Lost and (Wisdom) Found: Dealing with Misplaced Valuables While Traveling

Everybody does what they can to prevent loss and theft before and during a vacation. We can buy travel insurance to cover our valuables (including our health and airfare losses). Some travel bloggers offer many common sense suggestions, such as use of bright Post-It notes, garish key chains and neon-colored electronics cases to visually keep track of our most prized belongings. Others recommend having designated zip compartments in a carry-on to keep passports and small valuables.

We also have our mothers’ ages-old advice to fall back on — to not bring anything expensive in the first place or pack the absolute minimum (perfectly sensible in the age of elevated check-in baggage fees). As travel becomes more complex, and lines between business and leisure travel blur, however, it’s inevitable valuables will be brought out of necessity. Even with the best laid plans, however, they will land on sidewalks, beaches, public transportation, ride share cars and other random places. It’s bound to happen when you have to keep track of papers, passports, work responsibilities, kids and your thoughts.

However, the way you react to losing valuables can have a profound effect on your kids and the success of the trip as well as their future preparedness for travel, according to Andrew Schrage of MoneyCrashers.com.

“You need to learn how to compartmentalize things when something gets lost or goes missing while you’re traveling,” says Schrage. “After the initial shock wears off, if it was an important item, put it to the back of your mind and tell yourself it will get handled when you return home. Then, do your best to go back to enjoying your trip. If it’s not an important, irreplaceable item, acknowledge that and allow yourself to move on. The worst thing you can do is allow the sadness of losing an item to snowball into an overwhelming and paralyzing feeling of loss that will ruin the whole family’s vacation.”

Schrage points out a teachable moment can come out of a situation where a child loses or breaks an object, whether it is a favorite toy or something more expensive like a tablet. “Tell them that you can always buy another tablet, or whatever the item is,” he suggests. “Then, explain to them that it is only a ‘thing,’ and that what’s most important in life are the people around you who love you. Once they grasp the difference between material items and truly important ones like people or pets, you can talk about practical ways they can avoid losing or breaking things in the future.”

When a child loses an irreplaceable item, such as a favorite toy or piece of jewelry, a parent should avoid “told you so” remarks and instead remind him or her of the good memories they had with the item (such as past trips). Make observing the loss as a “celebration” of that item rather than a funeral, and reassure the child someone who may find it will get great use out of it.

“Have your child look at is as a gift he or she has provided to someone who will love it, even if it’s a lost wallet containing their hard-earned money,” he says. “Make them aware that they were lucky to have had that item, but that they will move on from it and not get too attached to any object. Use the experience to talk about how losing things is a part of life that they’ll have to deal with. While some items can or should be replaced on the road, it is a better practice to wait until the family returns home. Their patience will be rewarded when they find the very best replacement for the item or save the most money.”