Throughout the years that I’ve been traveling, I’ve purposefully left behind a lot of things, but only lost something once.
It was my first time in Asia, and at the end of my first two weeks in my first country there (Malaysia). Still new to traveling, I left everything to the last minute. I was rushing around, packing, trying to arrange things for my next country – my first time in Thailand as well – and was all over the place.
It was so hectic that I didn’t even get a hotel booked (I was a lot more reckless in those days – I ended up walking around trying to find one when I got there). I also didn’t notice that my suitcase was about 40% lighter… because I forgot most of my clothes (and all my favorite ones) in the laundry.
From then on, I made it my priority to keep track of my things, so that I would end up keeping my things. And since then, I’ve done just that, and haven’t lost a single thing.
At first, it took a lot of awareness. I then created a simple set of guidelines, and improved them through the years (I call it a system, because I like calling things systems), to a point where it’s streamlined and natural, so it takes neither too much time, nor attention, to make sure that my things stay my things, and don’t become somebody else’s things, unless I want them to.
To follow the simple system – so you never have to worry about losing your stuff again (theft is a different issue) – you can think about it in 2 different contexts: getting around, and packing.
We’ve all heard stories of the traveler who was
absent minded swept away in the moment, and forgot their passport, $8000 in cash, and an early Matisse on the side of the road, with varying conclusions to the story, depending on which country they were in when they made the story up it happened.
Chances are, if they had their wits about them, and followed some simple guidelines, it wouldn’t have happened.
You gotta stay alert on these mean streets
Look, you’re traveling. There’s lots to see, and lots that can sweep you away in the moment. But the first thing you have to keep an eye on, is yourself, and your things.
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Making sure that you check what’s around you before you leave somewhere is a good start. I still do this from time to time, but eventually, that increased awareness will stay with you, and you will just know where your stuff is, because you know where your stuff goes.
Know where your stuff goes
I don’t mean that you need to carry around a compartmentalized organizer system for your backpack (or substitute a camera back pack which comes with its own compartments).
All this takes to start is to be aware of what you’re already doing naturally.
Which pocket is your phone always in?
Where do you usually keep your sunglasses – in your bag, on your person?
Becoming organized in this really basic sense isn’t about being inflexible, or even doing new things to start, it’s just being aware of your current organizational habits and tendencies.
You may notice that you don’t always put things in the same place. That’s alright. When you pay attention to what you already do, you’ll naturally become more organized and aware of where you put your things.
Not only does that stop you from losing them, it also saves you time when you have to go look for them – and that initial moment of panic when they aren’t immediately where you expect them to be.
Dress the part / come equipped
Do you think you’re going to be doing some running, or other activities where you’ll be upside-down or moving around a lot – in other words, where you’ll be focusing on something around you?
In that case, either bring clothes with zippered pockets, or that are tight and have deep enough pockets to keep your things from falling out. Or, if you’re not the “pockets with zippers” kind of person, put those kinds of things in your bag.
Sure, it’s a bit less convenient to get your phone out while adventuring that way, but unzipping your pocket or bag from time to time is a whole lot more convenient than buying a new phone after you spent 2 hours searching through muddy trails, then trying to get all your data back.
The day-to-day stuff can really be that simple.
When you’ve got it down pat, you’ll be coming home with the same (or more) things than you went out with. Congratulations!
You’ll then be ready to pack all that stuff you didn’t lose outside!
Here’s how to make sure that your things continue to be your things, on to your next destination.
Pack in advance
Perhaps the most important tip, is to pack early. Sometimes, we just forget, and getting the majority of your packing out of the way early can give you the time for your unconscious to remind you of something you just happened to forget about. It’s happened to me on multiple occasions.
Plus, knowing that you’re packed and ready to go saves you the stress of the uncertainty of leaving everything – even such a basic, fundamental, necessary thing as packing – to the last minute.
I’ve found that packing 2 days before I leave is the perfect balance. I leave 2 days’ worth of clothes unpacked, as well as my toiletries, and that way I have less than 10 minutes of work to do the day I travel.
If for some reason I don’t make it enough of a priority to do 2 days before, I’ll at least be finished packing by mid-day of the day before.
No last minute stuff. It’s just packing. You have to do it. Just do it.
Laundry in advance
I want to take a moment to pour a 40 for some of my favorite shirts of all time.
I’ll do my laundry the same day that I pack, or again, at the latest, the day before. You may travel with a few pieces of unwashed clothes in a plastic bag, but that doesn’t hurt. I usually use two bags, and put one inside the other, with the opening of inner one (tied, of course) facing the bottom of the outer bag, to make sure that they don’t make the rest of my luggage smell.
Know where you put things
Just like knowing where you put your stuff on and around your person while you’re out, knowing where you do, and don’t, put your things at home.
For example, when I’m renting a place with lots of drawers across multiple rooms (which is almost all the time), I’ll keep the clothes I have very close to each other. Doing so makes it quicker to find things day-to-day, and reduces the time you spend doing your packing ritual.
Have a packing ritual
First, you get some incense…
A packing ritual – despite its heavy-sounding name – is a simple concept you can add to your regular packing routine to make sure you never leave your things behind again.
To start, you begin packing as you normally would, and get the big stuff out of the way.
Once a good portion of your things are in your suitcase, you begin to “clear” rooms. This is the same concept as “breach and clear” – except the hostiles are your potentially lost valuables.
At this stage, knowing where you put things is helpful, because it reduces the time you have to spent looking at crevices, in corners, and under cushions.
Go into one room at a time, starting with the furthest room from where your luggage is, and bring out everything that you have in that room in one central location, then pack it away.
Sometimes, you’ll have things from that room that you don’t want to pack just yet – for example, perhaps you’re waiting to put it together with something else in another room. When it comes down to those things that require some thinking power/further action, scoop them up, and bring them into the next room, so you don’t leave anything in that room.
Repeat this process room by room until you’ve got everything packed (except – since we’re packing a couple of days before – some sets of clothes and toiletries).
At that point, go back into the first room, and do a visual sweep. Look at the places you know you would put your stuff, and if you remember that you may have put something somewhere else, or for example something may have fallen under a cushion, check there.
When you’re satisfied that the room has nothing left except what you’ll be needing for the next couple of days (which I always keep together), I have found it helps to verbally say “clear” (or some other word or phrase – “this room is bananas, B-A-N-A-N-A-S” – whatever you want), then continue from room to room.
On the last day, when I’m packing up my toiletries and the clothes from the past day or two, I’ll repeat the process for the two rooms they’re in (plus the room where my luggage is), just to be sure.
And that’s how it’s done
By being focused, aware, and prepared while you’re out, you make sure you don’t lose anything on the road. That means you get to bring all your stuff back to where you’re staying. Then, with some simple adjustments to how you pack, you make sure that you get to take all those things with you to your next destination.
A few simple habits, means a life time of no longer losing your things while traveling.
Do you have a packing ritual? Share it in the comments!