Accidentally Washing My Passport in Singapore Led to A Great Adventure


There I was. Sprinting down the seemingly endless flights of stairs in my residence hall, located on the far west side of Singapore. Sweat rolled down the sides of my face. It trickled past the bags under my eyes and even past the permanent layer of filth that had accumulated during my days spent frolicking about Indonesia. A month before when I landed in the garden city to study abroad, I was filled with excitement for the many window seat plane rides to come. But now, I only felt sweaty palms, my heart beating faster than my lungs could expel air, and regret.

An hour before my panic set in, I landed in Changi airport in Singapore from Indonesia after one of my first weekend trips with new friends (mostly Canadians- diversity!). I arrived to my dorm room in a hurry to make the Chinese New Year celebrations that were going to take place with or without this American. I took a well-deserved shower then threw my clothes and backpack into the laundry machine, making sure to clear every pocket of my backpack. Except, of course, the one including my passport.

The fact that I may have ruined my passport a week before the longest break I would have to travel silenced all other meaningless thought. The difference between “street smart” and “book smart,” were all too apparent in that moment. I ran to the laundry machine. Facing all the unfriendly workers from security whom all stared me down as I impatiently waited for a new passport stamp was all for nothing now. There was even an instance where I was nearly fined $400 for having my phone out though I was only texting my mother to let her know I hadn’t missed the flight. It all seemed pointless as I began prying apart each rose scented passport page, looking at visas that used to be. The now watered down electronic chip inside my passport replaced the dry one and suddenly I understood needing the sun when it starts to snow.

Over the next few days I keenly listened to the travel plans of my friends as they spoke of grand sunrises and all the wonder they anticipated finding. I entertained these conversations through the panicked trips to the embassy, the phone calls, the hopeful opinions, and the angry words from my very far away and very unsurprised parents. Between all the train fares, hours spent counting the freckles on my arm (23), and the worry of my careless actions, I can say, in the end, I’m happy that I almost took the travel out of study abroad.

My series of unfortunate laundry events forced me to come to a few realizations:

1.     Clear all your pockets when you wash things. Check again, you’re quite forgetful.

2.     As long as your arms and legs are (mostly) attached and your heart still pumps, any material thing can be replaced. Even if it means missing out on some other things.

3.     You screw up. It happens. Believe it or not, lots of other Americans have the same careless manner as you and have done things like wash their passports. Own up to it. Take the action needed. Self-accountability is a nifty life hack.

4.     Passports are very durable. This I learned from the trip to Thailand I was able to attend two weeks after that laundry cycle. This was also something I learned from a Canadian, who claimed to have spilt Vodka on her passport and who also went on said Thailand trip.

A wise person once said,

“It’s good to learn from your mistakes. It’s better to learn from other people’s mistakes.” That person must have had some foolish friends who probably washed a passport or two.

Exchange in Southeast Asia has led me to some beautiful moments, most of which were random and unanticipated. The best pad Thai ever, a sunrise on Batur Volcano in Bali, the nickname ‘Nanners’ from my friends claiming to be able to put bananas on my face without waking me up, drinking snake blood, sleeping next to a Buffalo, and fighting a monkey for my GoPro (and winning- suck on that Curious George), just to name a few. And if I hadn’t lost my passport, I wouldn’t have experienced 2 a.m. wakeup calls, the odd color of rice liquor as it is brought out in a sketchy looking Aquafina bottle, squatter toilets and their lack of toilet paper, projectile vomiting snap peas in Central Vietnam, or sleeping naked on a bare mattress in the hope that the bed bugs would stop biting me. All feelings and experiences that would have been lost to me if I had kept my dry passport in the cornfields of Ohio.

Don’t just expect the unexpected, embrace it.

Maddy Carlson (she/her/hers) is a Biology major at Ohio State.