Travel Tip #264: Never Check Your Diabetes Bag


Peter and I arrived in Lithuania, and I have two major first impressions: Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, is both fascinating and beautiful. And second, no matter where you are traveling, never, ever check a bag that contains your diabetes supplies. When flying from Milan to Vilnius (via Riga) I did not make that mistake. Thank goodness — here’s a rough itinerary of how our day of travel turned out. (I’m borrowing this from some of our travel blog, so apologies for not getting to pancreatic issues till the end!)

1:30 am: Go to sleep

6:30 am: Pull selves out of bed, walk to train station.

7:37 am: Take express train from Turin to Milan

8:45 am: Arrive in Milan. Wander around aimlessly and irritably looking for the supposed “Malpensa Express” to the airport. Eventually learn that we are in the wrong train station.

9 am: Take Milan subway to correct station. Find airport bus.

10:30 am: Arrive Milan airport to find a sea of people in an immense check-in area, the sort of chaotic scene that actually makes JFK seem like a nice place to spend the afternoon. Discover that our check-in counter does not open for two hours.

10:30 am – 12:30 pm: Distract selves by, at least in my case, reading Michael Lewis’s The Blind Side, drinking multiple cappuccinos, waiting in line for the bathroom, and impulse buying travel items at an airport boutique (a portable clothesline AND the world’s smallest fan? Amazing!).

12:15 pm: Get stuck in bag drop-off line behind a pair of Americans who seem unwilling to believe that this is not the line for Swiss Air, despite the fact that the counter says Baltic Air, and the destination is Riga. We point out that the Swiss Air counter appears to be — nay, IS — several desks down, and that it is too early for them to check in. “So this is not the Swiss Air line?” asks the man, gesturing toward the sign that says Baltic Air. “Where are these people going? Can we wait here?”

12:30 pm: Deposit bags at drop-off counter. Peter makes sarcastic comment about how the woman at the counter does not securely affix the “transfer” tag on his bag. He reaches down to fix it. I notice the same problem on my bag and realize I should fix it, too,  but it is too late; she has sent it down the chute. I think for a moment what would happen if my bag were lost. “At least I have the computer adapter,” I say in my head. “But it sure would suck not to have any underwear.”

12:34-37 pm: Fun activity #1: Make Peter pose in front of underwear ads starring the Italian soccer team.

Hey ladies.

Activity #2: Observe a phenomenon I first noticed in China: people paying to have their bags wrapped in saran wrap. Nine euros. To have your bag wrapped in saran wrap.

What are you trying to do? Keep it fresh?

2:20 – 5:45: Fly to Riga. Upon landing in Riga, try to figure out the exchange rate and then realize that we don’t know what country we’re in. Not kidding. We knew it was either Lithuania, Latvia or Estonia, but I’d been so focused on getting us to Vilnius that I hadn’t paid attention to our transfer point. This is, I might note, not the sort of question you can really ask people without feeling enormously stupid.

5:55 pm: Discover we are in Latvia. Order airport food. Learn the answer to the age-old question: how do you make a tomato unhealthy? (Answer: stuff it with goat cheese and serve it with a plate of ham — but hey, at least there are very few carbs.)

8:10-9:20 pm: Fly from Riga to Vilnius with a captain who enjoys banking to the right, then banking to the left, then speeding up, then slowing down. I begin to wonder if perhaps I should not have spent so much time focusing on the chapter in Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers, that focuses on plane crashes.

9:45 pm: Customs hall. Except, there is no customs hall. We have not had our passports stamped — or indeed, looked at — since landing in Iceland. Presumably this should not be a problem, but I don’t think we’re technically supposed to be in the EU for more than three months straight. Oh well. We’ll see how it goes when we try to enter Russia.

9:50: Wait at luggage carousel four. I am so engrossed in finishing the book (and having a conversation with a Lithuanian woman about e-readers — her dream is to find one that can translate between Russian and English on the same screen) — that I do not notice that the luggage carousel has stopped. “Well, at least we got one bag!” Peter says, jokingly, pulling his over to where I am sitting.

9:55 pm: We realize that the rest of our plane-mates have all left, and what appeared to have been a pause in luggage delivery was, in fact, the end of it. My bag = nowhere to be seen.

9:56 pm: Find a friendly airport employee named, wait for it, Zilvinas Pilypas (“I’m probably going to call you later, and I’m probably going to pronounce your name wrong,” I warn him), and tell him about the bag. I also tell him, as politely as I can, that I really need the bag, you see, because in two days I am supposed to get on a bicycle and ride to Talinn (which happens to be in Estonia, two countries away). Zilvinas, who remains polite, but unmoved, types much information into the computer, then hands me a dot-matrix-printed piece of paper containing a reference number and a phone number that I can call. Zilvinas also calls a taxi for us, a kind gesture that I will be even more grateful for if and when I ever get my bag back.

10:10 pm: Get in taxi, show map and address to driver, realize that map and address do not represent the same physical location. Driver puts on glasses, squints, looks again, shrugs shoulders, hands map back, and begins to drive.

10:15 pm: We drive past the Vilnius train tracks. “I don’t think it was supposed to be across from the train tracks,” I keep saying to Peter, as the driver pulls up in front of the correct address, which is across the street from the train tracks.

10:16 pm: Get out of cab in front of a dilapidated building with only a small “Hosteling International” sign to indicate that it might, in fact, be where we are supposed to stay for the night. Adding to the confusion, the front door — which is unlocked — leads to a dark, unfinished room — lights dangling from ceiling, unfinished plasterwork, a missing front stair, and no people. Cab driver peeks inside, looks back at us, and giggles.

10:20 pm: After some exploration, we discover that the hostel is indeed there — upstairs, in fact, and empty except for a woman named Margaret who presents us with sheets and pillow cases and returns to watching the world cup finals.

10:25 pm: I try to make the bed, and then notice something that, at first, I attribute to my fatigue: the sheets, designed for a single bed, appear to be square. I try to turn them the other direction. Still square, and about a foot and a half too short for the bed. Consider asking Margaret for other ones, but, decide that since she has just let me raid the toiletries of former guests (including a half-finished bottle of “Hangover Cure” Axe body wash), that might be asking too much. Make the bed with the square sheets, leaving the exposed part down by my feet. At least I have socks?

11:15 pm: So here I am, wearing the same pants I wore on a very sweaty hike yesterday and the same shirt I slept in last night (and which was subjected to a good deal of airport sweat as well). I’m wondering where my bag could be. Surely, it made it out of Italy. But then again, our second flight was on the same plane as the first. What kind of transfer tag fuck-up does it require to lose a bag that didn’t need to go anywhere? (This, and many other questions, will be answered in the coming days.) Luckily, I was wise enough not to check the bag that contains my diabetes supplies, and so I am happy to say that my artificial pancreas is not MIA. If only the same were true for my underwear.

Post script: It is now two days later, and I still do not have my bag. Yesterday, it was found in Riga — hallelujah! — right outside of the luggage department. But today? Lost again. I’m having difficulty figuring out how you could misplace a bag on a 1/2 hour direct flight, but, well, apparently you can. And I am once again so, so grateful that I didn’t succumb to the urge to check my enormous backpack of diabetes gear. This way, the worst-case scenario is that I’m going to have to do a bunch of shopping, plus deal with Air Baltic’s claims department (surely they have nothing on Blue Shield). If, on the other hand, I’d lost the diabetes bag, I might be in the hospital (or at least an emergency clinic trying to get a prescription for needles and insulin).

Note the sheets.
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12 years ago

Hostels are hostels… there are some pretty decent ones here in Vilnius for less than 20 euro per night.  Of course there are nicer accomodations called hotels for business travelers that can be had for no more than 60 euro per night, but if you’re on the cheap… Prescription for needles?? Not in Lithuania!  Here, when you’re going to need a syringe (along with sample cups)  for the doctor of the hospital, you buy them at the pharmacy BEFORE you go – yeah, socialized medicine isn’t exactly what they tell you in the US. But no one here uses syringes… Read more »

Dr. Margaret A. Morris
12 years ago

Wow. I respect your tolerance for risk and adventure. Diabetic or not, I would have turned around long before square sheets.

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