Travel experiences gone wrong: Schengen or no Schengen?

, by Madelaine Pitt

Travel experiences gone wrong: Schengen or no Schengen?
The Öresund Bridge connects Denmark and Sweden. Photo: Nick-D / Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)

They say travel broadens the mind – not least because travelling means unexpected experiences. Madelaine Pitt goes back to the day when she and her friend crossed a border with the help of a driver’s licence and a Starbucks loyalty card.

My best friend and I had been casting around for a warm, sunny, inexpensive place to spend a long weekend before we started back at work in January. So, naturally, we settled upon Copenhagen.

My friend was flying back to Europe from her native USA, and the 20-hour delay to her plane meant I suddenly had an evening to myself. I decided the responsible thing to do would be to stay in and plan our time in Denmark. Instead, I joined a bar crawl.

Several pubs, many conversations with eccentric Erasmus students wearing strange hats, and a beer pong victory later, I left the party with just enough time to get back to the Airbnb before my exhausted friend arrived on the first morning train from the airport. For the fun of it, we decided to take the train over to Malmö in Sweden that afternoon, to visit the castle but also for the novelty factor.

Ten minutes before arrival, the train began to slow down, and my friend and I exchanged puzzled glances – until I checked on Google Maps where we were.

My heart sank. We were at the border. And I knew exactly what I had left at the Airbnb that should really have been in my pocket.

The train stopped and fluorescent-jacket-clad officers piled on to the train. “Do you have your passport?” I asked my friend. “No,” she replied, “do you?”

In our rush, and with our usual lack of planning, compounded this time by severe jet-lag and a hangover, neither of us had even thought to pack our ID. As neither of us came from countries where citizens can also obtain an ID card as well as a passport, we began to rifle anxiously through our purses for other forms of documentation. Unfortunately, we also got the giggles.

We elbowed each other in the ribs to stop each other laughing and tried frantically to keep our faces straight as the nearest officer approached us for our ID. Rather humiliatingly, against a backdrop of curious and scornful gazes, we were then escorted off the train, which in a hiss of engines departed without us.

“Now,” said the border guard, “don’t you have any form of ID on you?”

We produced what we had found. I, at least, had a driving licence. My friend, a little more reluctantly, handed over the only thing she had in her purse besides cash. It was a Starbucks loyalty card. With a cat on it.

We eventually boarded the next train to Malmö, having explained the situation and shown photos of our passports on our phones. We were extremely ashamed of ourselves for being so careless. But we were also laughing hysterically (partly in relief at not being sent back to Denmark). It’s still something to give each other grief about.

What’s your most unexpected, embarrassing or hilariously catastrophic holiday story? Send us your contribution at tnf [at]!

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