I Lost My Cell Phone Before An International Trip: The Good The Bad And The Ugly


As a married couple sharing our love of culinary tourism through our Food Travelist website, our weekly #FoodTravelChat on Twitter, and amazing publications like TravelAwaits, we are seasoned international travelers. With a sense of adventure we recently relocated to Portugal. We typically travel together and manage the details of travel with ease. But when my (Diana) father was about to reach his 90th birthday, I went back to the United States to celebrate while Sue stayed in Portugal to finish up some relocation tasks and look after our cats.

After I visited with my dad for about a week, he drove me to the airport, we said our “I love yous,” and hugged goodbye. I got my boarding passes, checked my bags, and then went to text him one last time before I went through security.

Sue Reddel and Diana Laskaris

But when I reached for my cell phone in the side pocket of my purse where it usually rests, it wasn’t there. Or anywhere else in my purse. Or any clothing pocket. Or my backpack. I lost my cell phone! Just as I was starting a three-flight international journey back home to Portugal my technology nightmare began. And here’s how it went from there.

Everyone Has A Cell Phone But Me

Imagine being in an airport and discovering your cell phone is missing. Is your heart pounding? Mine sure was. After no luck at the lost and found, I thought my cell must have slipped out during goodbye hugs or driving to the airport. At this airport, the payphones were gone. No loss really because the important phone numbers were in my cell phone, not my head. I asked a guard to borrow his cell to call Sue, the one person’s number that I had memorized. No answer. I left her a message to call my father about the phone. When I looked around I realized that everyone in the airport had a cell phone — everyone except me.

O'Hare Airport Interior.
Sue Reddel and Diana Laskaris

Not Much I Can Do

Before an international journey, I really rely on my cell phone. My phone had the digital results of my COVID-19 test and a copy of my vaccination card. Fortunately, some paranoia caused me to keep printed copies of both with my passport. If not, my trip home would have ended there.

My fitness watch is tied into a cell phone app so I would not be able to synchronize it for each new time zone on my journey. I could not receive text messages with flight updates, gate changes, delays, or anything else from the airline. Because my flights to get to my dad’s birthday were plagued with changes and delays, not knowing what was happening made me nervous. I sat near a departure board and checked flight status at every stop.

Aha! My Laptop

I also realized that I couldn’t call anyone else to tell them what was going on. That is until I remembered I had my laptop in my backpack. Fortunately, most airports now have a free Internet connection. Hooray! Email is not instant like messaging or a call, and most people tend not to check it as often. But it is a way to communicate. I sent emails to Sue and my father hoping that at some point someone would read them.

I also remembered that my cell had a function called Find My iPhone, which I could use to see if I had really lost my phone or it was safe somewhere in my father’s car. I found the online version and entered my phone number. Success! The pinging phone was at my dad’s address. There was a ray of hope that I and my cell would someday reunite.

Seaside cityscape of Cascais city in summer day. Cascais municipality, Portugal.
Evannovostro / Shutterstock.com

Finding My Phone Is Not Getting My Phone

My flights were largely uneventful and I made it safely back home to Portugal. I used email to keep Sue apprised of my progress along the way, though much less frequently than when I would if texting. By the time I got home, my dad had been in touch with Sue. I called him using Sue’s phone and told him that my cell was in his car somewhere. He checked but did not find it. Fortunately, my nephew was visiting and quite familiar with the sounds Find My iPhone makes. He took charge and a ping or two later, he found my cell under a seat.

Though Portugal stole our hearts, one of its less wonderful features is customs for items from the United States. Most people said that if my phone made it back to me at all, it would likely get stuck in customs and cost an excessive amount to get. They suggested that maybe a friend could bring it to me when they came for a visit.

Help Is On The Way

None of my friends or family had immediate plans to visit, but I belong to online groups where expats and locals help one another, develop friendships, and provide support. I posted a note to one such Facebook group about my situation and asked for suggestions on how to get my cell back. Several wonderful people offered to bring my phone with them on a return trip to Portugal. I was shocked at how many people offered assistance. I selected Kamruddin Shams, an experienced entrepreneur who travels frequently between Lisbon and the United States. He was returning to Portugal in about a month.

Phone Sweet Phone

My dad sent my cell phone to Kamruddin at his United States address. He received it, packed it with his belongings, and carried it with him back to Portugal. Sue and I met him in Lisbon and bought him lunch at the Time Out Market as a token. The three of us found out that we had much in common, and while the phone was the reason we got together, we will certainly see one another as friends again in the future.

Diana and Kamruddin at Time Out Market Lisboa.
Sue Reddel & Diana Laskaris

The Kindness Of Strangers

Even though it is easy to be cynical about how selfish people can be, it was a humbling lesson in gratitude to realize that so many people were willing to go out of their way to help me get my phone back safely. If you ever find yourself in need of support, consider those you may know through social media groups and other common interests. There are gems just waiting to provide help and support. Do your homework of course, and don’t just trust absolutely anyone. But don’t be surprised if you find a whole online community helping you find a solution to a difficult challenge.

Life Lessons To Share

As much as I (and many of us) rely on technology, especially our almighty cell phones, this experience taught me that some low-tech backup is a good idea. When traveling, keep paper copies of important documents. Memorize or write important phone numbers on paper to take with you. Bring a regular watch that is not tied into your cell through an app as well as your sport or smartwatch. If you have a computer or laptop, add an app that allows you to read your text messages or get your calls on it if one is available from your provider.

I also learned the hard way how important it is to double and triple-check that you have your phone and all other gadgets and items whenever leaving a car, train, plane, restaurant seat, or anywhere.

The most important lesson I learned is not to be afraid to ask for help with a frustrating or confusing travel situation. I had a challenging month without my cell phone, but thanks to a generous online community, my willingness to call for help, and a wonderful person who answered the call, I got my phone back and made great new friends in the process.

Sue Reddel and Diana Laskaris, writers of Food Travelist, are frequent contributors to TravelAwaits. Check out their contributions here:

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