Why travellers lose things

Posted on 21 June 2017

Lost something on your last holiday? Turns out it’s not your fault: there are things in your luggage plotting an escape.


Image by Alasdair McCulloch.

I was in the middle of donating my fourth Leatherman to airport security when a thought struck me so absolutely that my body lengthened and my pupils widened like someone who has just realised they’ve left the oven on. Which would have been ideal, actually, as I would have had to abandon my flight, allowing the nice woman who drives the hand luggage through the MRI-for-objects machine to return my offending tool.

As it happened I was heading to Joburg, a place that waits for no person, and I knew, the moment I saw my backpack disappear into the machine for a second scan, that I’d lost yet another gadget to thoughtless packing.

‘You can go back out and give it to whoever dropped you off,’ said one of the security officials. I thought about my Uber driver, Suleiman. He was nice. We had bonded over a mutual mistrust of minibus taxis and the government. Perhaps he’d have use for a blade that also had no fewer than 16 other handy applications. But he was long gone, probably shaking his fist admirably at the taxis carving up Cape Town’s N2 like a shiver of sharks.

‘No, it’s yours now,’ I said to the official and bequeathed him my blade in the manner one might bequeath an heirloom sword. Except without actually holding the sword because in an airport the only people who can handle sharp objects are the ones in uniform. The blunt objects are left standing on the other side of the conveyors with lighter backpacks, ruing their oversight.

Anyway, back to that thought. It went like this: what if, after all these years of giving travel advice, I’m actually a lousy traveller? The thought got worse. I began wondering if I was the lousy traveller. See, in every group of travellers there is one. That one person who is always forgetting their ticket or passport or sentimental beach towel that your whole party has to wait for them to retrieve. Can’t think of that person? Then I’m afraid it’s you.

Faced with that unsettling proposition, I did what any self-respecting travel journalist would do. I dragged my team under the bus with me, and asked them what they’ve lost along the way.

  •  Gear Editor Melanie van Zyl lost a solar panel 4x4ing in Namibia. She drove 30 kilometres before realising it was on the roof, still charging.
  • Associate Editor Caroline Webb left her passport at a hotel in Russia. She’s still on the wanted person’s list in the Kremlin.
  • Designer Leigh Taylor left a pair of leg warmers at a campsite in the Cederberg, a place that gets so cold in the evenings I can only think of one reason why you would need to take them off at all.
  • Copy Editor Michelle Hardie left her maternity dress at a hotel in Athens while holidaying with her husband and first child in utero. She must have left her senses there too because she had another child soon after.

Aside from those, it turned out there were a handful of things that travellers lose frequently. Three, in fact. Things that we’ve all probably forgotten at least once. Things that, I’ve deduced, are not lost through the fault of their owners but rather the fact that some objects have a stronger urge to be on holiday than others. Here they are (keep this list handy when you check out):

  • Toothbrushes. Face it, your bathroom at home is a bit of a dump compared to the luxury your toiletries experience at hotels. It’s no wonder your toothbrush hides behind the faucet when it’s time to go.
  • Smartphone chargers. Like most electronics, chargers act purely out of malice. They delight no end in picturing you back on home soil, trying to hail an Uber with the last five per cent of your battery.
  • The sock. Still at No. 1 on the-world’s-most-wayward-items list, the lone sock excels abroad. It wanders off to sip piña coladas on secluded beaches, explore new cities by night, drink at local bars and fraternise with exotic yarn in offbeat laundromats. You’ll never see it again because the sock is no lousy traveller. Whether home or away, it’s always planning the perfect escape. The sock, dear readers, is the greatest traveller of all time.


This story originally appeared in the July 2017 issue of Getaway magazine.

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