this was a constant level of frustration. Frustration at myself but also at the concept of the passport. Such a burden to carry around, always possessing the paranoia of losing it. Then when it happens, it becomes so difficult to replace.

I once got caught in a heavy downpour on an island in New Caledonia. My passport was safely tucked away in my backpack, but the water was so great that it seeped through and smeared the pages of my passport. There were delays upon arriving back in Australia and I had to pay in excess of three hundred dollars to replace it.

Because at the end of the day, that’s what it boils down to – a flimsy booklet with pages just like any other. Well, probably more fragile than other pages due to the high technology chips and holograms that are inserted into them.

I couldn’t help thinking that surely, surely, there must be another way to do this. If the passport has an electronic chip in it anyway, that must mean that part of the system is electronic. Then why not make all of the system electronic?

Is it because you need some physical possession with a photograph on it to identify yourself? The photograph could be part of the electronic system that is displayed when you provide your details. The physical item to prove who you are?

Useless.

Some unique code is enough to identify yourself, and that would still be confirmed by the border control when they bring up your ‘file’ and look at the photograph.

The problem is, more likely to be, that this kind of system would require global cooperation and many countries would not feel safe to implement such a system. But a physical booklet with your photograph in it has no clear safety advantages to it than an electronically managed system.

The phone rings. Patricia answers in the other room. The stubborn hope remains, if only lit by a dim flame. Yet another nervous wait results before she returns.

They’ve found the jacket. The driver had taken it home with him to take it to the office on his next shift. It will be in the office within a few hours. The passport is inside.

It feels as though tonnes of weight has been lifted off of my shoulders in an instant. A smile spreads across my face that, hard as I might try, cannot be removed. Horrid anguish turns to splendrous relief and all seems achievable again.

I have Jean-Michel, Patricia and Lucie to thank for helping me retrieve it. They even took me into the office to pick it up and then drove me to the train station so I could still catch my train out to the next destination.

With jacket in hand, the three step check was finally complete.

My lack of attention a few days earlier had made this three step check a difficult one, but I look forward to the day when it turns into a two step check.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s

Basic HTML is allowed. Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS

%d bloggers like this: