Nov 182012
How many of these people in Florence, Italy forgot something because they didn't follow these tips?

How many of these people in Florence, Italy forgot something because they didn’t follow these tips?

In your daily life, do you ever misplace your keys or phone, then spend hours looking for them? During travel, have you ever accidentally left behind pieces of clothing or toiletries… or even your passport? Do you ever arrive at work or school only to slap your forehead, wailing, “I can’t believe I forgot that paper at home!”?

Follow these four rules, and you will never again forget behind or lose your belongings.

By the time I traveled to Greece, I had this system down and lost nothing.

By the time I traveled to Greece, I had these four rules down and lost nothing.

RULE #1: Always keep things in the same place. It is shocking how effective this trick is.

At home: keep your essentials (keys, wallet, cell phone, etc.) in the same bag or pocket every single day. If you ever have to remove one (ex: your keychain), replace it to the same place as usual immediately upon reentering the house. The one time I forgot to do this (I was tired and plopped my keychain on the kitchen counter), I left for work the next day, then returned home and realized I was locked out… for the next four hours! This rule also holds for storing important but less daily items such as your passport. I always put my passport back in the exact same storage space, after the debacle when I returned from Mexico, threw my passport in the basement, then couldn’t find it for a full year.

During travel: Keep all your stuff in one central heap around your backpack or suitcase. Do not strew your clothes or toiletries around the room, or I guarantee you will forget to put at least one of them back in your bag. (This rule is particularly vital for rapid travel where you stay in one place fewer than three days.)

In Japan, I forgot my awesome soap behind because I didn't follow tip #3.

In Japan, I forgot my awesome soap behind because I didn’t follow tip #3.

RULE #2: While still clear-headed, pack everything for the next day. Let’s face it: There are times when you are awake and paying attention, and there are times you are not. Rushed mornings are not one of those sane times, so plan accordingly.

At home: Pack everything possible for the next day the night before. If any of my seventh grade students are reading this, this means your homework and notebooks. We both know what happens when you don’t!

During travelMany departures and check-out times are in the groggy early hours of the morning. If you’ve followed rule #1 in this article, scooping everything into your bag the night before will be no problem.

During motorcycle travel across Vietnam, I didn't lose a thing! Though my computer did get smashed.

During motorcycle travel across Vietnam, I didn’t lose a thing! Though my computer did get smashed.

RULE #3: Always do one last “look behind.” This takes between two seconds and five minutes, but will save you so much heartache.

At homeWhenever you leave a place (ex: subway, classroom, taxi), turn your head as you are walking away. Look at the place you were sitting and assess if the seat is clear, or if you left behind a book, hat, backpack, or even purse. I lost one of my favorite sweaters due to forgetting this rule once, and my students forget agenda books on a daily basis because they neglect this two-second trick.

During travel: In addition to the head-turn as you leave transportation, always do a five-minute sweep of your hotel or accommodations before leaving. In particular, check the bathroom, and really do check under the bed. The main spot to check in the bathroom is inside the shower, as the curtain masks your view. (Oh, Japan, you still have my nice soap container that I left there in 2009.) In the bedroom, lift the bed’s dust ruffle and take a peek. This move is so cliched that many people skip it, but during a cross-USA train trip, I got to the New Orleans train station ten minutes before departure only to receive a call from the hotel that I had left my tickets under the bed. That was a costly mistake, because there was no time to do anything but to buy new ticket.

My students in Ghana always made sure to pack their books!

My students in Ghana always made sure to pack their books!

RULE #4: If short on time, still take five seconds to verify you have the essentials. You’re bound to lose or misplace a few small things at some point at home or travel, but those are a lot easier to cope without and replace than your most vital belongings.

At homeFor daily life, the essentials you should check are: “Keys? Wallet? Cell phone?”

During travel: For travel, the essentials to pack and check are: “Passport? Money? Camera and electronics?” Take the few seconds to verify you have each, and spare yourself days and hundreds of dollars of hassle to deal with their loss.

When traveling in Shanghai, China, we forgot behind a pretty fan because we didn't follow these tips!

When traveling in Shanghai, China, we forgot behind a pretty fan because we didn’t follow these tips!

So those are my four tricks, and they’ve helped me to almost never lose or forget anything behind, despite having traveled through over thirty countries. Now, what tips and tricks do YOU have to keep track of your stuff? What tales do you have of remembering or forgetting things? Do share.

Now that you’re keeping track of your belongings, click here to learn how to organize all the tasks you need to do in life!


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  55 Responses to “How to Never Lose or Forget Behind Anything: 4 Tricks”

  1. That’s when I appreciate having a very OCD dad and now my hubby is the same! They are so organized, I have learned to make mental lists, to double and triple check things and to know exactly what I am carrying, down to the last bit of underwear. It is a chore at first but it works amazinly and have never lost anything ever! thanks Daddy and Oso!

  2. Great tips Lillie! I always carry a notebook with me and write everything down there. That keeps me more organised and thanks to that I never forget about what I should do :). Love the tip number 3 to always do one last look behind – I’m gonna try this one soon!

    • Yay! I’ve been obsessive about teaching my 7th grade students the “look behind” trick this year, and it seems to have significantly cut down on left-behind goods!

    • I had house guest this week and they took a last look around and took my cord to my I-Pad thinking it was theirs. They really looked around!

    • Hah! What a hassle, though! That happened to me once and I was livid, iPhone addict that I am.

    • I lecture frequently and I set up my lecture the nite before. Write everything that I need and check my computer and powerpoint to make sure it is working. Then when I leave in the A.M. I have everything packed, etc.
      I also have extra extension cord and lamp for the projector.

  3. Thanks for the great tips! I’m a very last minute person, so the tip about doing it all the night before should help. Sad about that fan isn’t it.

  4. I’ll make sure to remember these helpful tips!
    Beautiful pictures by the way!

  5. This advice is really helpful and the pictures are so colorful. I surprisingly do step #3 as much as possible, but I’m probably going to try step #1 because I’m consistently looking in 500 possible places of where my stuff could be! Thanks Ms. Marshall!

  6. I lost my Iphone over two months ago and still can’t find it. I’m getting a new one and if I loose it again I can’t get a new one. I’m definitely going to use these tips so this doesn’t happen again.

  7. These tips were very helpful! Beautiful pictures too!

  8. I am always losing things and because I travel a lot your tips are going to be a great help to me I am sure. Thank you for sharing.

  9. I hardly ever lose or forget anything. Think it happened maybe once in my all life of traveling – and I forgot a small shampoo in the shower. I always put the things in the same place though.

  10. thanks for your notes on how to keep stuff. I now keep my keys in the same place all the time. bought a new pocketbook with a zipper front pocket for my keys and a place also for my cell phone. thanks again

    • Good idea! I think men are at a disadvantage in this because they don’t use purses. It’s harder to keep track of things in pants pockets.

  11. I use all of the tricks you mentioned and more to keep from forgetting things. I like to keep a word document of everything I packed on my trip and I constantly refer to it as soon as I pack up to go to the next location. At home, I’m a fiend for to do lists. If I need to remember it, it goes on a legal pad or a sticky note. But hey–I’m usually pretty well organized!

  12. Good tips! The only times I’ve lost things is when I’ve been tired and ragged in the morning and in a hurry to leave. Even if you don’t pack the night before, putting things in the same place every time means you’ll probably notice if you’ve forgotten something.

  13. Love the article. I completely agree with developing the habit of (a) getting organized the night before and (b) having the essentials in the same place ready for the next day. This not only helps with not forgetting them, but also means they’re easy to find if you have to leave in a hurry, such as a fire alarm in the middle of the night. (yes, that happened recently!)

  14. Good tips. I was traveling with a girl who forgot to “look behind” and left her phone. Drove 300km by motorbike to get back, only to find it had been stolen. Ouch, just ouch.

  15. Great tips! One last look has saved my from calamity countless times. You can never mention it too often!

  16. Awesome tips! Like you said, I think it’s important to learn from your mistakes (I used to lose things all the time, but each time, I tried to take away a “lesson” so I could avoid it in the future). Two other tricks I’ve found that work:

    1) Packing lists! In general, I need to write stuff down or I’ll forget it. I find it’s especially helpful to have a “master packing list” so you can look back at your old ones and just cut and paste for similar trips.

    2) If there’s something that’s easy to leave behind (an umbrella, a water bottle, etc.), I always put it somewhere where it’s impossible to forget – for example, I’ll lean the umbrella on my backpack.

    Here’s to never losing something again! (Or at least minimizing it… 🙂

  17. All great tips! I’ve packed in a rush and even drunk (a tough one to admit) and have forgotten vital things and/or left them behind. 🙁

  18. Lillie – this is an absolutely fantastic list. Now that we have little kids, the one last “look behind” is absolutely critical. It’s almost become advanced detective work, trying to figure out all of the obscure places the kids could have lost their toys 🙂

  19. Lillie , thanks for such useful tips. By the way I read, your computer was smashed while the Motorcycle ride in Vietnam. So did you get repair that computer or purchased new one? Thanks once again

  20. Great post and I admit I’m kind of happy to see that it’s not only people of a certain age who have to use memory aids. I agree with one of the posters above that it’s good to develop a travel check list, which you can also take with you to mentally go through at least the really important stuff (meds, passport, tickets, money) when you’re leaving a hotel.

    Rule #3 resonates for me. I’m pretty sure my favorite black, light weight, zip up Chico’s jacket found a new home in Copenhagen after I left it hanging on the back of a chair at breakfast. Admittedly, it had a few holes in it and I kept promising myself that I’d retire it after every trip, but it was too perfect for so many occasions that I never did. Maybe it got tired of the road and retired itself by slipping off the back of the chair, so I wouldn’t have seen it even if I had turned around for one last look. (They don’t sell them anymore 🙁 and the one on EBay looked even more worn than the one I lost).

    The other great tip is that one about packing the night before–for everything–even school or work. I’m not very good about this, but I had one son who left his schoolbag neatly packed outside his bedroom door from about the age of 3. He also wrote himself notes (phonetically) as soon as he learned to write the alphabet. He grew up to be —- drum roll — a travel blogger.

  21. fantastic tips! 🙂 i also have a checklist of important things (especially since we travel with medicine and medical gear)…

  22. Great advice. The most frustrating for me is losing something, finding it after a frantic search, but only to go and misplace it almost immediately. When I know I have a flight or border crossing coming up, I adopt the PMT rule:
    Passport, Money, Ticket. I figure that with these three I can at least get to my destination, eat and find a bed.

  23. The “same place” rule is one I’ve been trying to get MJ to adopt since we met, and here 6 years later I’m no closer to success. Of course, she would probably say the same about me and loading the dishwasher…

    • Hah!!! Yes! Dishwasher aside, it is a funny question, though: What is the reason people DON’T adopt the “same place” rule? It has consequences every time it’s not followed!

  24. I also recommend taking less stuff in the first place. It’s much easier to keep tabs on your belongings if you don’t have so much to look after!

    Great post and great advice. Thanks

    • Great point, and that also holds true for being home: HAVE less stuff and it’s easier not to lose things in the heaps!

  25. and to add to #3, don’t forget the safe tucked away in the closet! I post a sticky note on the hotel room door to remember to empty the safe. I haven’t forgotten anything in there yet, but I have come pretty close.

  26. Good tips. I somehow managed to lose odd things on my last trip; not that anyone wants to know but I somehow lost two pairs of underwear and a t-shirt. Weird.

  27. I don’t tend to forget/lose important travel documents like passports and tickets. The only mix up that occurred was when I took Bolt Bus from DC back to Manhattan and I realized my return ticket was for the day before. I had gotten my dates mixed up. I had to pay 25 dollars in cash on the spot but I learned my lesson to double check dates when buying tickets ahead of time.

    Two things I always lose no matter where I go: umbrellas and water bottles. I always think to myself “don’t forget you placed your umbrella/water bottle here” but 3 times out of 4, I will forget it. Forget traveling, I lose these things as I go about my day to day life. Last umbrella I lost was under the movie theater seat at a screening of Cloud Atlas I went to with my mom when I was visiting her in Boston. Guess I know what I’m getting her for Christmas.

  28. Great tips, i do follow them all but somehow, sometimes, still manage to forget something! Thankfully i have never left anything vitally important just the odd t shirt hanging out to dry on the balcony or maybe some flip-flops downstairs at reception when I’ve put on hiking shoes on for the day. Rule #4 is the most important in my opinion – wallet, passport, camera, computer, phone, tickets – i quite often leave a place having checked these things 3 or 4 times, everything else can be easily replaced.


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