When Sh!t Gets Stolen in Foreign Countries

Sometimes my things disappear. At times it is due to me not keeping track of my belongings, other times it’s because people are downright shady. On one occasion, I was on a treadmill at my gym (I shudder thinking about the treadmill) and hung my Northface jacket from it. I ran and watched television. All sweaty and ready to go, I reached down to grab my jacket and it was gone. People suck. I’m oblivious.  But, a jacket is just a jacket. There are more critical things to lose, in much more perilous locations.

Several years ago I spent four weeks with a friend in Costa Rica. On our first day, we checked in to our $5/night hostel. The door to our room wouldn’t lock. A bit shoddy, but that’s what you get for an “economy” stay.

This is what a $5.00 will get ya! At least there were no bed bugs.
This is what a $5.00 will get ya! At least there were no bed bugs.

We had the brilliant idea to take all of our expensive and important items with us and go to a local bar/restaurant to devise a travel plan (we had not arranged anything beforehand). The bar was nice and the drinks went down quickly.

I took my bag everywhere. Even while eating Salchipapas and street chicken.
I took my bag everywhere. Even while eating Salchipapas and street chicken.

At restaurants, in foreign countries, I typically keep my bag wrapped around my leg. After a few cocktails, the bag was in the way of my brilliant, route formulations. I stuck it against the back of my chair so I could lean on it. About ten minutes later I looked down and realized it was gone.

I looked around with unreserved panic. It couldn’t be gone. It had my passport, my driver’s license, my camera, my Ipod and my cash. Basically, anything of value I would need for the next month. No identification in a foreign country is terrifying. My negligence would cost us a nine hour bus ride to the Embassy and at least three days waiting for a passport. This turn of events would grimly alter our unplanned trip.

I alerted the bartender and manager, attempting to calm my more than ruffled my nerves. I knew I would have to deal with my new reality and there was no way to reverse it. Surprisingly, the restaurant had surveillance cameras. I watched myself on a small black and white television, crouched over a map with my hands pointing excitedly from one location to another. Grinning stupidly from ear to ear, I leaned forward and my bag dropped. I never felt it move. Two different bar patrons proceeded to walk behind me, notice my backpack on the ground and look up at me. Clearly, it belonged to me. They stepped directly over it and never bothered to alert me of my abandonment. The nerve!

Soon thereafter, the video showed a man walking past the front of restaurant. Noticing my lonesome sack, he reversed his footing and entered the establishment. It was clear, I was ignorant to my vulnerable situation. The malicious bandit traipsed  through the restaurant, grabbed my belongings and walked out of the back door-Undetected.

The restaurant called the police and showed them my embarrassing video footage. I detailed each item in the bag, in broken Spanish. I figured it was a waste of time but Costa Ricans are so friendly and insisted. They didn’t want ruffians like that lingering around their eatery- Bad for business.

We wandered back to our hostel, alerting the owner of our now missing key (not that we needed it, because the door didn’t lock). I used the lobby phone to call my parents and plead with them to cancel my credit cards. They did their best to not berate me for my carelessness. Though, I could tell it was hard for them.

Twenty minutes into the phone call, the hostel owner came over and spoke in broken English, “My friend finds bag at his restaurant. It has key to hostel in it.”

“Seriously? Don’t mess with me. Is there anything else in it?” I tried not to sound ungrateful.

“I don’t know,” he smiled, “He bringing it here”.

I hung up with my parents and waited. A friendly man waltzed in ten minutes later, my backpack in hand. I thanked him profusely. I slowly pried the zipper open. I held my breath and scrunched my face together as though the bag could detonate. It was empty, save for my Passport, Driver’s License and hostel key.

The beloved passport. Image courtesy of Damian Bariexca via Flckr
The beloved passport. Image courtesy of Damian Bariexca via Flckr

Money I could figure out. I could buy a new camera and Ipod. But, having my identity reinstated in a foreign county…An amazing feeling.

I quickly sent an email to my parents and brother (who I knew had most likely heard the news).

Hello all,

Here is my personal Mastercard commercial.  

Having your bag stolen containing:  

Ipod  $300

Digital Camera $450

Passport $40 Identity $2000 (IF SOLD ON BLACK MARKET) Which is apparently a huge offense here.

Credit card/debit card/license (pain in the ass)    

Seeing a nice Costa Rican man bring back your bag containing your Passport and License……  


I am sure you have all heard, or are hearing now, that we have gotten off to a rocky start…Kinda scary being stuck in a foreign country with no money, no identity.  But we got through it and I have my Identity back. 

Sorry to worry you mom and dad~  

Love you all,


Here was my big brother’s reply…

Little Lindsay.

I don’t even know where to begin….so I won’t.

Just make sure you make it back here with both of your kidneys intact!

I hope you still have a HAPPY BIRTHDAY tomorrow.  Too bad you’re not here to get presents, since it sounds like you’re going to need some.

Hope you have fun the rest of the trip.

Talk to you later, I have to go listen to my Ipod now and take some pictures of stuff!

Respectfully yours,

Big Brother

He makes me laugh, even when he’s picking on me (which seems to be a lot). So you have it. Keep track of your things and make sure not to let your guard down

Have you had any rough travel experiences? Passport stolen? I’d love to feel like I’m not alone!


22 thoughts on “When Sh!t Gets Stolen in Foreign Countries

  1. OMG! Your big brother sounds exactly like mine!!! And your MasterCard commercial is brilliant.

    Next time I travel overseas, I plan to keep important stuff duct-taped to my belly for safe keeping.

    BTW: Did you come home with both kidneys?

  2. This is great stuff Lindsay. You should write a book about your travels. I didn’t know big brother was this witty and clever. I actually do better out of this country but I am more aware and careful away from home. I have had things like cameras stolen here though. One camera contained pictures of me with the Dave Clark 5 back in the 60’s. That still upsets me after all these years!

    1. Thanks! It’s funny you say that, Marcy. I have something in the works. I’ve been outlining 🙂 I’m usually much more aware in other countries as well…that’s why I was so upset, my foolishness. That’s awful you lost your pictures with Dave Clark 5. At least you will always have the memory.

  3. I’ve been lucky enough that this hasn’t happened yet, but I know I’ve had close calls. I agree that losing the passport is about the worst thing that can happen because of all the hassle to replace it. Had you lost your camera on the last day vs. the first day it would have been way more valuable to you 🙂

      1. Okay, I tried not to laugh at your misfortunes…but I failed. At least you got to see boobs!

        It seems you have definitely had your fair share of unfortunate events.

        I can’t blame you for falling for the baby con…Come on!

  4. Wow! i would have freaked out! I am not the most careful of persons, so I guess I have just been lucky not to have had a brush with thieves on my travels. Of late, I always carry a cross body that never comes off even at meal times, except in ‘posh’ restaurants. Your brother’s response is priceless! 😀

  5. Oh my gosh, Lindsay!!!! This triggered so many of my own overseas theft experiences. Don’t even get me started. But that’s so amazing that your passport was recovered, that’s terrifying. That’s one thing I’ve never had stolen but it’s happened to several of my friends. I put a huge sticker in the front of mine and on the back cover that says “REWARD $$$$$” with my email address. I’m like YES you can steal this and I will pay to get it back, absolutely.

  6. Every time I am up in London I make sure to guard my bag fiercely, especially on places like the Underground – too many pick pockets about!

    I’m a bit anal about checking that I always have my valuables on me…. 🙂

  7. How great that your thief was nice enough to leave the passport. Maybe he wasn’t
    such a bad guy after all?

    Both emails are hilarious. You were still writing creatively after being robbed. That’s talent.

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