You know how people say to "keep your money in different places" when you travel? You know, they say you should split it between your suitcase, your carry on, and even stuff some in your sock.
Well, turns out it's a DAMN GOOD IDEA! Even better, keep an entire wallet (with IDs and credit cards and money) separate from your other wallet. I did this and it saved me a huge hassle while traveling my second time to NOLA.
I also learned what happens when you don't have an ID to show the TSA at the airport. Apparently, this happens all the time and they have a simple procedure in place. Who knew?!
I Lose Stuff—But Not Important Stuff
When I was traveling around the world in 2014-15, I lost or left behind quite a few items: sunglasses, razor, camera strap, reusable water bottle. Like Hansel and Gretel, I left a trail of my random belongings across the globe.
But never have I left behind something as important as my wallet.
In November 2017, I visited New Orleans for the second time. The first time was in summer 2016 and you can read all about that trip starting here. This time, it was a part leisure, part work trip. I had a conference to go to. I had socializing with my boss and her husband to do. I was planning fun times with my bestie who was joining me from California.
I only had about 3 days to spend in NOLA and I wanted to make it count. So losing my wallet was the last thing I wanted. That's how it goes, though, it's always the last thing anyone wants or expects during their travels.
Which is why it's so, so important to be prepared.
How I Lost My Wallet
As these things go, I don't know how or where exactly I lost it. All I know is that I had it on the plane in my seat. And then I didn't when I got to my hotel.
I was on a Delta flight in the window seat. I had been chatting it up with the guy next to me. I was making a business contact—after all, this was a work trip! He worked for Nature's Bounty Co on Long Island. He could get some of my students involved in the internship program there. Sweet!
I pulled out my wallet to give him a business card.
As far as I remember, my wallet went back into my bag. But I guess it didn't! That was the last time I used my wallet before realizing it was gone.
When Having A Second Wallet Saved The Day
I offered my new business friend a ride in my Uber since we were both headed to the French Quarter area. The Uber app auto paid for the cab ride, so I didn't use my wallet for that. Then, I walked into the Ritz Carlton and up to the front desk.
"I just need to see your ID and a credit card to hold the room."
"Sure!" I said, picking up my daypack to rummage through the outer pocket.
"Just a second, sorry." I said nervously as I started yanking open zippers, sifting frantically.
"It seems I lost my wallet." The clerk looked at me suspiciously. Other patrons nearby were starting to throw shade in my direction.
"But no worries. Here you go!" I pulled out the little zippered wallet I had bought in Chiang Mai in 2014. Inside was a collection of my lesser-used, points-earning credit cards. I also had some old photo IDs from previous job positions in there. I handed him one of the IDs and a credit card.
"Here are your room keys. Enjoy your stay!"
I zipped up to my room on the 6th floor, threw my bags open on the bed, and began searching every crevice for my real wallet. Alas, it was gone. It's a small wallet. But it was holding my best credit cards, a new driver's license, a new $50 metrocard, and about $40 cash. Not to mention it was a super cute little leather wallet with my name engraved in it. I had gotten it in London in 2012.
Booooo! While I had my second wallet, I still wanted my old one back. So I picked up my phone and got dialing.
How To Report A Lost Wallet To An Airline
I called Delta's lost baggage number (1-800-325-8224). I went through an automated system and got a woman in lost baggage working for Delta at MSY (New Orleans' airport). She was so sweet. She even gave me her direct call back number.
I explained to her I was certain my wallet was on the flight. It had only been about 45 minutes since I walked off. Perhaps the plane was still loading passengers for the next flight?
She had to do some research to find out what had happened to the flight. After a series of phone calls with her, we learned the aircraft changed flight numbers. It was now already on its way back to New York without any passengers! I would have to wait until it landed at JFK to track it down.
I was certain my wallet had fallen out of my bag in the seat. It was probably sitting right there on the floor or something. Surely, someone would turn it in at JFK!
Later, I called Delta at JFK. They did not have a nice woman there whom I could talk to like MSY did. The automated number directed me to fill out a lost item form online.
And so I filled out Delta's lost item form.
What Happens At The Airport When You Don't Have ID?
The only remaining problem now was that I didn't have any official ID on me. And I thought I would need it to get on my return flight home to New York in 3 days. Luckily, I was traveling domestic and it wasn't my passport that I lost!
I did some research online. But I wasn't confident in what people were saying. So I called TSA at MSY and spoke to an agent there. He told me to allow extra time and to "anticipate additional screening."
When I returned to the airport, I showed the TSA agent my boarding pass and unofficial photo ID. I explained I had lost my wallet on my arriving flight.
He had me step to the side before going through security.
This is when lots of thoughts went through my head. Like, if I was a black man, if I had a scarf over my head, or if I was anything but a young, white woman standing here, I'd be in for a BIG hassle. I hope that wouldn't be the case for anyone, but reality is reality. I was in the most fortunate position I could be in (for someone who lost their wallet while traveling, that is).
A female agent made me go through an advanced imaging scanner and then took me aside for a pat down. I usually opt out of the metal detectors or body scanners and request a pat down. So the pat down was not a big deal to me.
Most people don't know this, but having your entire body scanned in one of those big machines is optional. I'd rather not get the extra radiation or the invasive body scan on record. So I cringed a little when I had to go through the scanner. But I didn't protest.
You're allowed to ask for the pat down in private instead of in the open. They use the back of their hands in "sensitive areas" (i.e., your upper legs, inner part of your thighs, and under your chest). Then they use a strip on their gloves and put it into a machine. They wait for the readout to tell you that you're all clear and good to go.
Be aware that the pat down is very thorough. The touching may bother some folks, even if professional and through clothing.
Overall, they've always been very professional with me. They always tell me everything they are going to do before they do it. It's quick and safe.
Wallet Gone Forever, But It's All Good
About 6 weeks after I made the report, Delta closed the case on my lost wallet. I never got it or its contents back.
Losing my primary wallet was an inconvenient loss on my trip to NOLA. But it wasn't the end of the world since I had my backup wallet.
I didn't have any cash or a checking card to retrieve more cash. But I did have plenty of credit cards. I also had my best friend who happily exchanged virtual cash with me through Venmo.
I also had my lost credit cards saved in my Uber and Amazon accounts. So I continued using the cards (and earning points on them) despite not having them anymore.
I even had a scanned copy of an old driver's license that I showed at the door to most venues serving alcohol. Again, it helped that I am a woman who doesn't look under 21 anymore. The bouncers took pity on me so I could still have fun on Bourbon and Frenchman streets.
When I returned to New York, the credit card companies replaced my cards immediately. They sent them to me right away. And the DMV replaced my diverse license, too, after a quick online form and fee payment.
What could have been a big travel catastrophe was actually a very small crisis. But it was small because of my back-up wallet. I was still able to enjoy my trip!
In my next post, I'll start sharing all the good times I had in NOLA despite this little wallet debacle!