While traveling, getting all of your belongings stolen is one of the worst things that can happen to you.
I mean, yes in the grand scheme of things, it probably isn’t.
But the moment it is happening to you, there is nothing more devastating than realizing everything you so carefully bought, packed and brought with you is GONE probably being sold in back alleyways for pennies.
But how did it happen?
The moment I set foot on to the train I noticed there was a section near the door with tons of suitcases. The conductor barely let me find my seat before he pointed to that very spot and told me to leave my bag there with the rest of them. I asked if I could keep it near me since no one was sitting in my section. He assured me that my suitcase would be safe in the designated area.
I ADMIT … there was a slight 2-second alarm that went off in my head because the bags were on their own behind a door that separated the baggage area from where our seats were.
Unfortunately, it was overridden by the rationalization that my suitcase would be ok with all the others, there were so many after all.
So there I was, sitting in my seat on the fast train from Milan to Venice feeling overwhelmed with happiness after having spent a week with my family. About halfway into my trip, I realized there was a space between the seats for small carry-on bags.
Prior to Milan, I had been in Paris and bought a small bag to make my main one a bit lighter. I was nervous that RyanAir would have a problem with the weight! Yep, that’s how much stuff I packed for this trip.
I went to the bag area and grabbed my carry-on that was stacked on top of my suitcase, never once thinking Thank God everything is still here, but rather naively expecting it would be.
When they announced Venice was the last and final stop, I got up early to retrieve my stuff and be ready before the crowd.
What can I say? NYC commuter habits die hard.
As soon as I got to the luggage area, I did a double take because where there had been at least 15 bags, now was just a big open space. There was nothing there.
Not One. Single. Suitcase.
In an effort to remain positive and calm, I decided to check all of the other cars.
Maybe someone had accidentally moved it?
Each car I checked made my heart beat faster and my face get hotter. By the last car, I was seeing spots. This couldn’t be happening to me.
At this point, everyone was lined up and waiting to exit the train. My next plan of attack was stand outside the train to see if I could spot my suitcase. It was bright turquoise and a hard shell – definitely easy to single out in the crowd, or so I thought.
Such Helpful Italians
When that failed, I ran back in to find the conductor. Instead, I was greeted by the cleaning crew who, when explaining what had just occurred, proceeded to laugh at me and assure me my stuff was long gone.
On the verge of tears, I finally found the conductor and asked him where I could find the police. Instead of laughing though, he rolled his eyes and sighed with exasperation as he enthusiastically offered to take me to the police office in the train station.
Please note my extreme sarcasm. Apparently, I was giving him extra work.
Prior to this experience, I had never witnessed what so many people often said of Italians and their laid back, impassive way of being. This was probably because when in Italy on vacation, I too was laid back and impassive and it just made life wonderful to be somewhere relaxing and slower paced than New York.
However, now I needed them to help me – to care. Instead, it was Sunday, there was a soccer game on that demanded much more of their attention and I probably wasn’t the first American tourist coming in devastated over the loss of their belongings that day.
The only positive from all this was that I was lucky I had all of my documents, money and credit cards in my purse – plus some random articles of clothing in my carry-on.
Surprise! The Police Wasn’t The Police
I made my way into the police office still within the train station and was greeted by 2 men wearing police uniforms. As I began to explain everything, I was immediately cut off and told that they were not in fact officers and that I would need to take a water bus to St. Mark’s Square, make a formal report with the police, then take another water bus back to the train station and take this form to the customer service agents.
That did it.
Devastation was immediately transformed into pure rage as I began to yell.
To be honest, I think I blacked out at this point because while I remember the yelling, some of the particulars are foggy. I remember making an example and saying if I was dressed like a clown and then asked to juggle, what sense would it make if I responded by saying SORRY, I’M NOT A CLOWN!
Yea, I was somewhat hysterical at this point.
One of the “officers” didn’t like my
completely crazed slightly irrational analogy and simply walked away. The other took pity of my hysteria, I think, and gave me step by step instructions on how to find the police station in St. Mark’s. He also gave me advice on how to file the claim with the train’s customer service office.
To this day, I don’t remember taking the waterbus to St. Mark’s or how I ended up at the police station. I had a mission and it was tunnel vision all the way. I do remember the ridiculous amount of tourists at every turn and even now wonder how crazy I must have looked to them.
The Real Police Weren’t Any Better
They too had more interesting things to do, like watch said soccer game, rather than help a crazed American with her lost luggage forms.
None of them spoke any English or Spanish leaving me to fend for myself with college-level Italian and Google translate which meant a nice long visit at the Venice Police Station.
At least they were kind enough to offer me candy and a cup of coffee while they cheered for their team/I listed every single thing that was gone forever in my suitcase.
The Longest Ride
Once all the forms were complete, I finally made my way back to the train station for fight number 3 of that wretched day. The waterbus back to the station was the longest ride I had ever been on in my life.
This time, the anger had dissipated and the tears that had been threatening to fall all day, were finally released.
All of my fear and doubts attacked me; I had never felt as alone as I did at that second.
How did I think I could do this?
What was I thinking?
Now what was I going to do?
I also started to take a mental inventory of everything I had lost. Not in the same I need to prove everything in my suitcase is valuable way I did at the police station, but rather the more emotional aspect of it all.
I had excitedly bought so many new things to wear to all the fashion capitals – there were clothes, shoes and even jewelry in my suitcase that had never even been worn! Mementos from the previous places I had visited and so many favorites I had brought with me from home…all just gone.
Bonus travel tip: DON’T do this.
Every single thing I thought of made me cry harder. So much so that two little nuns sitting next to me looked over with worrisome expressions and one even took out her handkerchief and gave it to me.
It was the release I needed. I knew that the next part of the process would be the hardest as those customer service people were the ones who dealt with this every day and would most likely have even less patience or sympathy for my situation.
I Was Right
As soon as I started to explain my situation, I was rudely interrupted with instructions on how to find the police station to fill out the appropriate forms and did I know how to take a waterbus?
Massive eye roll.
I spent a total of 3 hours in this office speaking with various agents who all sarcastically told me their manager was out of town and not one of them had an email address I could report any of this to.
It was one condescending man after another, but I held my ground. I read over every single form they handed me, took pictures of everything for documentation purposes this made all of them extremely uneasy, almost downright hostile and finally completed the filing portion of the process.
*I will be adding a post soon about what to do if you lose your belongings in Italy, particularly while on Trenitalia.
I was told everything was being mailed to Rome and that if they responded, I could expect to hear back somewhere between 4-6 weeks about a potential insurance reimbursement.
If. They. Responded.
Where the hell was I? It felt like the Twilight Zone.
So basically, for this trip, I had absolutely nothing.
And since I thought something like this could never happen to me, I of course didn’t have travel insurance.
You live and learn, guys. You live and learn.
It took me a long time to finally decide to leave the station. It felt like the second I set foot out the door, it was over. There would be zero hope left of ever finding my suitcase again.
That I had any left at this point is a testament to my insanely hopeful nature/stubbornness to accept the truth.
Everything Happens For A Reason….?
By the time I reached my hostel and checked in, the sun was setting.
I had arrived in Venice that day around 11am and it was now almost 9pm. My entire day had been wasted on one fight after another with rude, condescending men.
I was exhausted, defeated and sad.
People always tell you, Everything happens for a reason when something bad happens, but I just couldn’t find the “reason” for this disappointing punch to the gut.
After I dropped off my carry-on I figured I should get something to eat since the last meal I had was breakfast at my aunt’s house almost 12 hours earlier. However, when I walked outside I was faced with the most spectacular sunset I had ever seen in my life.
At that moment, I stopped everything and just looked around at the beauty before me.
I was in Venice! I was traveling on my own! I would make it through this and someday it would just be a story to tell!
I decided to focus on making this trip amazing despite its devastating start. And just like that, the hopefulness was back and I figured if I could make it through this horrific day, I could do anything.
This decision changed the course of my entire trip and really, of my life.
That night and for the remaining weeks I spent abroad on that trip, I opened myself up to meet new people and was greeted with an unimaginable kindness and generosity from every person I met.
The weeks prior to this incident, my trip had been very tactical – lists of places to see and things to do. After that disastrous day in Venice, my trip became about the experiences, the emotions and the people.
I embarked on this journey knowing where I wanted to go, but not realizing just how life-changing it would be. While most people would argue that getting everything you brought on a trip stolen would ruin the course of any trip, I believe this allowed for a completely different journey to take place.
One that forced me to realize all material things are replaceable, one that allowed me to find comfort in the kindness of new friends, one that forced me to focus not on the physical or on the material, but on the essence of things – of every person I met and every place I visited.
And all along the way, one thing remained constant: the genuine kindness of every person I encountered made it possible for me to travel with next to nothing from place to place and feel like everything would be ok.
Strangers became friends. The things I lost turned out to be things I truly didn’t need. The material was gone but the void it left was filled by life-changing moments and new feelings of belonging. Thousands of miles from home, I didn’t feel alone anymore.
This is what traveling is to me.
It is where I lost myself, it is where I found the courage to let go of the self-doubt and go in search of my own truths showing me that there is nothing to be scared of in the unknown if you are willing to open your mind and your heart.
People always tell you to avoid the accidents, but they’ve got it wrong.
You should always be on the lookout for the accidents because sometimes, it’s these unpredictable and unforeseen moments that can bring you more happiness than you ever imagined, changing the person you are and the course of your life forever.
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