What To Do When You Lose Your ID Traveling

I’m an embarrassment to my profession. For the amount I travel, you’d think I’d have it together. I don’t. Each trip I forget something major, like packing deodorant to Cabo, make up for a glitzy weekend in Jasper, sunglasses for Phoenix. Totally idiotic, right? But then this weekend something worse happened. I lost my wallet. Mere hours before my flight. On a Sunday. In Fort McMurray. Here’s my best advice on what to do when you lose something important (like your ID), when traveling.

Here's what to do if you lose your ID while traveling
I can’t stress how important it is to keep your valuables in a safe place. (Photo credit: Unsplash/Cynthia Del Rio)

What to do if you lost your ID

First things first: Tear apart your room, the car, your suitcase. Pull everything out, and I mean everything. Go through all pockets, compartments and anything with a zipper or pouch. The Huz got me into the habit of “tossing the room” every time we leave a hotel. Do this thoroughly. You need to establish if you really lost your ID or if you just hid it in the zippered pocket you never use. 

What to do if you lose your passport or ID

Where did you last use the item you lost? Where did you go after that? Search those places and if you can’t get there, call them. I lost my wallet sometime between dinner and getting back to my hotel room at 1 a.m. It could’ve happened when I went to the Gun Club (I live in Alberta, you know) to view the Northern Lights.

I heard people were really friendly in Fort McMurray, but I was astounded at the level of kindness shown to me. Harriet, who led our Northern Lights tour offered to drive back to the Gun Club and search for me. The chef at the restaurant (Atmosfere, very good, highly recommend it), went in and did a search. The manager at my B&B (Chez Dube, also good if a little chintzy as all B&Bs seem to be), gave me her home number and said I’d be welcome back if I wasn’t able to fly home.

How to report a lost passport or ID

Call or go into the police station and report what you lost as soon as you know you’re screwed. You’ll need to get a file number from them in order to get your driver’s license and to board the plane. I thought I was calling the local RCMP, but really it was a call center who said they couldn’t give me a number as it wasn’t assigned. I eventually tracked down the local detachment and got said number. Resist the urge to get snappy with the rude woman taking the call who says, “There’s nothing we can do for you. I hope they don’t let you on the plane!” You want her on your side in case your wallet is returned to them.

Cancel your bank and credit cards or place a hold on them. Ever optimistic, I was able to put a 48-hour hold on my Visa card in the hopes somebody would find it. Waiting the 10-days for a new card to appear is pure torture for us shopaholics.

How to get photo ID fast

If you don’t have a picture in your iPhone of your driver’s license and passport do that now. Send a copy to a relative. I didn’t have either, but my husband had a picture of my passport. He texted it to me and that was enough to get me on the plane. It may not be for you, but I was lucky. 

Flying without ID

Be calm and polite and explain your situation to the agent at the airport. Don’t call the airline! They will flag you. I was amazed at how helpful the Air Canada staff were in Fort McMurray. They put a note in my file, took down my police number and glanced at my passport image. They told me not to worry. I was even put on an earlier flight home, so I didn’t have to wait all afternoon in the airport without any money for food or People magazine. Even the gate agent was exceptionally kind. Everyone empathized. It made me feel better.

Realize you may not be that lucky. A friend of mine made it all the way to the gate without his driver’s licence. This is where carry-on and doing online check-in is useful. But in his case, the gate agents wouldn’t let him on the plane. His photo ID had slipped out of his wallet. He found it at home, but had to take a later flight. If he had an electronic copy of his DL or passport, I wonder if he might’ve been let on.

How to exit a parking lot without a credit card

If your car is in the airport parking lot (as mine was), realize you’re going to have to have someone (with a credit card) meet you so you can exit. Another alternative is hitching home or borrowing cash. If you still have your phone on you, Uber can be a godsend. But your credit card has likely already been cancelled. 

While boarding the aircraft I made eye contact with a man, while waiting to take my seat. “I couldn’t help but overhear your troubles,” he said. “Can I offer you some money? I’m happy to give you what you need so you can get home.” I almost burst into tears. I didn’t take him up on his offer, but I did take his phone number for a single friend of mine.

Preventative travel measures

When all is said and done it is what it is. Cards are replaceable. You will eventually get home. My takeaway from this? Stash some cash in your suitcase, take pics of your photo I.D., don’t be so irresponsible. And be kind. I was touched by everyone who offered their support. I will be paying it forward.

Have you ever lost your ID something valuable when traveling? How did you make out?

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22 thoughts on “What To Do When You Lose Your ID Traveling”

  1. What a scary experience!!! So you were not able to find it at all? It will be interesting to see if it turns up… it will be the last place you expected.

    I am a freak when it comes to double checking (and sometimes even triple checking) that I have my passport and id in my clutch. Every time I use it I check to make sure it’s there. I’m starting to think it’s a little OCD, but better crazy than sorry.

  2. I’m pretty sure my wallet insert fell out of my jacket. It’s stupid. I should carry a purse.

  3. What a frustrating situation – I guess if it had to happen thank goodness it was when you were in Canada! I have a picture of my passport on my home computer but I have always been hesitant to have it on my phone. I worry that if I lost my phone then someone has by passport, but I guess if you lose your phone you would just report to whomever that you lost your phone and it had a picture of your passport on it???

    1. Yeah, I don’t think having a picture of your driver’s license or passport on your phone would be a big deal if it were lost, especially if you have a password on your phone. And you can always make sure a few relatives have these images for back up.

  4. Awful, but funny in a long-after-the-fact sort of way. And good advice. Years ago, I had a friend who lost her passport in Norway and didn’t even notice it until she was working in London and the police contacted her and told her they’d found it. How she got to London was beyond me (and her).

  5. Noelle Cameron

    Thank heavens it was an intra-province flight and not an international one! Glad you made it home safely!

    1. Yes, I’m totally lucky. Though they do have special notary guys at international airports, so I might have gotten away with it thanks to the passport scan.

    1. Actually, replacing everything has been a pretty painless experience. Besides the initial panic, it’s been almost a stress free experience. Almost. Not quite.

  6. Jody, if it helps to know, you are not alone. I always forget major items – most notoriously, my toothbrush and hairbrush. Ugh.

    Great tips here – I am totally going to scan all my vitals before my next trip.

    1. I totally thought I was the only one! Next time we travel together perhaps we can swap supplies if one of us is forgetful again.

  7. June Sommers

    Losing documents has happened to most people who travel .I make 2 copies of my credit cards drivers license and Passport. I keep one in my suitcase and the other copy is left at home in case family members are assisting with the rescue. Have extra passport pictures with you ,preferably notarised ,which will greatly speed up the replacement by our embassy or consular office in the city or country outside of Canada where you are. ALWAYS report the loss to the local police and get something in writing /official stamp that you have reported the loss to the authorities.

    1. Wow, you are a total travel pro, June! Really appreciate you commenting with these fantastic tips.

  8. Joseph @ Green Global Travel

    I am surprised a photo of your passport got you on the plane. I will make sure to take those photos next time I hit the road. Thanks for the guidance!

    1. Actually, I was surprised, too. I can’t say it’ll work for everyone, but having those images as back up at least helps. Thanks so much for dropping by my site, Joseph!

  9. That’s a panic-inducing situation, for sure! Leaving copies of everything with a friend is a great idea. I also recommend leaving all cards not needed for your trip at home so you don’t need to cancel so many cards if the wallet is lost.

  10. Colleen Lanin

    Oh, the sweet man who offered to help at the airport! My faith in humanity is restored. And, by the way, travel writers are human. We make many (MANY!) mistakes.

  11. haha I hope the rude police receptionist from fort Mac read this and is ashamed of her output onto the world.

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