In Seoul with No Clothes
How I Coped with Lost Luggage
“We can only check your bag through to Istanbul,” the check-in agent in Dubrovnik told me. “But my final destination is South Korea,” I replied. “I can only check it to Istanbul,” she repeated. This is not going to end well. That conversation rang in my head as I stood forlornly by the luggage carousel watching everyone else on my flight flit off with their bags. Lost luggage. Foreign country. Just what I needed.
After 18 hours of travel and one tense transfer in Istanbul I was very thankful that I at least decided to pack an extra pair of underwear in my carry on. I filed my report with the airport staff in Incheon and gave them as many details as I could, though I was convinced that at that very moment some woman in Turkey was trying on my clothes and that I’d never see my bag again. My usual coping mechanism in times like this would’ve been to cry. I can’t help it. When I get frustrated or feel helpless, my eyes leak. I’m not sure if I should credit the remaining effects of a sleep aid from my overnight flight or my new travel experience for toughening me up but my eyes stayed dry as I took the bus into Seoul.
I was thankful that Korean motels provide robes for all guests so I was able to change and give my one outfit some breathing time before I went shopping the next day. I’ve always been a huge list maker so of course the next thing I did was make a list of all the basics I would need to get through the next 3 weeks of my trip.
Forever 21 to the Rescue
My game plan was to head to Myeongdong, a big shopping area, to see what I could find. I knew there was an H&M but I was thrilled when I stumbled upon a Forever 21. I may not be 21 anymore but the clothes are cheap and they always have a range of basics. I walked in and immediately saw a huge display of jeans. Bingo! I started sifting through pairs looking for my size. That’s when I realized that 99% of Korean women must have 24” or 25″ waists since that was all that was there. I’m not teeny tiny but I didn’t think finding a 30″ size would be so difficult. The one pair I did find were kelly green and on a clearance rack for ₩8,000 ($7.40 CAD). I snatched them up and clung to them like a drowning person hangs on to a life preserver. Next up, size 9 sandals…good grief. I might as well have been trying to find Jimmy Hoffa.
After several hours of fashion hunting I managed to collect enough pieces, shoes aside, that would prevent me from having to resort to nudity. I was starting to think about where to buy a new suitcase when hunger hit. Shopping and stress worked up an appetite and I needed something familiar so I headed to McDonald’s. It felt like a cop out but I wasn’t ready to tackle Korean food yet. Halfway through my Quarter Pounder I got the most wonderful phone call. It was the airline and they had found my suitcase! It would be delivered that night.
The Shopper’s Walk of Shame
But what to do with the bags of clothes that I had just bought? I finished my lunch, turned around and did the shopper’s walk of shame to the return counter. Thankfully there was a second H&M in Myeongdong and a cash on every floor of Forever 21 so I was able to avoid a little embarrassment…unless they looked at the time stamp on my receipt. C’est la vie. I ended up keeping a few items that I liked and were good deals, including those green jeans.
It may seem like a trivial thing since it was just clothes and toiletries but when facing a foreign country my suitcase and the things in it are like my security blanket. I’m proud of the fact that I kept it together and dealt with my lost luggage in a logical and practical way rather than giving in to tears and worry. Travel, especially solo travel, really can show you what you’re made of. It would seem that I’m a bit more resilient than I gave myself credit for.
Another lesson learned: always travel with at least one full change of clothes and a spare toothbrush in your carry-on bag because you just never know when you’ll need it.