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Disconnected: A New City, and a Lost Phone

Back in August, I took my first business trip in a long time – to the city of Baltimore.

I’d been to Baltimore on business once before, and I loved the city. It’s very vibrant, has an awesome pier down at Fells Point, and it is loaded with delicious seafood.

This time, I decided to run everything for my trip through my phone. I wanted to manage as little paper as possible.

I had my flight boarding passes emailed to me so I could just scan the barcodes at the gate. I kept my hotel reservations one tap away for when I checked in to get my room. Every receipt I got was snapped with Evernote’s camera, tagged “Baltimore” for easy retrieval later, then thrown away. It was a clean, efficient trip, and I loved every minute of it.

But the true power of my phone’s handiness came when I signed up for Uber. Normally on these trips, I grab a rental car. I do enjoy driving around in new cities for the most part, and I like pretending like I own these cars that have better features than the clunker I drive at home.

Instead, I saved myself a little money and hassle and put the Uber app on my phone’s home screen. I’d never used Uber before, so I didn’t know what I was getting until I stepped out of the airport terminal and fired it up.

Within 5 minutes, I had a car in front of me, ready to take me to the hotel.

I loved the whole process: the driver was in communication with me via text, and the app kept me updated with how far away he was, so I knew how long I was going to wait. Because I entered the destination in the app, I didn’t have to tell him where to go. Payment at the end was done with one tap, and I didn’t have to haggle with anything else, like swiping a card or fumbling with cash.

Smooth and simple.

That night, I was bragging to my wife how awesome it was to run everything off of my phone. It was so refreshing and it felt like I was living in the future! (Note: I am easily impressed.)

After I ate dinner and walked around Fells Point for a bit until I was completely lost, I pulled out my phone and hailed an Uber car. A few minutes later, I was en route to the hotel again, this time chatting it up with a very friendly driver.

I thanked him as I climbed out of the car and greeted the doorman of the hotel. I came within steps of the elevator in the lobby when it dawned on me.

My phone fell out of my pocket. In the back seat of the Uber car.

Of course, by the time I sprinted back out there, the car was gone.

So here’s the thing about Uber: they – rightfully so – are fiercely protective of personal information. Even though I could text my driver while waiting for him, I couldn’t after the ride was over. The number self-destructs so you can’t badger him anymore.

And the only way to really make money as an Uber driver is by volume: take as many rides as you can fit into your schedule. By the time my second foot was out of the car, the driver was already lining up his next pickup.

I suddenly found myself standing on the curb on a dark Baltimore night trying to figure out what I was going to do. Everything was on my phone, and it was buried in the back seat of a stranger’s car.

I ran back into the hotel, up the elevator to the 8th floor, and to my room.

There, I flipped open my laptop, connected to the Wi-Fi again, and pulled up my Gmail. Using the built-in Google Hangouts dialer, I was able to call and text the number I did have for my Uber driver, even though I knew it wouldn’t go to him.

Then I pulled up the Uber emergency number and left a message with them explaining my situation. I was in a full-blown panic.

The company immediately got a hold of the driver, who called me back on my business line (which was through my computer). I answered using my laptop’s mic and speakers, and he explained to me that he had my phone and needed to finish his pickup before returning it to me.

I spent the next hour sitting at the hotel bar. The doorman was watching for me, and retrieved me to pick up my phone when the driver showed up.

This is the point where so many people would say “Well, I guess you know better not to rely on your phone for everything!” To which I say, “Hey, shut up.”

Actually, when I returned to Baltimore in December, I relied on it just as much.

But I also followed these five steps to ensure that this situation wouldn’t happen again:

  1. Pay attention. The best offense is a good defense. You don’t have to deal with a phone emergency if you don’t lose your phone in the first place. The reason my phone was lost last time was because I had it in my back pocket, where it could easily slip out. During my December trip, I consciously kept it in my front pocket at all times. And exiting every Uber car involved a quick turnaround to make sure I didn’t leave anything on the seat before shutting the door.
  2. Have a backup system in place. I sort of scrambled to get this one together in the emergency thanks to some quick thinking. I used Gmail’s built-in Wi-Fi calling to make phone calls in a pinch, which I could also use to send and receive texts using my Google Voice number. If I didn’t have access to my computer, I would’ve had to use the hotel’s phone or something. In that case, I should have had Uber’s emergency number written down and kept in my wallet, just in case.
  3. Be prepared to wait. You’ll reach a point during the emergency where you just have to wait for the situation to be resolved. That’s why I went down to the bar – to grab a drink and just try to keep myself from going crazy. Sometimes that’s all you can do.
  4. Have a backup for important phone stuff. Boarding passes, confirmation numbers, and whatever else – keep it somewhere accessible. I keep all of my info in Evernote, so I could go to my laptop and pull up any info I needed – maybe even print it out at the hotel if necessary.
  5. Track (and lock!) your phone. What I didn’t do and probably should have done is use Android’s Device Manager to track the progress of my phone. Apple has their own phone tracker, but the purpose remains the same – you can use it to lock down your phone and at least prevent any information from being lost.

I don’t regret relying on my phone for a second, but I should’ve taken better care of it. Here’s hoping you don’t fall into the same trap.