On New Years Day, we finished packing up our Honda Accord with all of our luggage – two large suitcases, two small carry-on suitcases, my stuffed backpack and my wife’s stuffed purse – plus my daughter’s belongings she had brought home for the holidays, her Christmas gifts, her cats, and a bunch of other stuff we were bringing north for her. This past summer, she had moved north to Sault Ste Marie for college. It was a 7 hour drive on a good day, without traffic and without stopping. This would be our first stop. It had barely snowed in Toronto this winter — hell, it had barely been below freezing — and heading north meant colder and more snow.
The drive up took about 9 hours, and was mostly uneventful. Once we got out of the city, the landscape was very grey. Trees stood lifeless along the sides of the road, their leaves having been shed months ago. As we got further north, the ground was gradually covered with more and more snow. Eventually I realized, despite not liking the winter, that the scenery was beautiful. The trees were no longer lifeless, but covered by snow that looked like sugary frosting that would taste delicious.
We arrived at my daughter’s place after dark. We quickly unloaded her stuff and settled in to her apartment, pulling out a rollaway bed we had purchased in the summer. After dinner, I pulled out my laptop and started the online check-in process. I selected our seats, entered our names and citizenship info, then landed on the page where you have to enter your passport number for entry to the US. I dug into my backpack and pulled out a pouch that we take with us on every trip to keep our travel documents, passports, booking confirmations, etc. I unzipped the pouch where I put the passports.
It was empty.
Why wouldn’t they be there? I asked myself. I always keep them there. I have no reason to take them out!
I frantically pulled everything out of my backpack: an array of cables, chargers and power adapters, my external portable monitor, my bag containing my scuba regulators. I dug into every pocket and crevice.
I couldn’t remember putting them anywhere else. What if I left them at home? Home was at least 7 hours away, and it was dark now. I looked at the clock on the microwave, trying to judge if I had enough time to drive back to Toronto to grab them. It would be at least a 14 hour round trip in the middle of the night. It was 8pm. Our flight was at 6:40am. Yeah, not even enough time for that. My insides twisted like a sopping cloth being drained of excess liquid. Thankfully, my insides didn’t drain so quickly. Small miracles, right?
I grabbed the car keys and headed downstairs to the car. Maybe by some random act of universal amazingness, I had just packed them in one of our suitcases and totally forgot. I popped the trunk, pulled out the suitcases, and dug through them like a hungry bear searching for a scrap of food.
But there was no food.
Not in any of the pockets, and not in any of the suitcases.
Wow, I just fucked up our vacation, and the beginning of our nomad trip, and we haven’t even started yet! I went back upstairs, and my wife was smirking.
“What did you forget?” she asked.
My stomach dropped. “The passports,” I replied.
I called my mother, who had taken over the lease to our apartment. Maybe she could check for the passports. No answer. So I called my brother-in-law, who was also living in our old apartment. No answer. Back and forth, I called my mother and brother-in-law, and nobody was answering. I called my son, who lives in the building next door. Finally, I got a hold of my brother-in-law. He checked the night table next to my bed.
They were there. You can’t board a flight to the US without a passport. My wife and I talked a bit. How do we get out of this one? I ran through the options. Maybe someone could drive up and we could meet half-way. Then it would only be a 7 hour round trip. That’s a lot to ask someone though – to drive 7 hours in the middle of the night. Leaving at 8:30, that means they wouldn’t get home until at least 3:30am.
“Maybe we can get to Toronto without our passports, and have someone meet us there,” my wife suggested. Brilliant. You don’t need a passport for domestic flights within Canada — just government-issued photo ID. I called Air Canada just to confirm that plan would work, and they verified. Yes, you don’t need your passport for domestic travel.
Before we went to sleep that night, we had arranged for my son to meet us at the Toronto airport with our passports. I managed to sleep a little bit, knowing that this wasn’t a fool-proof plan and that I wouldn’t be comfortable with it until we were actually on the plane to Toronto.
We woke at 4:30am, groggy and sluggish after a night of half-assed sleep. We climbed into the car, which struggled to start in the cold temperatures of the early morning. I had left my winter jacket at my daugher’s place, knowing I had no use for it on our trip. I started shivering, my teeth chattering, while we waited for the car to warm up.
We got to the airport quickly. It was a small, one-storey building. Inside, a handful of air transport security officers were chatting with one of the check-in agents. A lone traveller with a large suitcase sat in chairs. Aside from them, the tiny airport was empty. The Air Canada desk wasn’t open yet, so we sat and waited.
Once the Air Canada agent opened the desk, we walked up and presented the boarding passes we had printed out the night before.
“Can I see your passports, please,” she said.
I exhaled loudly. This is what I was waiting for: some complication that would ruin our plan. I explained the situation, and that I had talked to someone at the airline the night before, and they had confirmed that we could get to Toronto without passports. She tapped a bunch of keys on her computer.
“I’m going to have to off-load you from the Fort Lauderdale flight, and treat this as a flight to Toronto only,” she said. That was fine with me – getting to Toronto was step 1, and if we could get that far, we could figure out the rest.
She continued tapping on the keyboard. Tap tap tap. A frown. Tap tap tap. Sigh. Luggage tags came out of her printer, and she tossed them directly in the garbage bin.
“It keeps sending you to Fort Lauderdale,” she said. What if, since this was an international connecting flight, we couldn’t do this? We were stranded, I was sure. We would have to drive all the way back to Toronto, get our passports, and re-schedule our flight to the next day. The only silver lining was that we had booked our flight two days before the cruise, so we wouldn’t miss the cruise in case of a winter storm. Or a major fuck-up by me.
Several minutes went by. The airline agent got progressively irritated. She asked her colleague for help. Did you try offloading them? Yes. Still not working. My heart sank to my gut. This was not how I wanted to start our trip. The agent asked her colleague to try it on his machine.
He pulled up our booking. Hit a few keys. How much would it cost to change our flight? Plus the gas back to Toronto. Ugh. Next time, I’ll make sure I have everything.
“There it is,” the other agent said, as the luggage tags to Toronto printed out. They told us that our luggage would not automatically transfer to the Fort Lauderdale flight. We would have to pick it up at baggage claim, then check-in from the very beginning in Toronto. I exhaled, the tension releasing like the hiss of the pneumatics on a train.
Aside from a 5 hour delay in Toronto due to several maintenance issues, the rest of the trip went surprisingly well. We got to Toronto on time. We grabbed our passports from our son. We checked in to our next flight, got through US customs pre-clearance and security, and to our gate with plenty of time to spare. By the time we arrived in Fort Lauderdale, it was almost 7 and we were wiped. I fell asleep in a comfy bed, relieved that we made it.