Last Updated on July 31, 2023 by Ellen
You would think we’d have learned how to avoid leaving belongings behind by now.
Heck, it’s been nearly eight years since we started our lives as ‘Earth Vagabonds’.
But even now, stuff still gets overlooked, misplaced, forgotten when we depart a given location.
The latest boondoggle: in late February 2023, while in northern India and packing up for our visit to Nepal, I realized our scuba/snorkel masks were missing. The plastic snorkel tubes were still in a suitcase compartment, but the good quality masks – gone!
To be clear, they are not really valuable. Mine is at least 15 years old. Ellen’s is a prescription mask more than 20 years old, but better than nothing.
We hadn’t used or thought much about dive masks since leaving the beaches of Thailand and Malaysia in September, 2022. As far as I can remember, I dutifully packed them for each of our 13 moves around India between September and March. Where could they be?
After some serious mental ‘reconstruction’ of our India travels, I pinpointed the four ‘most likely’ Airbnb rentals where they could have been forgotten (places where we stayed longer and truly ‘unpacked’). I sent a brief note to each former landlord asking if they may have come across scuba masks after our departure. They all kindly responded – “no”. Grudgingly, I gave up on the masks.
Fast forward to the end of June. Out of the blue, one of those landlords sent us an email saying they had our dive masks! Turns out, a cleaning lady discovered them in mid-January of this year, but did not tell the landlord – and instead had the masks in her own home until June when she mentioned the find.
Great! Masks accounted for. Mystery solved. The problem now: we departed India at the end of May. In fact, when I received the landlord’s ‘masks found’ note, we were bouncing from UAE to Serbia to Romania. We’d have no stable address for international shipping until now – late July.
And that’s where things stand presently. We are waiting/hoping to be reunited with our scuba masks in Bucharest, Romania. The Indian landlord shipped them last week. I reimbursed her for the shipping cost via Gpay. The folks at the local Mailboxes Etc. office (seen up top) are standing by to receive the parcel.
The reason for this convoluted story is as a cautionary tale for other travelers and vagabonds like us — and to motivate ourselves to avoid such hassles in the future. (A form of personal psychological counsel.)
Sadly, this is not an isolated occurrence. And in fact, it amazes me how often we’ve lost or left belongings behind as we travel.
Most recently – in September, 2022, in India – I somehow left my presciption reading glasses hanging on a desk lamp in our Mumbai, AirBnb rental when we moved about 35 miles south to a beachside town called Alibag.
Fortunately, the Alibag journey was a fairly easy (1.5 hours) and cheap ($2.25) ferry-boat ride from Mumbai. And I had immediately realized my glasses were missing – so the day after the move, I reversed course and made another round-trip back to Mumbai to retrieve the spectacles.
Other items we’ve forgotten have been more difficult to recover. But obviously, there’s no magic to it. As a traveler, you either go back and get it, figure a way to have it shipped to you, or forget about it. We’ve done all three.
One time, after a 6-week stay at Lake Atitlan, Guatemala, we moved on to Antigua, Guatemala (a 2+ hour van ride on winding, mountainous roads). Upon arriving at the new place, I discovered the plug-in battery charger for my digital camera had been left back at Atitlan. No charger, no quality photos.
That time, some back-and-forth emails with the AirBnb host arranged for the charger to be delivered by a parcel courrier to our new address a few days later.
Another time, in Pai, Thailand, we somehow checked out of our AirBnb studio without our beloved, 1-cup-at-a-time, drip coffee maker. The handy contraption was put and left in the refrigerator. Neither Ellen nor myself checked the fridge contents prior to that departure. After the flight to Malaysia, we wrote off the device – and eventually got another.
Of course, there is really only ONE item that absolutely positively cannot be left behind: the passports. Every other loss can be managed. We’ve even had a close call in this regard.
When leaving Phuket, Thailand, at the last moment before leaving the studio room, I double-checked the ‘curtain pocket’ (a pouch of excess drapery material) where we had hidden our passports. To my surprise, the passports were there!
The explanation: I thought Ellen had grabbed them — she thought I had. The ‘I thought/you thought’ mistake was behind some of the other ‘left behind’ situations too. (But not the scuba masks).
After the ‘near-miss’ with the passports, it’s now a running joke to ask each other “THE PASSPORTS?” repeatedly, any time we get ready to leave a place – and then again as we board whatever transport out of a city. It feels ridiculous, but passport confusion CAN’T happen again. No way!
Of course, losing track of one’s belongings seems to be a universal human experience. Back when I had a job and home I was constantly misplacing items. And every reader of this post probably has some similarly frustrating story. (Yes, we have also lost electronic cords, chargers, and adapters).
Still, you would think that once you downsize your whole life to just the small bags seen below, one could keep track of the very limited number of articles. Nope!
Even as I finish this blog post, I am missing two more specific items!
While prepping for a picnic yesterday, I wanted to bring our cheap, handy pocketknife/leatherman tool to cut salami and cheese. We always travel with the tool in our checked bag. Suddenly, it is not to be found.
Next, the little sewing kit we’ve had for years has also gone missing. I discovered such this morning when I wanted to mend something.
Uhhhhgggg!!! It’s maddening!
Even worse, considering our ‘missing stuff’ history related above, my wife and I have already implemented practices to eliminate this problem.
– We try not to pack in a rush
– We each do a visual sweep of every dwelling before we depart
– We make conscious efforts NOT to place belongings in ‘strange’ places.
– And we play the verbal ‘Passports?’ game described above.
Now however, we are redoubling our efforts to avoid such situations.
– We’ll try not to leave things scattered around. We have ‘packing cubes’ and jumbo zip-lock bags for everything. We will use them at ALL TIMES.
– We’re going to pack up for travel 24 hours in advance.
– We’ll each do multiple sweeps of every rental before leaving.
– We’ll check every nook and cranny: yes, the fridge, wash machine, every drawer and cabinet, under the bed, the very top and bottom shelves, etc.
It all sounds stupid – and obvious. But apparently it is necessary.
Sadly, my gut says, even this new focus on organization and accountability won’t completely eliminate our mysterious losses.
But at the very least, maybe reading this will help some reader – some fellow traveler – to take proactive steps to avoid some of the bewildering losses we have endured.
Finally, I’m going to add a travel-day prayer to St. Anthony of Padua – the Catholic patron saint of ‘lost articles’ – to help us avoid overlooking and forgetting things. It can’t hurt.
Plus, I just said a prayer to St. Anthony to help bring our scuba masks quickly through EU customs and back into my waiting arms so we might use them in the Black Sea next month in Varna, Bulgaria. Otherwise Mailboxes Etc. will have to arrange forwarding at more cost, worry/waiting, prayers, and potential loss.
As always, be thankful and generous, happy trails & more beer.
Life is NOW!
Thanks for reading, “Items left behind during budget slow travel.”
Theo (also called Tedly) retired early from the news business to wander the planet with his wife, Ellen. He enjoys exploring all Earth has to offer from jungles and beaches to volcanoes and deserts, always drinking beer along the way.