The Trip That Goes Wrong: Confessions of a Travel Agent
Have you ever heard of The Play That Goes Wrong? It’s a Monty Python-meets-Sherlock-Holmes whodunit play-within-a-play about series of disasters that happen when the fictitious Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society is asked to put on a performance of The Murder at Haversham Manor.
Well, I had my own rendition of The TRIP That Goes Wrong. It didn’t involve collapsing floors, misplaced dialogue and cast members being knocked unconscious, but it did involve forgotten passports, legal house break-ins, vibrating beds and one of the worst sinus infections of my life.
Please read on and feel free to laugh and commiserate and say, “I’m so glad that was YOU and not ME!” It was a complete comedy of errors and I felt like I was living in Samantha Brown’s worst travel nightmare.
A long, long time ago, before the corona virus hit the United States and we were still allowed to travel (March 2, 2020), I took a Disney cruise from New Orleans on the Disney Wonder. It was a short, four-night cruise, and barely long enough to merit all the planning, packing, and travel time, let alone the necessary arrangements for the kids to get to and from their after-school activities.
But this four-night cruise was worth all the effort. I was cruising with my two amazing friends, Rochelle and Kelly, who I met at my very first Disney World Agent Education Program back in 2013 when I was still a new travel agent. Among the 50 participants, we bonded instantly and, along with a group of about 8 other agents, were inseparable for the entire program.
I had everything in place, so I thought. My son, Ethan, is seventeen and almost entirely independent. My oldest daughter, Adelaine, is in The Franklin High School Color Guard, so I had arranged for a friend to take her home after practice. World Competition in Dayton, Ohio was only one month away. Their show, “To Have and To Hold,” uses Christina Aguilera’s song, “The Right Man” and is eerie, melancholy and hands-down the most dramatic color guard routine I’ve ever seen. (I know they would have dominated at WGI World Championships if it had not gotten canceled!)
My second daughter, Clarissa, is playing Rafiki in Poplar Grove Middle School’s adaptation of The Lion King. The cast was two weeks away from show week, so this week was crucial. I had asked neighbors to take her home from practice because they were practicing every night that week.
Nadia, the youngest, is on the Williamson County Parks and Recreation Rhythm and Spirit Performance team, and she had two practices during my cruise. I asked the mom of one of her teammates if she could drive Nadia to and from practice.
I really wanted to make sure that I had all my bases covered because my husband was also going to be out of town for two of the four days I was gone. The kids assured me they would be fine! They had stayed alone in the house before, so what could go wrong?
When Everything Goes Wrong
I thought I had all my ducks in a row until the unexpected happened. The day before the cruise, Nadia developed a high fever. Thankfully, my mom lives in town, so I called her that evening to give her the heads up that I might need her the next day if Nadia was still not feeling well.
I got up at 3:00am to get showered and complete my packing. I checked the family stack of passports and counted five passports, which meant my passport was in my passport holder, which was already in my luggage. My last item of business was to check on Nadia. She hadn’t improved enough to go to school, so I had to go to Plan B: Nana to the rescue.
I quickly said goodbye to the other kids, put Nadia in the car and drove her to my parents’ house. I called Nana on the way and let her know I was halfway there, and I scheduled a Lyft from their house to the airport.
TSA Precheck (or, as I call it, “the best $85 I ever spent”) was wide open and I breezed through security. The plane ended up leaving as scheduled, I got to sit in the first row, and I was one of the first people off the plane. A few minutes later, Rochelle came to pick me up, and we were off to the French Quarter to pick up Kelly from her hotel.
As we loaded Kelly’s luggage in the car, Rochelle, affectionately known as “Tick Tock” for her innate ability to keep people on schedule, said off-handedly, “Does everyone have their passports?”
I immediately panicked.
I didn’t even have to look.
I felt my passport holder and it felt way too thin.
I opened my passport holder and all that was inside was my credit cards and cash. In my haste, I made an assumption when I counted five passports in the stack this morning. I assumed my passport was the one that wasn’t in the stack, but I was wrong. Mark’s passport was the one that wasn’t in the stack. He hadn’t returned his passport to the usual place after we returned from our Mexico trip a few weeks before. My passport was at home.
My head was spinning. I suddenly felt much more than just congested. I felt sick. My brain was foggy, and I couldn’t think.
Trouble-Shooting the Impossible
Immediately, Rochelle and Kelly went into trouble-shooting mode. Do you have a photo of your passport? Would Disney Cruise Line accept a photo? I checked Google Photos and yes, I had a photo. It was enough to get me through cruise security.
When we got to the check-in area, I was instructed to sit in the farthest corner of the terminal where there were about ten chairs grouped together. This, I learned, was where you go if you forgot your proper documentation. I now call it “The Corner of Shame.” There were a few other parties with faces as downcast as mine, so I concluded we were all in the same boat—and not the bright shiny blue Disney cruise ship; the sad, rickety boat that seemed to be headed toward going back home.
The photo of my passport was not going to help me board the boat, a cheerful Cast Member (Disney employee) informed me. Because there was no way for me to obtain my passport at this point, the only acceptable form of ID was my driver’s license (which I did have) and a copy of my birth certificate. I needed to find someone who could go to my house, take a photo of my birth certificate, and send it to me.
I started calling neighbors, but of course, no one was home. Rochelle and Kelly started calling the county clerk’s office in Franklin, Tennessee, my current home, and Rochester, Michigan, my birth city. Franklin said they could not help me, but Rochester was kind enough to say that if one of my parents could appear in person, they might be able to process my request in the next few days. I guess they ignored the part of the call when I said the boat was leaving in three HOURS.
I called my neighbors again, but I got nothing but voicemail. I texted and called, and prayed and hoped. No one was around that Monday lunch hour.
Rochelle and Kelly started getting really creative. What about the passport office where I applied for my passport? Maybe they had a copy of my birth certificate? What about Marion County, Indiana, where I applied for my marriage license? Everyone who we spoke to seemed to not share in my desperation. How could they be so calm at this moment?
And then it happened.
I finally got ahold of my friend Sela who lived in the neighborhood near mine. Her daughter had just gotten her braces on, and they were at lunch. After she returned her daughter to school, she’d help me.
About thirty minutes later, Sela called me. With the coolness of a 007 spy, she said, “I’m here. How do I get in?” I told her how to break into my house, and I instructed her to go upstairs to my office and locate the filing cabinet. I was 100% sure the kids’ birth certificates were in the manila folder, but I couldn’t be completely certain mine was there. And my birth certificate was a copy of a copy. It wasn’t certified, and it had no raised seal.
Sela took the photo, texted it to me, and left my house a forever-hero in my eyes.
I saved the photo to my phone and send it as an attachment to the email address provided by Disney Cruise Line for passport-forgetters-and-losers like me. Now, all I could hope was the Disney Cruise Line representative who was monitoring the “loser” email inbox wore Coke bottle glasses –and hopefully he forgot those glasses at home today.
By some miracle, my birth certificate was deemed acceptable. Somehow, that texted photo, that copy-of-a-copy-of-a-copy with no photograph, which was hardly readable and did not even have my correct, current name on it, provided more concrete evidence that I existed than a scanned, color photo of my passport that looked like me and included my present surname.
So, we boarded the boat! I got to go on the cruise. I was in a daze for the rest of the day, partially because I was so emotionally spent from the events of the day, and also because my head was brewing one of the worst sinus infections of my life.
The Moral of the Story Is…
This isn’t the end of The Trip That Goes Wrong. This is just the intermission. There are so many more disasters to unfold, but that is for the next post. For now, let’s talk about how you can learn from my mistakes. I’m glad to take the fall so that you can make sure that you never have to sit in the corner of shame in the cruise terminal.
I think you can take one of two approaches.
Option 1: Keep your important documents with you at all times.
- Stop everything right now and take a photo of your birth certificate.
- Upload your birth certificate into Dropbox.
- Do the same thing with your passport.
- If you have a spouse and/or children, do the same for them.
- Change your password to your Dropbox regularly.
Option 2: Have Someone You Can Call
- Put all your important documents in one place. Make sure that when you take out a birth certificate (to register a child for school, for example), you put it right back in the same place.
- Select a Sela, a trusted friend who can break into your house and find your documents and send them to you electronically, if necessary.
- If you need your friend to help you, buy her a thank-you present. In my situation, Sela got a Disney Cruise Line backpack and a box of Café du Monde beignet mix.
So that’s all for Part 1 of The Trip That Goes Wrong. There are plenty more antics in Part 2.