‘The one place I never expected to be robbed’
WELL, she seemed pleasant enough.
I had made my way to my window seat on an international airline flight - from London to Madrid. I was on my way to make some charity money, doing a fundraising trek for Sydney's Prince of Wales Hospital Foundation.
As soon as I sat down, the wildly-maned and overly nice Spanish girl in her mid-30s seated next to me made a big point of asking if it was okay that her two soft bags were next to her feet.
"Of course," I said, "No big deal."
My single handbag was under my feet, so no stress. The London to Madrid flight is around two and half hours.
About an hour in, I ordered a cheese toastie (which was shocking btw) and handed over my credit card which was quickly tapped by the flight attendant and given straight back to me. I then put it back into my wallet, which was on the top of my bag, under my feet and between my legs on the floor and I didn't think any more of it.
What I didn't realise - and of course found out after the event - was that thieves travel around countries for the express purpose of stealing belongings. Some take items directly from your bag, when they are sitting, literally, a few centimetres away from you. Say what? Yup.
And I ended up becoming a victim to one of them. Mid-flight and in-flight theft is a "thing".
I always think my things are safe on a plane. Well, they're right next to you or above you in an overhead. So why wouldn't they be? Wrong.
According to the Carry On Guy, authorities across the world are convinced that organised criminal networks are stealing from people aboard flights.
In fact, one passenger says he had more than $200,000 in cash and two watches stolen from his carry-on bag. Gulp.
When it came to getting off the flight - and here comes that great thing called hindsight - I did notice my fellow passenger bend down to pick up her two bags which were between her legs - which initially I thought was a bit awkward.
Why wouldn't she have put one of them at least in the overhead locker? Nevertheless, I had thought nothing of it.
As soon as I realised my wallet had disappeared I went straight to the airport info to tell them what happened. There was a lot of shaking of their heads - a lack of Spanish in my language repertoire was not a great idea when something like this happens.
But quite simply, no they had not found my wallet.
I told them my seat number and asked if I could see who was in the seat next to me? They looked at me like I was completely mad. I was seriously running against time as I was due that night at a Madrid hotel, before starting to walk the next day on the fundraising trek.
I felt like crap to be honest. Ready to just to go home and forget about the whole walk as I really needed to sort out all of the stuff that had been stolen.
I was penniless and feeling pathetic. All I had was my passport. And my health. Thank god for that.
Considering I was going on a six day walk, which was all about "being" and "enjoying the moment", all I could think about was finding the jerk who robbed me.
When you lose your wallet overseas you feel totally, totally hopeless and helpless.
Nothing had been found on the plane. Nothing was found anywhere. An email - eventually - was sent to me to confirm that.
I am sure I could have spent the next three or four days going back and forward to the police and the airline working out the who, what, why, how and where.
But as I was starting my trek the next day, all I could do was go to the Madrid police station and try and move on.
As anyone who travels, who has been a victim of any kind of robbery knows, it is a bloody nightmare. From the basics of credit cards to your driver's license, health cards, cash, all those damn discount cards you collect from shops and even the local manicure joint for a start.
And it's about the heap of direct debits that all use the one card number to take out their monthly premiums, as well as home insurance, car insurance, a storage space, Uber, UberEats for god sake (!) the list went on and on and on.
Basically everything that enabled me to make everyday life go (relatively) seamlessly was gone or needed to be replaced and changed. I haven't even got to the black designer wallet I had saved up my bucks to buy many years ago.
Because I was on the way to do this pilgrim walk in Spain - it's called the El Camino or The Way - I'd been keeping my social media platforms up-to-date with my charity donation progress.
I put up a post relaying my stolen wallet woe. I had a few peeps say, "So, maybe this was telling you something"; "Maybe this was telling you to rid yourself of 'stuff'; "It's cathartic"; "It's a sign".
Please, it was just a bloody pain in the neck. And continues to be up until this day with some companies still texting to say my old (stolen) card (which has since been replaced) has been declined.
Only a few days before I travelled I had taken out travel insurance - it was a requirement when you do a trek like this - and that insurance claim, to and fro, continues to this day.
Realising there was nothing more I could do at the airport, I made my way to the hotel where one of my fellow trekkers kindly picked up my cab bill and lent me some euros for the duration of my trek.
Ironically, another walker in our group had her wallet stolen the day before, when she was walking through Madrid.
Once at the hotel, I was told by the team I had to go to the police station where I waited with 63 other people who had had similar misfortunes.
I certainly wasn't in a calm, pre-pilgrim walk zone by this stage.
Feeling delirious - and quite seriously thinking this was a dream - I gave the very amiable policeman a list of all the things I could remember that were in my much loved wallet, the report was signed and I was basically farewelled.
Yep. It certainly tested me - so maybe some of my friends were right about the robbery being some kind of "sign". I'm just still trying to work out what that sign exactly is.
- To see and hear more about Melissa's stolen goods, Spanish cop-shops and an assortment of other adventures, you can follow her on Instagram and Twitter @melissahoyer