The Road Giveth and the Road Taketh Away

What’s the worst thing you could lose while traveling? For instance, would you rather lose your smart phone or your bank card? Your passport or your journal? I recently lost my iPhone, and for the next couple days found myself passing the time asking questions like this. Sure it’s pointless, because you never get to choose what you lose. But after chewing it over I realized that while the loss always sucks, it’s only as bad as you make it.

I lost my iPhone while traveling in China, and I have no idea what happened to it. One moment it was in my hand and the next it was gone. Poof. Foul play was unlikely, as it wasn’t a very touristic area. Stupidity or shallow pockets—perhaps my tendency to use it as a beer coaster—are more likely culprits. Anyway, what mattered was embracing the new normal: No phone.

Another traveler lost his bankcard the same day, and this got me thinking about things lost on the road. Of all the stuff you’ve packed, what would you absolutely not want to lose? Your phone? Passport? Camera? It’s all happened to somebody, and even the lightest travelers value some items more than others. The passport is the favorite answer, but there’s a case to be made for other items too. Maybe you care about the cost of replacement, or maybe it’s the sentimental value, the inconvenience, or the embarrassment. A friend once lost his medication in Korea and reeled from the consequences. Another left a precious pair of underwear in Turfan, China and had them mailed to Chengdu. In short, the question is what would suck most?

Happily, I haven’t had much experience losing stuff while traveling. Until now, the only thing I’d ever lost was a chocolate bar. A massive, 300g Milka bar, to be specific. The purloined goodie was lifted from my hostel dorm room one afternoon in Lyon. The primary suspect—the room’s only other occupant—was a 5’10 Belgian, white, about 18 years old, with brown hair, and traveling with only a guitar. I alerted the desk clerk, expecting warrants to be issued, but she didn’t seem to understand la gravité de la situation. The only real damage was to my ego of course, and mostly because I’d thought the kid was a badass for traveling with just a guitar (correction: and chocolate bar).

But losing a smart phone can be crippling. The maps you used to navigate town—gone. The translation app you used to decipher menus—gone. The WIFI access you used to email friends, book accommodation, and troll Delhi’s Tinder scene—gone, gone, and gone. And gone too are the days when you could find courtesy desktop computers in hostel lobbies. These definitely still exist, particularly in Europe, but in the age of smart phones, it’s often WIFI or nothing. And that spells trouble for travelers with no smart phone.

I fancied that I’d go a month before buying a new phone, as an experiment in how travel used to be in The Old Days. Unfortunately, that experiment lasted only 48 hours. After two days of contemplating tealeaves while others enriched their travel experiences by reading the latest news about Kim and Kanye on Facebook, I caved and bought a new phone. Imagine me bursting into a China Mobile store, hands shaking, grabbing at the nearest Samsung device and offering to pay any price. Any price. Just make it do the internet.

But maybe it could have been worse. Had I lost my passport, I’d have WIFI but I’d be using it from a hostel near the U.S. embassy in Beijing. Without my camera, I’d be paying to replace the device and still be out a bunch of photos. By some measures, I still had several even more valuable items.

And I suppose the upshot is that I’m now the proud owner of a new—possibly fake—Samsung Galaxy. But while it has more or less filled the void left by my iPhone, I now still find myself on eight-hour bus rides playing endless rounds of would you rather. Pointless? Sure. But consider this: Would you rather do that or spend eight hours reading about Kimye on Facebook?



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