A location independent lifestyle opens the door for all kinds of surprises. Some of these result in funny nomad stories.
While becoming a digital nomad, I encountered all kinds of unusual problems while figuring out how to live as a nomad. You can plan, read nomad travel blogs, and study the art of being a one-bag living minimalist – but nothing can thoroughly prepare you for the realities of being a digital nomad.
This one of my nomad stories centers around a problem of which every traveler is terrified. You can keep your passport tucked away in a hostel or Airbnb safe, bury it in the most secure corner of your backpack, or tuck it in a hidden money belt – but it’s always at risk on one fateful day. So was mine.
Up until the point where this event started, my nomad stories were quite dull. There were no Instagram shots of laptops on a beach, smiling nomads working with me at a coworking space, or carefree days in a cafe. It was a real laptop lifestyle, with work from sun-up to sun-down as I decided what my new career would be and hunted for online jobs for nomads.
Raising the Devil
Eventually, everyone needs a break. Burnout settles in. I was no exception and needed a quick vacation from my temporary nomadic home in Buenos Aires to reset and experience some of the local culture.
Conveniently, it was Carnaval season – approximately a week of town-wide festivities where everybody blows off steam, sprays each other with foam, slaps paint on strangers, launches water balloons across the town square, and “raise the devils” from the desert to wander the earth for a week before burying them for another year.
It sounded like a brilliant event, and quite unlike your stereotypical digital nomad activity for a day off. I had to see – especially since this might make one of the better nomad stories thus far for my channel (I was starting a travel vlog). Little did I know how soon heading to north Argentina would make my remote work go south.
My best attempts to plan an approximate storyline for the travel vlog failed miserably. What was going to happen? I had no idea. A montage of airplane and bus footage, some shots of the town, maybe try to interview a few people, and then back to Buenos Aires? So far, it sounded like one of the more boring nomad stories possible, but things got interesting.
I scheduled my Instagram posts, caught up on as much work as possible to leave me with free time to enjoy Carnaval, bought my tickets, and packed my bags. A short flight, an overnight in Salta, a longer bus ride past the seven-colored hill of Purmamarca, and I’d be right there in the heart of Carnaval.
A short flight landed me in Salta. The Salta Airbnb boasted the best WiFi I had seen yet in South America, which made finishing up last-minute work a breeze. The steak dinner and glass of wine finely complimented the “authentic” show featuring a local dance, and a good night of sleep sent me out the door early in the morning to catch my bus to Tilcara.
Of Course, It Couldn’t Be That Easy
Then things started to go wrong. Every traveler knows that taxis are only available when you don’t need them. I needed to get across Salta to the bus station, but no taxi was to be found (and the bus left soon). A ten-minute walk uncovered no taxis but did reveal that I had left my sunglasses at the Airbnb. A quick run retrieved the sunglasses and luckily brought my path in line with a taxi – a small bit of luck you don’t always find in nomad stories.
The luck ran out fast. A thirty-minute wait at the bus counter ended with a grumpy ticket clerk trying to explain that my online bus ticket was no good – I had to print the ticket. Living out of a backpack makes it challenging to carry a printer. Printers are also like taxis – when you need one, they’re nowhere to be found.
The bus left, and I wasn’t on it. This relaxing excursion to Carnaval was (disconcertingly) becoming one of the better nomad stories I had, but there was hope. A new bus ticket – this time on paper – got me and my backpack on a bus lurching through the desert landscape and cacti of northern Argentina.
It was time to get some of my daily tasks done. It was more complicated than planned. Cities faded into sun-scorched sand and mountains through the bus windows, and my phone’s WiFi hotspot quickly became as useless as my online bus ticket. I nervously tucked my passport into my backpack’s safest inner pocket and stared blindly out the window while pondering this new addition to my nomad stories. At least Tilcara would have WiFi.
Welcome to Tilcara – Decidedly not the Land of Coworking Spaces
Tilcara did have WiFi, but not really – as I would soon discover. Hungry, thirsty, and exhausted, I stumbled through the town with my 80lbs of gear – everything I needed to live in South America doing tango, hiking Patagonia, and working remotely while creating nomad stories. Since I had no data, I had no map. Foolishly, I hadn’t downloaded offline maps like any sensible digital nomad using the best apps for travel would have.
After wandering in circles in an unintentional tour of the town, I stumbled into the hostel and set up the tent. It would be an early night, but what did this town have to offer? Few good nomad stories start with going to sleep. The festivities were beginning, with brass bands marching around the town, locals and tourists from all over South America cheering in the streets, and the paint starting to fly. The evening was lovely, and I eventually went to sleep.
Morning in Tilcara is also a beautiful thing. With no cellphone service, it was easier to focus on what was around me. The nearly non-functional hostel WiFi (checking my email was a 30-minute task) gave me even more time to enjoy this holiday.
After doing my best to do work remotely, I headed back to the tent to sort out my digital nomad gear. Something suddenly felt wrong in the pit of my stomach.
Where Was My Passport?
Any traveler knows that items routinely lose themselves in the bowels of a backpack – but they always turn back up again. That must be what happened, right?
A quick cursory search revealed no passport, and neither did the slightly panicked, comprehensive search that followed. This new addition to my nomad stories was getting out of hand. The sand outside the tent was strewn with a bizarre assortment of digital nomad gear as I emptied the tent in desperation.
It was gone. Inexplicably, my passport had grown wings and flown away at some point between the bus ride and the tent. Or, had it been stolen? Had I dropped it somewhere during my zombie march through the town while trying to find the hostel on the previous day?
Whatever had happened, my passport and its beautiful collection of international stamps were gone. A walk to the local police station and a game of Google Translate didn’t result in a returned lost passport. However, it did generate a police report describing the incident (if you ever lose your passport, BE SURE to get a police report).
The policeman kept mentioning a radio station, but my mastery of the Spanish language is poor. What was he trying to say? Broadcasting over the town that there was a lost American passport wasn’t one of the types of nomad stories I wanted to share with my new celebrating friends.
Walking past the radio station shone more light on the matter. It was closed, but there was a stack of lost credit cards and IDs on the counter. No passport, however.
The bus station clerk hadn’t seen the passport, either. I gave her my email in case it surfaced, but she had no idea where my previous bus was or how to could contact the other bus routes.
I Needed Nomad Stories For My Vlog, but This Was a Bit Much
Things were getting grim.
Barely any internet, no phone service to call the embassy for advice, remote work to be done on the almost non-existent WiFi, and no passport. Going to the embassy is a hassle, but so is buying bus tickets and flying on airlines without a passport (you need an ID to purchase tickets and board airplanes).
Hitchhiking the 1600km back to Buenos Aires (through a country where I didn’t speak the language) would make for one of the most epic nomad stories of my life. It was worth consideration, but it didn’t seem like a real option – I needed to work online.
Bad things happen in life, but you make the best of them. This new beast in my bag of nomad stories was out of my control. So, I finished the week enjoying Carnaval – a relatively authentic experience, as the only English speaker in a town full of happy celebrating people.
The rules say you need an ID to purchase tickets, but the rules don’t always apply at all times in Argentina. I was eventually able to get a bus (standing room only, precariously perched over five people stuffed in the front of the bus cab) to Jujuy, and from there purchased an airline ticket online. My phone finally worked, but the embassy had no idea if the airline would let me board.
There may have been a butterfly or two in my stomach as I waited in the airport to see if I would be denied entry. If this didn’t work, I wouldn’t just be short a few hundred dollars on a lost ticket. I’d be trapped for who knows how long, a prisoner of the deserts of northern Argentina, doomed to wander, eternally searching for WiFi.
The security card asked for my passport, and I handed him my phone with a carefully crafted Google Translate message. He looked puzzled and scrutinized the police report for what seemed like hours. First looking up at me, then down, then around at his associates, he shook his head and paused – then finally waved me through.
I Was Still Trapped
After getting to Buenos Aires, the embassy issued an emergency passport that would get me home – but I didn’t want to go back. I had plans to continue creating nomad stories through Africa and Europe.
Unfortunately, the clerk informed me that since I didn’t have a birth certificate and driver’s license, they couldn’t verify my citizenship – so no full passport could be issued.
I was dumbfounded. Of course, I’m not traveling with every document needed to assume my identity, (should my backpack go the way of my passport)! Can’t you use fingerprints, check some numbers, do a retina scan, call my family – anything?
In the end, bringing these documents might be the wiser decision unless you fancy creating unpleasant nomad stories.
One month of waiting for the necessary documents to be created and mailed, another few weeks of waiting for a passport appointment, and another few weeks waiting for the passport to be mailed meant I was trapped in Buenos Aires (although, in the beautiful district of Almagro) for far longer than expected.
Hopefully This Never Becomes One of Your Digital Nomad Stories – But Here’s What You Do
- Include proof of citizenship for your country (for example, a birth certificate and driver’s license) in your digital nomad packing list.
- Get a police report as soon as you discover your passport is gone. Without this report, you are stuck.
- Call your embassy and explain what happened.
- Schedule your passport appointment. Get your emergency passport if you only need to return home. Otherwise, prepare to wait for a few weeks for your new passport.
At the time, it was an unpleasant experience. However, the beauty of travel is that the best nomad stories always stem from the worst moments – and they become your favorite memories.