When I first planned my trip to Greece, there were several things I had my heart set on: seeing some of the islands, going up to the Acropolis, eating loads of gyros–crying in an Athens police station as two unapologetic, plain-clothes police officers told me there was nothing they could do to recover my stolen passport and visa certainly wasn’t on the things on my list.
Initially, the situation was a bit terrifying: I was stuck in a country where I couldn’t understand the language for an indefinite amount of time. When traveling, the loss of control over travel plans is scary, because it’s one of the only things that we as travelers can truly control; we can’t guarantee the weather, delayed flights, or the safety of where we’re going. But we can usually choose when to leave.
Dealing with unforeseen events when traveling is kind of like body surfing: you can either refuse to accept that a wave of change is coming your way, dig your heels in further, and get knocked down by it–or you can dive under, try to be flexible, and adapt to your new circumstances. For a couple of days, I went for the first approach. Rather than accept that I could no longer dictate my travel plans or the process of getting new documents, I went around trying to make the bureaucracies I had to deal with conform to my own beliefs on how I thought the situation should go forward; I spent far too much time calling the American embassy and emailing my school, trying to have them take shortcuts on my behalf, which was time I should’ve spent adapting to the reality of the situation and recognizing that flexibility is often more productive than stubbornness.
Only after I accepted that I couldn’t control what had happened or what steps I had to take, and eventually change my strategy, was I able to get myself out of my predicament, and back to school. Adapting was a challenge, and it first it felt like I was accepting defeat and had ceased to be my own advocate, but it turned out to be, and is in most circumstances, an absolute necessity when traveling. The unexpected will happen, and the lesson I learned was invaluable: you can’t control the situation, but you can control how you react to it.
Towards the end of the visa re-application process, I sat in the U.K. Visa and Immigration centre chatting with the people around me, initially feeling solidarity with them until I realized the majority of the people weren’t applying for settlement visas, but travel visas. I’d never before realized how much I’d taken for granted that, as an American, I consider travel and relative freedom of resettlement a right rather than a privilege. With the recent deaths of nearly 800 migrants in the Mediterranean, my false assumptions surrounding this have become even clearer, and I have had the opportunity to further contemplate my privilege. In the grand scheme of things, the two weeks I spent reapplying for a passport and visa were nothing.
Having my passport and visa stolen were by no means fun, easy to fix, or inexpensive, and it certainly wasn’t the “extended vacation” that many of my Facebook friends kept saying it was. But I learnt some truly invaluable life lessons along the way, and I like to think that I’m now better at adapting to new situations that spring up when I travel…and not getting my documents stolen.
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