Berlins and Outs

My Biggest Travel Mistake

E and I forgot something really important when we went on vacation recently.

It was worse than the time I arrived at London Heathrow Airport without a return flight booked. The UK doesn’t like to let people in without knowing when you’re leaving and the only thing that kept me from being detained was white privilege. Our recent mistake was even worse than the time I ate questionable samosas in India and got violently ill on an overnight train. Okay… that one was pretty bad. I should have known better and I suffered the consequences. But the most recent mistake E and I made was practically unforgivable for a couple of seasoned travelers.

We forgot our passports at home.

Ugh, such a rookie mistake, right? We were on the train, halfway to Hamburg when I realized our grave error. But, Emma, you might be thinking, Hamburg is in Germany, you don’t need your passport to travel within a country. What’s the big deal? To which I would answer, yes, indeed, that’s exactly why we forgot them. The first leg of our trip was taking the train to Hamburg on a Wednesday, but on Friday we were taking a bus to Copenhagen. And then the following Tuesday, we were flying back to Berlin from Denmark… which is another country.

Spoiler alert: we made it to Copenhagen (where this photo was taken)

In all of my travels, I’ve been very lucky. I’ve never missed a flight or been bumped when something was overbooked. An airline has never lost my bag; I’ve never even been pickpocketed! Someone might have stolen my watch in a hostel dorm room once, but it’s just as likely that I simply misplaced it. (I’m not terribly superstitious, but, yes, I’m knocking on wood after listing all of that.) I guess I was due for a stroke of bad luck.

The train to Hamburg was crowded and E and I weren’t sitting next to each other, so, we started texting furiously, trying to figure out what to do. Germany and Denmark are both in the EU, which means their border is pretty fluid. It was possible no one would check our passports, even at the airport. But you know who would have been a nervous wreck for our entire vacation if we decided to risk it? Me, obviously, the answer is me. I’m neurotic on my best days.

I searched my wallet desperately for some form of photo ID and looked up EasyJet’s required documents on the train’s painfully slow wifi. I didn’t even have my Massachusetts driver’s license on me. We don’t own a car and the drinking age here is 16 so I never need my license in Germany and took it out of my wallet for safe keeping. The best thing I had on me was my health insurance card, which actually does have a photo of me and my birth date on it. But, unsurprisingly, EasyJet requires a passport or, in rare cases, an EU citizen ID card. We may be allowed to live in the EU, but we’re definitely not citizens, and our proof of residency is a sticker in our passports anyway.

It dawned on me then that I knew how I would be spending my Thursday: going back to our apartment to collect our passports.

I spent more time in transit than I would have liked, but we still got to visit Miniatur Wunderland (where this photo was taken)

We went to Hamburg because E was attending an all day game developer event on Thursday. I was looking forward to a solo day exploring the city. I was going to take myself on a photo walk and practice shooting in manual mode. But, alas, it was not meant to be.

Instead, as soon as we arrived at our hostel in Hamburg, we booked a train ticket back to Berlin for the next morning. Then we booked a bus ticket back to Hamburg for Thursday afternoon. The bus was slower than the train, but it was also 140 euros cheaper, so, I decided an extra hour and a half of travel time was worth it. It’s not how I meant to spend a vacation day, but it worked out as well as it could have.

And, it’s a good thing I went back for our passports because border control checked them when we crossed into Denmark and at the airport.

Okay, fess up, what’s your biggest travel mistake? Have you ever forgotten your passport?

Emma Holliday is well-traveled. After 5 years in Boston, she and her husband upended their lives to move to Berlin where she is currently writing a (funny) book about travel and grief and attempting to learn German.


  • Chris

    Nice blog … passports hey?
    I had mine stolen from me in Frankfurt once …
    What a ruckus!

    Enjoying the sun in Bergen, Norway right now.

    • Emma

      Yikes! Having your passport stolen must suck! I’ve never been to Norway, but I hope you’re having a lovely time there 🙂

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