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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?)
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.