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Since I started my little “Total Travel Disasters” series, I’ve highlighted travel meltdowns in which I was, more or less, an unwitting victim. Getting screwed with a broken camper rental. Being targeted by a bed and breakfast tyrant. Finding ourselves on the wrong side of a battle with a rental car in Britain.

This post is different. This one was 100%, completely and totally my fault.

Leonard's Bakery, Oahu

Keiki time in Oahu

On our first day in Waikiki, I realized my driver’s license was missing when I went to order a drink at lunch. Luckily, I had my passport (I always seem to travel with it, even domestically — ya never know when you’re going to have to make a spontaneous escape) and Ian was doing all the driving for our upcoming Maui road trip, so I really didn’t think too much of it at the time. I did of course call Aulani Resort, where I’d last seen the ID when I showed it to a bartender at the hotel bar, and which I’d essentially barely left for the first stretch of the trip.

They came up empty — it had vanished into thin air.

Keiki time in Oahu

Keiki time in Oahu

The drama arrived when I had to make a decision about leaving Hawaii. The day Ian departed Maui, I decided to fly back to Oahu for five more days with the cutest twins in the Aloha State — and their fabulous parents Wim and Dave, of course. Wim and Dave generously offered to host me at their home in Ewa Beach, which is a lovely suburb of Oahu — one which you literally cannot navigate without your own wheels.

TheBus, Oahu’s public transportation system, only reaches as far as Kapolei, a ninety minute walk from Ewa Beach, and Ubers and cabs to this area are laughably prohibitive — think $100USD for a cab from the airport to Ewa! While I was mostly planning to spend time with the family and get work done and didn’t have too much planned for the five days — a dive trip, some yoga, and a few eateries I wanted to try — wheels were essential for any and all errands and excursions.

Keiki time in Oahu

Keiki time in Oahu

I honestly wasn’t that panicked as I left Maui. I read some forum and blog posts from those who had managed to rent a car without a physical license (even two right at HNL Airport!), and I guess in my mind it was just a flimsy little card in my wallet. I was licensed to drive a car, and there must be a record of that somewhere in cyberspace, no? By the way, today Alex is totally looking back at this naive past Alex and shaking her head while simultaneously shaking her head and doing that little snort thing.

I landed at HNL late and headed to the rental counter armed with my passport, an old expired license that I always keep on hand for emergencies, and a smile. An hour later, I’d made no progress. My pleas that managers at car rental agencies at this exact airport had over-riden policy to rent cars to people in my situation in the past were met with blank stares and firm no’s. I was told there was no way I could rent a car without a police report of a lost or stolen license, and even that was dicey. Panic began to set in.

Eventually, out of desperation, I called the local police precinct to ask if I could get a report over the phone and they told me they’d have to send an officer down in person. When I expressed guilt over using police resources in that way, the dispatcher on the phone said “oh honey that’s okay, that’s what we’re here for, to help people.” My heart melted. Yet while the police volunteered to come down in person to verify I had an active license, the rental agencies were just not going to play ball.

Keiki time in Oahu

As I was crying in frustration, throwing a pity party and wondering why an exception that was made for others couldn’t be made for me, my sweet friend Wim, a working mom with two twin toddlers at home, got out of bed and drove an hour to come get me without complaint. Girl just wouldn’t hear of me spending a hundred bucks on a cab — and I love her for it.

The next day, I chilled with the family and in the evening, when we went to pick up dinner, Dave swung by the Kapolei police station so I could file a police report. I’d spent a lot of the day researching solutions to my situation and I while I’d hit a lot of dead ends, I had some hope. If I was charting my mood, I was soaring at this point — I’d spent the day at the beach with some cute babies and I felt I was on the track to a solution to one of the most annoying travel problems I’d ever had… until the officer told me it would take five days to receive a report. Womp womp.

That was not going to cut it. I had a day of diving booked for two days later, and I really needed wheels to get there. When a few big fat tears started rolling, the officer took pity and offered another solution — I could go pick up the report myself at the main precinct in downtown Honolulu. Okay, now we were getting somewhere.

The next morning, Dave was driving into “town,” as the locals call it, to deal with some sort of administrative duties, so I was super lucky to be able to hitch a ride. As relentlessly annoying as this entire situation continued to be, I must admit that the police station was a hoot, at least. I was waiting patiently in an endlessly long line when a police officer approached and asked me, “are you here to register a gun?” When I replied with a big ‘ol nope, he directed me to a different, totally empty line reserved for anything but gun registration.

Sunset Yoga Hawaii

Scuba diving on Oahu

Sunset Yoga Hawaii

Official lost-license report in hand, I used TheBus to get around the city and do a few errands — get my nails done (inside a weird Wal-Mart rip off), eat an acai bowl (seriously don’t miss Tropical Tribe, which is in a janky looking strip mall but tasted straight out of Brazil), make a laughable attempt to get my laptop repaired (the repair backlog at the Honolulu Apple Store are no joke), and finally hop back on TheBus to go to the airport.

Guys, TheBus is hilarious. I don’t know if I just had weird luck or if it was because I was off the tourist trail and in the gritty downtown, but the people watching was a trip. My jaw hit the floor at one point when a young couple cursed out an old lady who apparently looked at their baby the wrong way — I averted my eyes to the floor after that just to be safe. You’re not at the luau anymore, girl, I told myself — this is definitely some authentic Oahu right here.

As soon as I was back on the bus en route to the airport, I pulled up the Discount Hawaii Car Rentals website on my phone and started calling all the rental offices with the lowest rates to plead my case. Actually, I decided that instead of going with the damsel in distress routine, I’d play it off like this happened every day and was totally routine. Something along the lines of, “Hi, I’m just coming from the Honolulu Police Department, who supplied me with a missing license report in order to confirm a rental as per your company policy. I already spoke to your corporate office about this, but just wanted to give you a heads up that I’m on my way!” If you can’t beat ’em, bamboozle ’em — with confidence.

Thrifty and Discount Hawaii Car Rentals were my savior. I ended up paying $74 for a three day rental — seriously, what a steal! — and after three days of license-related drama, I felt like I’d won the dang lottery as I drove off that lot. My mood chart was high as a kite.

Was it worth it? I dunno. My own wheels gave me the freedom to turn around and head back to have dinner at Livestock Tavern, another super trendy Chinatown find, with a friend I hadn’t seen in ages but randomly discovered via Facebook was also on Oahu. They gave me the freedom to go diving, check out the coolest tiki bar on the island, and get back to Ewa for a post-scuba snooze. They gave me the space to spend the next day cruising around Honolulu — eating the famous malasadas from Leonard’s, go to sunset beach yoga in the shadow of Diamond Head, and stop and pick up Thai food takeaway for dinner with my adopted Oahu family. Most importantly, after spending my last day in Hawaii with Wim on the rainy North Shore, I was able to drive myself to the airport for my red eye flight to LA so she wasn’t inconvenienced again.

But considering it took about half my five days to find a solution, and caused everyone including my hosts a major headache, it’s hard not to wonder if I should have just flown straight to LA when I realized I had no driver’s license.

Scuba diving on Oahu

Bottom line? I’m a hot mess who can’t be trusted with important travel documents. I never should have left that hotel without my license and once I realized it wasn’t going to be found, I should have started making moves on a solution ASAP rather than just blithely assuming all tides would turn in my favor.

I am not exaggerating when I say this was one of the most frustrating travel mistakes I’ve ever made. And had I not talked that Thrifty manager into doing me a solid, it could have been so much worse — I would have had to cancel diving and yoga and felt super guilty about being in Dave’s hair all day while totally stranded in the suburbs. And as it was, it was the. biggest. waste. of. time.

Funny enough — okay, literally not funny at all, someone please volunteer to supervise me at all times — I later gave myself a near heart attack when I thought I’d lost my license again while in Chicago and had a work trip coming up to Florida where a rental car was a necessity. I immediately went online and ordered a new license and when I emailed asking if there was any way to expedite its arrival, citing my work situation, I got a speedy and compassionate reply from a woman at the DMV who said she’d do her best. How nice and unexpected is that?

It turned out to be moot as the license reappeared soon after. But the amazing thing is that I now have a backup drivers license! I protect my passport with my life but never treated my driver’s license with the same reverence… until losing that tiny little piece of plastic ate half of my last five days in Oahu and nearly crippled a work trip to Florida. I have so much peace of mind now that I spent $17 and have a backup license just in case.

I haven’t been able to get a super 100% clear confirmation on this, but my research seems to show that I’m not doing anything illegal by having two copies of the same license. So my travel tip? If you’re as liability prone as me, “lose” your license for a day and order a replacement… then when you “find” the original, put it with your backup credit card and backup debit card (because you do travel with those, right?)

View of Oahu from plane window

View of Oahu from plane window

As I talked about in a recent Instagram post, I share these stories because it’s cathartic and because people love a good disaster tale, but I also share them as a reminder that travel isn’t all rainbows and heart-eyed emojis and no one is above making epic screw-ups, no matter how long they’ve been on the road. My trips — and I! — are far from perfect, as excruciating experiences like this oft reveal. I doubt there will ever be a day when I learn from all my mistakes and hit travel nirvana but what can I say… I’ve had a lot of fun screwing up along the way.

I can’t be the only one — have you ever lost a super important document while traveling?

Confused on where we are? I’m catching up on the black hole of content from August of 2016 to April of 2017 — when I jumped forward to blog the summer of 2017 as it was happening. This was my final post from October of 2016 in Hawaii, and I can’t wait to turn my detailed notes and journals into blog posts from Jamaica, Thailand and Bali next! My apologies for any confusion with the timeline, and thanks for sticking with me.

  • Kathryn Allen
    April 14 2018

    I plead guilty to contributing what is likely a genetic inability to stay organized. Maybe 23 and Me can provide some clues to that.

    When I hit the mega lottery (rude to even think about given how much fortune has already smiled on me) my first move will be to hire a personal assistant whose primary task in life will be to keep my papers in order and point me to the next appointment in my calendar while handing me the folder with all the necessary documents. Hey, a girl can dream. Until then, the second DL sounds like a great idea.

  • I mean, I’ll be the first to admit I DO love a good disaster tale myself. We almost had a similar lost-license incident when I surprised Scott with a six-day trip to Austin for his birthday two years ago—only for us to arrive at TSA checkpoint to realize he’d left his ID at home (and you know how far we live from the airport, too!). It was then that we realized you *can* fly without any form of ID (only with a very friendly pat-down…), but we didn’t think that at 41, he wouldn’t be able to get into the bars in Austin without one, which yep, happened.

    Still, we made it to Austin and survived a week without his license! )Luckily, we only had rented a car for two of the days to get to/from Travaasa and barely used it, and I just drove for a change.)

  • Natasha Haley
    April 14 2018

    Oh no, this is something I would do! I am always misplacing things and putting them somewhere safe that I forget. We certainly have backups too!

  • Ramona
    April 14 2018

    Well, lessons learned and you will be more careful next time! I was running late to the airport (lived an hour and a half away), got stopped on the way by a swarm of police officers (it was like 4:30 a. m.), discovered my license had expired! They let me go on to the airport, flew to Monterey, California to visit my daughter and the car rental would not let me rent a car without a current license! It was a expensive lesson, ( another long story), and so I learned my lesson! Cute pictures of the little ones!

  • Kailey
    April 14 2018

    My husband regularly loses his wallet. So he has 3 copies of his drivers license. I do think its frowned upon, I’ve been told its illegal. But the ID # is the same, I think what matters is if 1 is lost you still file a report.

  • Taylor
    April 15 2018

    I haven’t lost any of my documents while traveling (knock on wood). But after 4 years of travel I’ve had my fair share of notable screw ups. Most recently I booked flights for 2 of my friends and I to the wrong destination. Luckily the there was a layover where we were actually going so we just skipped the last flight and I had to eat the cost of the larger ticket prices, but trying to get our bags off early was a huge headache hahah. Now I’m much more careful when booking flights haha

  • Leigh
    April 15 2018

    What a bummer, in Hawaii of all places, where there’s about a million other better things to spend your time on!

    I’m super organized and never lose anything 😉

    Except for that time I dropped my passport in a chocolate shop in Brussels and didn’t even know it. Got back to my hotel and had a random FB message request from a guy I didn’t know, ignored it(who answers those, right?!) until my phone rang – turns out he was the next American to stroll into that shop and the shopkeeper asked him to find me – you know, since we’re both American, haha! So I missed out on the stress of knowing I’d lost a super important document and just had the remorse of being an idiot after the fact!

    • Laura
      April 15 2018

      That’s amazing! If this were a sitcom/romcom, that would have been your meet cute!
      thank goodness for the kindness of strangers.

  • Alanna
    April 15 2018

    I went to South Africa last year with my boyfriend and we got mugged our first day in Johannesburg (which was terrible, obviously) but (luckily) resulted in only his wallet getting stolen with his license and a few credit cards and cash but none of our other important documents. But we had an awesome 10 day road trip planned for the rest of the trip along the coast and I did not want to be the only driver for 10 days! We pleaded with the rental car people to make him a second driver but they wouldn’t budge. In the end I rented the car in my name and he drove sometimes which is obviously very risky but luckily nothing bad happened! It was a very frustrating process and so annoying that there’s nothing you can do with your passport and the fact that he is licensed in the US!
    Oh well, it was a beautiful drive, either way!!

  • Ganesh
    April 16 2018

    What a bummer, in Hawaii of all places, where there are about a million other better things to spend your time on! Thank goodness for the kindness of strangers.

  • Megan
    April 16 2018

    At the end of my freshman year of college I went on a choir trip to Israel. We flew from Chicago to Tel Aviv, but there was a tricky layover in New York that involved flying into La Guardia and then taking a bus to JFK. When we got to JFK and opened my bag… no passport. I was SO upset, because I had checked under my seat for loose items when we landed and there was definitely nothing there. We called La Guardia and told them my seat number, and luckily they found it! It had somehow fallen out of a pouch, and then out of my backpack, and THEN gotten wedged between the wall and the plastic side of the seat. My choir director (who was a lovely woman but could be terrifying) and I (little freshman dying of shame) had to take a cab all the way back to La Guardia and just barely made it back to JFK in time to catch our 10 hour flight across the ocean with the rest of the group. I was honestly traumatized and vowed to always always have actual, visual confirmation of important documents. Sigh.

  • Dominique
    April 16 2018

    Hmm… I lost my license too. Actually I lost my whole wallet while I was living in Edinburgh, but I didn’t think anything of it since I didn’t drive there. Then I moved to Abu Dhabi… My lesson is that as long as you live in the EU, you have to make sure you have all your travel documents. Once you move outside the EU your own home country will make things so much harder for you! It took me a lot of phone calls & travelling back and forth to get a new license. This was a real lesson learned for me 🙂
    Dominique recently posted..Viñales – What to do in and around the Valley

  • Eric Gamble
    April 16 2018

    I would have lost my mind Alex. I too cant be trusted with documents. I have lost my passport 2x not though somehow by the grace of the travel overlords it has always turned back up.
    I kept trying to think what I would have done since I dont carry my passport when travelling in the US and I would have been stuck at the TSA line like a monkey wondering what to do next. So very cool that you had such a great support system to help you those first few days.
    Also, I find that authorities are often more supportive than we give them credit for. Glad that the Hawaiian Police were able to help you. Love your “Fake it til you Make it” attitude with the rental car companies too. Going to have to remember that when I make a mistake like that, cause I know it will probably happen.
    Thanks for the afternoon laughs!
    Eric Gamble recently posted..10 Fun things to do in Albuquerque

  • becky hutner
    April 21 2018

    Oh man where do I begin? Leaving my passport in the bedside table drawer of my hotel & driving off to the airport. Meticulously packing for a work trip only to realise my passport is missing, then tearing up the house looking when it dawns on me that I know exactly where it is – in the scanner at work where I had made a copy for my boss & left it! Leaving my passport on the plane….dropping it somewhere between check-in and the gate and PANICKING….leaving a WHOLE FOLDER with my cash, passport, visas, insurance documents & all manner of essential documents for a film shoot in Peru ON THE COUNTER OF A COSTAS COFFEE. I could go on.

    I think worst of all, in the long run, is moving from California to the UK with a near-expired driving license. Now that it’s expired, my choices are to spend the time, stress & money to take the English test which there is NO room or desire in my life to do or wait ’til I move back to the States to get a new one. In some ways, it’s liberating. On the other hand, not being able to drive WHEN I KNOW I CAN DRIVE is I think about as close as I’m going to get as a female to understanding the feeling of being emasculated!

  • Mary B
    April 23 2018

    I lost my back-up credit and debit card two weeks into a 3- month trip. I turned my bag and my guesthouse room inside out before giving up and calling to cancel them both. Maybe 6 or 8 weeks later, it got chilly and I pulled out my thick socks – and found the cards inside. I’d put them there for “safe keeping” and then totally forgot! So typical.
    Mary B recently posted..Oaxaca

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