Two years ago, one of my greatest traveling fears was realized—my luggage was lost.
Numerous delays with my connection caused me to miss my scheduled flight to Rome. After a mad dash through O’Hare in Chicago, my husband and I boarded the last plane to Rome minutes before they closed the gate. As we ascended, I looked down at the terminal and silently said goodbye to my baggage—I knew in my heart that it wasn’t on the plane.
When we arrived at Fiumicino, we filed a lost luggage claim and gave the agent our itinerary—we were going on a Mediterranean cruise the next day. The man smiled and told us not to worry that they would locate our bags and get it to us quickly, possibly even before we left Rome. I appreciated his attempt to quell our concern, but knew he didn’t believe the luggage would be located in 24 hours anymore than I did.
This was my first trip to Europe and even though I had a well-stocked carry-on, I quickly realized that some items that I packed were easily replaceable in the States, but not in Rome (like strong antiperspirant). No amount of small inconvenience could mar the experience of seeing the ancient walls for the first time though! Looking back, having our bags misplaced would change the entire trip—for the better.
Checking in at the hotel was quite humorous because our hotelier asked us if she could hold any bags for us while we waited for our room to be readied. We laughed at the question and shared the story. She treated us with such kindness and put us in a lovely room that overlooked a marvelous courtyard. Based on her courtesy, I would return to the Domus Romano any day. We went to find some replacement items and uncovered the treasures of the area surrounding our hotel. Without a map showing where specific shops were, we were able to fully explore looking carefully at every building. We delighted in finding magnificent fountains and fabulous piazzas.
The next day we caught a train to Civitavecchia. Train travel and navigating numerous sets of stairs are a breeze without being encumbered by bags! Exchanging travel tales, we made friends with our seat mates (two cousins traveling the continent for the summer). I quickly noticed how different my husband and I were acting. Even though we are both generally amiable people, it seemed that we were more outgoing. Had losing our bags freed our tongues?
When we boarded the ship without any luggage, the agents were very helpful and sent tee-shirts, toiletries, slippers, and other items to our room. They gave us vouchers for various services and offered to outfit my husband in a tuxedo and me in a dress for formal night. We went to the pub on the ship and met an Australian man who was about my husband’s size, he offered to loan hubby whatever he needed! The server at the pub was great, too, and gave us complimentary beverages. A woman from Wales overheard the conversation and offered me clothes and cosmetics. It was wonderful having all these caring strangers trying to help us.
Our first stop was Sicily where we went to Taormina. Amid medieval splendor, I was able to locate stronger deodorant, sunscreen, personal items, and sandals. On our tour, I made everyone laugh when a fellow traveler said that she was going to stick close to me throughout the cruise (since I’m a historian) and I told her it wouldn’t be difficult to find me as I would be wearing the same outfit every day.
We approached the inconvenience with laughter and the “incident” turned out to be an enriching part of the trip. We met amazing people from around the world—I think, in part, because we had a great ice breaker to start a conversation. If you ever doubt the generosity of humankind, have your luggage misplaced. I will forever owe Alessandra (Royal Caribbean’s Guest Services) my gratitude for loaning me her hair iron and keeping me from looking like Medusa. Mille grazie, Alessandra!
Several days into the trip, we returned to the ship from exploring Athens. When we boarded, they told us to go to Guest Services. There, they informed us that the ship had sent a runner to retrieve several bags—they couldn’t be sure that ours were in the batch, but we were hopeful. With anticipation, we sat on our balcony and watched people boarding down below. It was almost time for the ship to set sail and still no luggage. I went back into the room to ready myself for dinner when all of a sudden my husband shouted, “honey.” I ran out on the balcony and he was pointing to a little car speeding to the gangway. A man got out and started unloading luggage. Using the zoom function on the camera, we looked down and saw the familiar string that we tie on our bags. They were there!
When the bags arrived in our room, we hurriedly unpacked. Then we looked at each other. We both realized that something incredibly special had happened on that trip because of our misplaced luggage. For a moment, I was saddened by the fact that we were whole again. Having a unique tale to tell had opened up a new world to us. We had truly had the best of times bonding with people. It seemed that everyone had at least one travel woe that they wanted to share with us. We had been known on the ship as the couple without clothes (not completely true). Complete strangers would come up to us and ask if our luggage had arrived yet. Through travel, we had united with others and become part of an extraordinary culture that transcended nationalities. I came away from that trip with many new friends and many lessons learned: talk to strangers, stop and explore non-tourist areas of a city, don’t sweat the small stuff, make sure you have a luggage tag, and always pack your favorite antiperspirant in your carry-on bag.