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How a Good Samaritan Traveled 300 Miles to Return a Passport in Japan

April 03, 2018
6 min read
How a Good Samaritan Traveled 300 Miles to Return a Passport in Japan
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No matter how seasoned a traveler you are, it happens: You leave your passport behind on the way to the airport.

But one New York woman's trip home from Japan was saved from ruin when a fellow American in an entirely different city stepped up and made a journey of hundreds of miles to make sure she got her passport back and caught her flight.

This past Saturday morning in Tokyo, Susan, a 30-year-old nonprofit worker and a veteran international traveler, was packing her bags after a 15-day trip to Japan when she couldn't find her passport. (Susan asked that her last name not be published.) Mentally retracing her steps, she realized it was still in locker at a pod hotel she'd stayed at several days before in Kyoto — over six hours away by car.

"At the pod hotel, they had these lockers you put your valuables in," she said in a telephone interview. "Since the American passport is dark blue, it must've blended it with the color of the locker, which was black."

Susan's flight out of Narita International Airport (NRT) back to New York-JFK was at 6:25pm that night. Even for a native Japanese, the chances of her being able to make it back to Kyoto, grab her passport and then arrive in time at the airport would have required precise timing and more than a little luck.

"I called the embassy to see if were any way I could still make my flight, but they said there was nothing they could do until Monday, when they opened," she said. "The hotel said there was normally an option for a same-day courier, but because Kyoto was so far, that wasn't going to work out. I was getting resigned to having to miss my flight, rebooking for the next week, all of which was going to be extremely costly, and missing work on Monday."

Then one last, desperate idea struck her.

"I thought of how many tourists there were in Japan, and how of course there was someone coming from Kyoto to Tokyo that day, but how could I find this person?" she said. "So I thought about how people actually occasionally do nice things on the Internet. I didn't hold out much hope, but it was my last resort."

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So Susan, who says she hasn't posted on Facebook in 10 years, described her situation on the Japan Travel subreddit on Reddit and started preparing herself for the expensive and tortuous process of returning home the following week.

At that exact moment, Vince Maggio, a 38-year-old IT engineer from Elgin, Illinois, was in a Starbucks in Osaka, over 300 miles away from Susan. He was on vacation in Japan, where he'd lived for a while years before, and trying to avoid the weekend crowds of tourists swamping the city.

"I was killing time like I do literally every day whether it's in the US, Europe or Japan, having a coffee and on the Internet," Maggio said by phone from Osaka.

He came across Susan's call for help on Reddit and decided to help.

"I had nothing to that day," he said. "Let's have a little fun and go for a ride."

In reality, it was more complicated than that. "A little fun" meant getting from Osaka to Kyoto, about 35 miles away, by rail, then taking two subway lines to the hotel where the passport was, then getting on the bullet train from Kyoto to Tokyo, then finding a complete stranger in the crowd.

Luckily for Susan, Maggio still knew Japanese public transit by heart.

"I lived here before smartphones," he explained. "Now that smartphones are around, Japan is quite easy, especially with Google Maps."

In under four hours, Maggio met up with Susan at Tokyo Station and handed her her passport. (He even earned points on his Chase Sapphire Reserve card for the purchase of the Shinkansen bullet train from Kyoto to Tokyo.) Susan paid him back the cost of the bullet trains (about $280 there and back) and hopped on a 3:33pm train to the airport.

Image courtesy of Vince Maggio.
Image courtesy of Vince Maggio.

Except that it was the wrong train.

"I'd just like to say that the entire time I was in Japan, I did not get lost once," Susan said.

Once she realized the mistake, Susan texted Maggio and took the next train back to Tokyo Station, where he was waiting for her. He didn't leave until she was safely on the 4:03pm express train to Narita — the right train — where Susan made her flight back home on time.

"I intend to be friends with him for a long time," she said. "I'm buying him plenty of beers next time he's in town."

Maggio shrugged off his good deed as "no big deal," but soon found out his and Susan's adventure had become something of a sensation. It made it to the front page of Reddit, where redditors eagerly followed the pair's blow-by-blow accounts and even began spinning romantic fantasies about the two. (No, they're not getting married.) His following on Instagram, where he posted photos of his journey, has quadrupled. Japanese friends brought him local newspapers where the Reddit thread had been translated in Japanese. Maggio's even been asked to sit down for an interview for a Tokyo television program.

"I am just stunned everyone is making a big deal of this," he said. "I was more than happy to do it. If I could just sit in a Starbucks and help travelers all day, I'd be all about that."

Safely back in New York City, Susan said she's learned to trust in the world little more.

"He did it for a sense of adventure and to help someone out," she said. "If we could all do small things like this for each other, imagine what a different world this could be."

Featured image by (Image courtesy of Vince Maggio.)

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