I was just about to bang out a post on ways to make it through nine months of travel without being robbed, when I decided to take a quick unpacking break.
Ten minutes in, it became clear: my secret stash of Travelers Cheques was gone. After thirty minutes of searching, I called the American Express hotline.
“Hmm,” said the helpful agent, “our computers are showing that all those checks were cashed in early April.”
“ALL of them?!” I gasped.
“All ten of them,” he replied.
“There’s no way it was me who did that,” I exclaimed. “I was busy moving from Ghana to Portugal to Spain, and I remember deciding not to cash any Travelers Cheques in Africa or Iberia because the fees were too high!”
“Then let’s file a claim,” replied the agent. And we did.
The good news is I’m confident the investigation will prove the theft and thus get me reimbursed. Therefore, this robbery is one of the best possible types: non-violent, solvable, and non-emergency-causing.
But the question remains: WHAT THE HECK?! When and where did some mystery person go spelunking into the deepest and smelliest part of my blue backpack without me noticing?
Query: What is YOUR take on the accepted travel advice that you should store money, identification, and Travelers Cheques throughout different parts of your bag? Because now that I think about it, that’s where I went wrong.
Throughout these nine months around the world, I always kept my major valuables (passport, money, credit cards, computer, chargers) in my daypack and money belt, which I wore on the front of my body and locked up every night.
My emergency Travelers Cheques stash, however, was in a secret, hard-to-get-to section of my main backpack, which I did not always lock because I figured my smelly socks would throw robbers off the scent, and because hostel lockers are often too small to fit a whole hiking bag.
Perhaps I should have kept all my stashes, back-up and non, in the daypack to lock? But that somehow seems riskier. No chicken likes a single basket holding all her eggs. Maybe I should have put the checks with my bras or tampons instead of in that slightly more obvious compartment? Who knows.
Within four weeks, American Express will send me a letter with the results of their fraud investigation: Which country the checks were cashed in (any bets on Spain versus Ghana versus Portugal?), and what method the person used to cash them.
Wouldn’t the robber have had to show “my” passport to use them? If he or she did indeed show a passport, then perhaps I have a bigger issue on my hands: some strange clone passport roaming the world.
Or it could be that the thief was an employee of one of the hundreds of hostels I stayed in, given that the receptionists often take copies of passports and have keys to each room. But it feels so cynical to suspect that.
Regardless, in moments like this, I always think back to my friend Marleny’s mother’s wise Dominican adage: “Mistakes cost either time, money, or life.”
What happy good fortune that this mistake will likely cost only time.
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