I had flown my parents out to see me for a week in Rome and with their arrival, they had brought me a pack of goodies. Things that I had ordered but hadn’t arrived before I left my hometown and some things that I had decided were needed to optimise my daily life on the road.
So they had loaded me up with new things, we had spent a lovely week together and they had got on the plane back home. It was back to business as usual for me, doing solo travel. I had packed everything up and my suitcase was now creaking and weighed in at 19.9kg.
For me personally, this is too much. For RyanAir, it was .1kg under their limit and totally fine. The luggage was checked in as normal and I boarded my flight without a problem.
At the other end, it was late in the evening (we landed at 00:30) and I grabbed my suitcase back from the baggage collection conveyor and headed out to find the transfer bus. Athens is pretty great as they have a bus that runs every 30 minutes, 24 hours a day. I bought my ticket and climbed on. When I was sat down I looked at my suitcase and a knot of panic entered my stomach; the TSA approved, combination lock that was supposed to be keeping my suitcase locked up was gone!
Instead in its place was a tiny piece of plastic wrapped metal twisted through the two eyes of the zips.
I was crammed (literally crammed, sat sideways to fit) into my seat so I couldn’t start mounting a full suitcase investigation. I had already left the airport so there wasn’t any helpdesk or anything I could go to, assuming one was even open at this hour.
It was a problem for another day.
After navigating my way to the hostel it was tickling 3 am. I was tired, everyone else in the dorm was in bed. I went without brushing my teeth, made my bed and climbed into it.
In the morning I woke up in a hot room. I had only picked this one for a single night because at the time I believed the other hostel I wanted to book didn’t have 24hr check-in. This meant that even though I had gone to bed super late I was still going to have to be out by 11 am. Time to get ready.
Now I remembered, my suitcase was locked and within its silver protective shell lay all of my life. I had worn thick jean trousers to fly in which had been fine for walking in the night but weren’t going to cut it heading cross down with a suitcase in the mid-morning sun. I was desperate to brush my teeth, waking with that thick taste in my mouth that usually greets me after a big drinking session. I wanted to have a shower. The answers to all of these problems were the other side of this makeshift lock.
I was the nomad equivalent of being locked out of my house.
Looking around the only tools I had at my disposal were the dorm keys I had been supplied. I spent about 5 minutes scratching away at the tightly wound metal. I managed to make some tiny progress but it was going to be an hours work at this pace and I had already stabbed myself twice with the frayed metal threads I was producing.
Dragging my suitcase out to the reception, the girl on the desk mistook me for somebody who was checking out. I explained my situation and asked if they had any tools I could use. She was in the middle of checking somebody else in and said she would have to ask the building maintenance guy.
I grabbed a towel and returned to my room to wait. Armed with the hand washing liquid soap dispenser taken from the sinks I managed to have a shower. I have stayed in a lot of basic hostels but this one must surely win an award for tiny showers.
I could barely turn around inside of it, I’m not even exaggerating. It had a zig zag compressing slide door which you just sort of put in place rather than locked. There was no space inside for a towel to live. I can only assume if I had gotten up a few hours earlier with everyone else I would have seen a lot of naked bodies walking around that bathroom. I put my towel on the only hook available (on the far side of the room) and got my shower routine over with.
When I came back out my suitcase was still locked and I went so I went back to reception and she told me they didn’t have any tools. I suspect she had been too busy to do anything about it and just bailed on trying to help me as they would surely have at least a screwdriver.
Anyway it was back to the key method so I spent another 10 minutes trying to scratch my way through metal. It clearly wasn’t going to work. I had to just give up, accept I was walking through town in my jeans with a mouth like an ashtray and try to solve it at the next hostel.
As I went back over to my bed I had one final search around for anything that could possibly help me out. Then my eyes saw it. The room was quite dark at the back end of it (the room itself was a very long 16 bed dorm room and mine was the furthest from the window). On top of one of the lockers was a tray of crap that had been left behind by other travellers. Some kind of stopwatch, a bracelet, either tablets or a film reel, some American money and what looked like a switchblade.
I picked it up wondering if it was a toy one, or if it was broken or something but no, it was the answer to my prayers. A fully working, sharpened switchblade with a serrated, fish gutting style edge on the backside of the blade!
To put it in a very British way – I couldn’t have been more chuffed.
While trying to move quickly (it was almost check-out time) but safely (I didn’t want any more cuts or stab wounds) I expertly cut and sawed away at the offending steel threads. Then it happened, the final thread popped and I managed to get back into my suitcase. In short order I was changed and handing in my keys, heading out into the midday sun.
I’d never been so happy to find a switchblade right next to my bed.
But what had caused this invasion of my privacy in the first place?
Well when I had finally gotten it opened up I had obviously looked for something missing. They had not taken anything. I was half expecting some kind of note to be left in there saying that the suitcase had been formally opened for XYZ reasons but no, there was nothing like that left behind and no evidence that it had been tampered with, it was still packed how I had left it.
So why would they be in there? Well I figured it was either simply a broken lock which they damaged accidentally or the secondary x ray checks had shown something that had caught their attention.
Now there is something that I have deliberately left until the end to tell you (unless you have read my earlier posts about what’s in my suitcase). Of these new goodies that my Dad had brought to me, one of them was a hecking great big 23cm kitchen knife.
Yes, yes this might seem like an obvious reason for them to be inside my suitcase but I had actually checked this out beforehand and it is generally fine around the world to pack such things as long as they are in your checked luggage. Why did I want this? I had grown frustrated trying to cook on the road as there was either no chopping knife at all in hostel kitchens or there was a totally blunt one. I figured it made sense to carry my own.
After relaying this tale to my dad he didn’t think it was this – he said he always took a knife with him on self-catering holidays and never had any trouble – so I started wracking my brain for some other culprits.
My next idea was maybe my new laptop tray that he had brought had obscured the x rays somehow. It was only bamboo though so not a likely reason. Then the final idea my brain alighted on was that just before my parents left they handed me an oversized box of tic tacs. Could airport security have suspected me of trying to smuggle some drugs through the country? I had seen this type of thing before on those trash tv shows so it was plausible I suppose. That coupled with the knife could have been enough to trigger a secondary examination.
The (un)likely culprits
I guess we will never know, but just for fun here is a poll for you to share your guess as to what really happened:
- The kitchen knife
- The laptop stand
- The tic tac’s
- Just a broken lock
- Something else