Lost possessions while traveling is a big fear for travelers. Items are misplaced, lost, left behind or outright stolen, and this can ruin any length of travel. But how can you get them back?
In my travels, I have lost my sunglasses, my bag, my camera, an old cap and a new cheap scarf. I tracked down my bag in two weeks in Torino, my sunglasses after a week in Verona, and my camera was just mailed back to me from France after I lost it hiking around a lake in Scotland. I thought it was time to pass on my knowledge for recovering lost possessions while traveling to others.
1. Keep track of your possessions
Yes, the best way to handle lost possessions is not lose them in the first place. True, you can’t prepare against everything. But here are some tricks to minimize losses.
a. Keep all your items in secured bags and pouches. That includes in your clothes. One fellow traveler had his wallet stolen out of a Velcro pants pocket while in India. Another friend had her phone stolen while it was charging beside her. Travel clothes exist with zipper or button pockets. These are additionally useful for keeping objects safe which might otherwise fall out, as my camera did on a trail beside Loch Katrine. My bandoleer-style Kangatek pouch is my personal favorite for keeping possessions close and secure. It has the added benefit of saving time at metal detectors if you keep everything in it and not in your pockets.
b. Keep your hands free. You need your hands to do tasks all the time. If you’re carrying something, you’ll need to put it down. That’s what I did in Torino when I was in Porta Palazzo, the largest open-air market in Europe. I put my travel bag down when I tried on a pair of shoes, and it wasn’t until half an hour later when I noticed I had left my bag behind. My advice is to get a day backpack, fanny pack, Kangatek or some other sack that straps to your body, or just secure a pouch to your belt. Any way you do it, it will minimize chances of leaving something behind.
c. Take out only what you need. When you need something from your bag and you have to dig to get to it, don’t take everything out and leave them. Replace your items into your bag and ensure you get everything back in. When you leave a location you’ve unpacked your bag in, take extra care to ensure nothing is left behind. Look under the furniture, behind objects, etc. Common sense, but it helps.
2. Is it worth it?
Assess your lost possession. Is it worth the trouble to recover it. My bag and camera certainly were. My sunglasses, maybe. My old cap and cheap scarf, nah.
This has two purposes. The first determines the necessity to track down your gear. The second is to mitigate the upset for losing something that wasn’t really worth that much.
Some things have sentimental value and can’t be replaced. Some things are monetarily valuable. Some things like your passport you never want to go through the hassle of replacing. Hard cash or credit cards are probably the worst. But many other things can be replaced or simply written off. Take a moment to determine whether your lost possession is worth the finding again, if it can be replaced, or if you can simply move on and forget about it.
3. Don’t panic
Sorry, but it’s true. I fully believe that panicking is counter-productive. Either you can do something about it or you can’t. Just keep your cool, and read on to find out what else you can do.
4. Where did you last see it?
Unless something was outright stolen in front of you, chances are you’ll be able to reason out where you saw it last. Think back and retrace your steps in your mind. Maybe the last time you saw it was when you put it in your bag, and you just need to pull everything out in a safe location. I’ve had objects fall into another object, like when my hostel locker key fell into a tissue packet in my pocket (glad I figured that one out quick).
You might have to think back a little farther, like all the stores you visited in a day. When I lost my sunglasses at a Couch Surfing picnic in Verona, I had to think back to when I last remembered the glasses on my head, and then who I was sitting next to at the time. I was then able to ask someone I knew a couple days later who was next to me, where I could find them, and a week later got the glasses back. I have also helped a friend physically backtrack through several stores until they found their wallet.
Sometimes it’s as simple as remembering the exact moment you saw it last, and realizing you put it in a pouch in your bag that you never use.
5. Ask around
No one likes to lose something, and most people are willing to help when you do. Asking around is even successful when something is stolen. Maybe someone noticed which way the thief went. Maybe they know someone who knows someone. And maybe someone picked up what you lost from the ground and didn’t know who to give it to. When I lost my camera at Loch Katrine, I noticed it was missing within a couple minutes. I went back to find it but couldn’t. I know now that someone had picked it up. Had I simply asked around, I could have probably received it back right away instead of tracking down the guy who picked it up to France and getting the camera back there weeks later.
When I left my bag behind in Torino, I went back a few minutes later and found the caravan stall had already been taken down and removed. I asked around at the other caravans as they packed up to find out where the shoe seller had gone. None of them spoke a word of English (and hardly any Italian for that matter, only Chinese). But by miming and gesticulating, I was finally able to get an old lady to understand what I was looking for and start me on my journey to getting my bag back. And if you want to read the rest of that rather interesting story, it’s in my post on Torino.
6. Go to the authorities
If all else fails, try the authorities. Unfortunately (although perhaps fortunate for you), many countries have CCTV cameras all around town. Don’t underestimate how much they can see. I’ve had many friends recover their possessions with the help of the police just looking at the camera recordings. I’ve never had to use this step myself, but the option is there.
Simply look at how you can control the situation. Don’t go effect of it and get upset. Well, maybe that would be appropriate. But at least don’t let it ruin your travels. As Forrest Gump said, shit happens. Just roll with the punches and continue on. Oh, and incidentally that last advice applies to a whole lot more than just losing things.