The fine art of losing things without losing your mind
How to lose things—passports, credit cards, and other important items—while traveling and not have it ruin your vacation
Dad's gonna kill me but:
I'd say, of everything I know about travel, I learned one third from my parents, another third from my scout troop, and the final third I found out, painfully, all by my lonesome. Most of the fundamentals, those came from my parents.
It was my dad who told me to keep my wallet in a front pocket rather than the back so you can keep one hand on it while riding the bus in Rome.
It was my dad who first forced me to strap on a moneybelt, the world's most annoying necessary travel accessory.
It was my dad who taught me to empty the rental car every night, and never to put something in a car trunk and then walk away; you never know what shady character might have seen you do it.
Luckily, it was my dad. That means he had planned well and Mom had half the bankcards and credit cards with her, so they weren’t out of luck after all. He had tucked away all his truly important stuff (passport, plane tickets, and whatnot) in his own moneybelt, which meant a few quick phone calls to cancel his half the cards, and my folks were off and running on what turned out to be one of their best two-week vacations ever.
Just goes to show that, even when you take all the precautions and have all travel smarts, the professional pickpocket can see your jetlag coming a kilometer away, and he can still catch you by surprise.
Then there's the other "losing stuff" situation, and this one calls for an embarrassing story about me (which is only fair, right Dad?). Sometimes, you just get so caught up with the excitement of travel you leave your purse on an outdoor cafe table and blithely walk away.
I once left my wallet at the gift shop of the cathedral in Krakow, Poland. When I returned half an hour later, huffing and puffing from the run back (the thing's up on top of a hill) and looking around wildly... the gift shop was already closed.
But as I walked away from the locked doors in dismay after pounding at them for a minute or so to no avail, two Russian students came striding across the square toward me.
They were holding out the wallet, and one asked, “You lose?”
I got exceedingly lucky. Usually, if your wallet goes missing—and it wasn’t left in a restaurant or hotel, where a staffer is likely to have found it—it’s gone for good.
If you heeded my advice (well, OK, my dad's advice) and kept all your important stuff (including the bulk of your cash) in your moneybelt, all you’ve lost is a day’s spending money. Plus one wallet. Heck, that just means its time for a trip to Florence's leather market to replace it!
What if you lose your passport?
If you lose your passport, go immediately to the nearest consulate of your home country. Do not cross an international border, do not collect 200 Euros. Without a passport, you are a nonentity. You need a replacement posthaste.
Bring along a photocopy of the information pages of your missing passport (that would be the two pages facing each other with your picture and vital information; don’t bother photocopying the cover), those passport-size photos you packed, and any other form of identification you still have with you.
It will take time to process it all and issue you a new passport, so get ready to shack up in town and wait.
Losing Credit Cards & Traveler’s Checks
On your Backup Info Sheet, you should have the U.S. phone numbers to report stolen or lost cards for all your credit cards and bank cards, as well as the numbers of each of your traveler’s checks. Since you were careful to keep this list separate from the cards and checks themselves, you are in pretty good shape.
Should your cards
or checks get lost or stolen, contact the
issuing bank(s) immediately. In
case you forgot
down the emergency
here’s a cheat sheet (though double-check these numbers first):
- Citicorp Visa: 800/645-6556 (you can call collect from Europe).
- American Express credit cards or traveler’s checks: call collect 801/864-6665.
- MasterCard: call collect 314/542-7111 (or call in the U.S. 800/307-7309 to get their local toll-free numbers in the countries you'll be visiting).
Of course, reporting cards as stolen means that if they turn up two hours later at the bottom of your bag, there’s not much you can do about reactivating your accounts until after you get home.
Although in the case of genuine card theft, every second counts in reporting the loss in order to cut the thief off at the pass. It might be prudent to find a phone and quickly contact the last hotel, restaurant, or other place you may have left your wallet or purse.
If this doesn't produce a lucky break, hang up, call the credit card company, and get ready to play Creative Vacation Financing as you continue your trip without the aid of plastic.
Most credit card issuers delete your old account number and create a new one to transfer your account into, which means you need to get new cards. Cards you can only pick up, of course, once you're back at home.
This is the time when, as American Express commercials have been trumpeting for years, carrying good old-fashioned traveler’s checks can save the entire vacation. If you lose the traveler’s checks you can get them rather speedily replaced in any big European city.
Remember: write down the identification number of each traveler’s check as you cash or use it. When you’re in your hotel room each night, take out your Backup Info Sheet with its master list of numbers and cross off the used ones. If the balance of checks gets stolen at some point, you need to be able to report exactly which ones are gone if you want them replaced. The check issuer will tell you where to pick up the new stash.
In the end, if you're left destitute, you can also have a friend wire you money.
Losing Everything Else
Everything above deals with losing your monetary means and important documents. That’s because these are the only things to be concerned about. The loss of any other item (clothing, toiletries, whatever) will be annoying, but not insurmountable.
Even if you lost something incredibly valuable, like the heirloom jewelry you inherited from Great Aunt...
Wait a minute. That’s right. You never, ever, pack pointless valuables to take on vacation. Never. That way, there's no way you can lose them. Case solved.
Look at it this way: If you lose all your luggage, you’ll just have to come home looking like a European, having refit your wardrobe at flea markets and department stores. Or, look at this as the perfect excuse to hit the high-fashion outlets, like Chevy Chase and family did in European Vacation.
Or, more to the point, like my family did back when I was 11 years old.
We had just moved to Rome, and the container containing all our household goods for the next two years was left sitting on a Brooklyn dock for months due to a longshoreman strike. All we had to see us through the next five months were the clothes on our backs.
We would have had the clothes in our suitcases as well, but for some reason he is still trying to explain satisfactorily, my dad—thought you were in the clear by now, eh Dad?—had packed a five-gallon jug of some rare, expensive (in Europe), and oil-based art supply in the suitcase that contained all the clothes for all three of us. The thing leaked. Our clothes were ruined.
Which reminds me of another of my dad's (newer) travel tips: when packing, divide up everybody's stuff among all the suitcases you have so that you are each carrying a bit of everybody's clothes, toiletries, guidebooks, etc. That way, if one bag gets lost or (ahem) somehow ruined, you still have something left for everyone.