'I had to fly to Dubai to get it back': Tell us your nightmare travel passport story

Hugh Morris
·8-min read
We've all been there - Getty
We've all been there - Getty

It is a sort of rite of passage for a traveller of any grade, from fly-and-flopper to hardened nomad; you must have a passport nightmare story.

It is quite literally the one thing you need to go on holiday abroad, the rest, whether it’s underwear or the latest John Grisham, can be purchased once there, but without your passport, valid and in date, you aren’t going anywhere.

My own story is fairly tame (read on for the drive-by passport handover with my mother), but some tales are dreadful. They chill the bones, induce sweaty palms and elicit hearty guffaws. You were held against your will, where?!

With news that the passport processing time has rocketed from three weeks to 10 this summer, thanks to pandemic delays and a recent surge in post-lockdown applications, we wanted to hear your travel document nightmares.

Were you forced to drive barefoot to your nearest passport office five hours away on the morning of your flight to get an emergency passport? Were you interrogated in a rural consulate in Turkmenistan after selling your passport for wine? Did you accidentally wash it beyond recognition?

To jog your memory, members of the Telegraph Travel desk have shared their own tales of woe, but please do leave yours in the comments below and we will publish a round up with the best.

The rookie error

Early in my career I was at a big international press conference in Ludwigshafen, Germany, and stayed in a hotel the night before. The drawer of the bedside table seemed a sensible place to keep my passport in the absence of a safe – but I forgot to take it out next morning.

The press conference was like the UN – hundreds of journalists wearing headphones, with dozens of translators. I noticed a steward enter the room, whisper to a colleague, then point directly at me. Staff at the hotel had found my passport, and with ruthless German efficiency, traced it to me using the conference seating plan. The steward walked slowly and theatrically towards me, brandishing my passport in front of my peers, exposing the most obvious of rookie errors.

Andrew Purvis, deputy travel editor

'Border control stopped me at the airport'

I spent a very sweaty, panicky hour detained at UAE passport control, after trying to leave the country before my residency visa had been fully approved. I'd moved to Dubai three weeks previously, and was supposed to be heading off on a press trip to Singapore, but border control stopped me at the airport – and wouldn't tell me why. I thought I had my paperwork in order, but it turned out I didn't: it took an hour of questioning, lots of tense discussions in Arabic (which I couldn't understand) and a midnight phone call to my new boss, before they'd let me go home.

Hazel Plush, senior content editor

Can you swap a UK passport for an Irish one?

I was 14 years old and lost my Irish passport somewhere around the Loire Valley during a school trip in France in the Seventies. When we got to Paris our rather absent-minded teacher took me to the British Embassy by mistake. Naturally they didn't want to issue me with a replacement passport but during the conversation I mentioned where I went to school and the official remembered it had previously been The Club of the Three Wise Monkeys (a rather posh finishing school) where he had attended various cocktail parties in the Fifties so he promptly gave me an emergency British passport.

Jessica Gibson, associate managing editor

'Immigration swapped my passport with someone else'

Immigration at Melbourne airport swapped my passport – and boarding pass – with another passenger's. By the time I realised about half an hour later, they'd allowed her to board her Business Class flight and left for Dubai. I was treated like a criminal and had to fly Emirates to Dubai (instead of Etihad to Abu Dhabi) to meet her and swap back. It was very traumatic. And also Christmas, so because they'd changed my flights, I eventually arrived in London but my bags didn't. They did just make it in time for Christmas Eve though, with all the presents.

Penny Walker, travel features editor

Well done, you have your passport - Getty
Well done, you have your passport - Getty
A drive-by passport delivery

I used to work at a bar in York when I was a student. After selling more Grolsch beer than any other pub in the group we (myself and three colleagues) won a free trip to the company’s brewery in Holland. Two days before the trip I realised I had left my passport back home, in Liverpool. It was too little time to guarantee posting would work so we did this… we had the Groschl team change the departure airport from Leeds Bradford to Liverpool. We then drove at dawn cross-country from York to Liverpool on the morning of the flight. My mum worked in the Liver Building in the city centre at the time, and I arranged with her a precise location and time where she would all-but throw my passport through the moving car’s window before we sped off to John Lennon Airport to catch the flight. It was tight, but the plan worked, and later that day we were in Enschede sipping on a cold Grolsch.

Hugh Morris, travel news editor

She who will remain nameless

I was once woken at midnight and had to load a two year old and a three year old – both fast asleep – into the car and drive 65 miles from North Norfolk for a roadside rendezvous in Six Mile Bottom. This was so that the individual who had gone down to London ready to fly to Venice at 8am the next morning– and had just discovered that she had packed my passport instead of hers – could travel as planned. I got back to bed at 3am. The children, who slept throughout, woke at 6.

Nick Trend, chief consumer and culture editor

The it-was-in-my-jacket-all-along

We went to Prague for Christmas with my parents before we were married. First time away for my partner, Stu, with my family who had paid for the trip. My parents, sister and I all went through passport control. When it got to Stu’s turn he couldn’t find his passport. All of us on one side of customs glaring at him while he panicked and mentally retraced his steps. We had to wait 25 mins for him to run back to where he thought he’d left it. Found it when he arrived in Prague, it had been in the inside pocket of his jacket he’d been wearing all along. That was the closest my mum and dad have ever come to missing a flight.

Claire Irvin, head of travel

Keep passport in sealable freezer bag in future

I got a brand new passport back in 2009, before heading off on a five-week cycle across Cuba (I looked like the fifth, forgotten member of The Kooks in my photograph). I kept the thing in my bumbag and one day, during a particularly ferocious tropical storm, it turned to mulch. But, being the cheap student I was, I didn't bother to replace the passport on my return – nor for the ten years that followed. The entirely faded cover, peeling photo page and dog-eared, water-stained stamp pages caused no end of bother in my future travels. I was grilled by a stone-faced border officer in LAX, faced a farcical interrogation in Marrakech. Note to self: keep passport in sealable freezer bag on future cycles.

Greg Dickinson, acting assistant head of travel

The car chase

I am not a risk tasker. And so when I boarded a songtaew (taxi-style truck) on Koh Phangan in Thailand and saw the driver haul my suitcase onto the roof, with no rope to tie it down, all I could think about for the 30-minute journey was that bag flailing off on a sharp bend never to be seen again. When we arrived at our hostel, I was relieved to be reunited with my luggage. It was only 20 minutes later when I went to get my passport out at check-in that I remembered all my highest value possessions had been in the smaller bag I left tucked beneath my feet on the truck.

Cue serious panic and me shouting the name of another hostel I thought the truck was due to visit next. The receptionist gave me a blank stare, but luckily one of the cleaners jumped to his feet and motioned to his motorbike. Without thinking I hopped on, no shoes and no real idea where we were going. Within 10 minutes, the truck I had been on earlier that morning slid into view and my new friend skidded to a stop in front. My bag was still safely inside.

Lizzie Frainier, senior content editor

Do you have a tale of passport woe of your own? Tell us all about it in the comments below.