When I was in Latvia in October 2018, an unfortunate thing happened. I spent one night in prison and lost my phone the morning after.
This happened on the 4th day of my 2-week trip. So, I had to survive for 10 days without a phone. Ten days. While that probably doesn’t sound like much to some people, to some others it might be unthinkable! I was somewhere in between, I guess. While it wasn’t the end of the world for me, it was still a very trying experience.
But I believe that every experience, good or bad, always has a lesson behind it. These were what I learned:
1. Panicking Doesn't Help
This may be easier said than done, but try to keep your cool when you’re in a stressful situation. Panicking never helps anyone. Rather, it makes you lose crucial time, leads you to make rash decisions, and possibly make you lose the opportunity to fix the situation.
When I realized that my phone was gone, I quickly retraced my steps, went back to the prison reception to report the loss, and asked them if they could try to call my number. It went unanswered, but I got them to send a text message to my number, offering a cash reward if the person who found it would return the phone to me. I left my contact details in case they managed to retrieve it.
Then, I borrowed another inmate’s phone to alert people back home of what had happened and how to contact me in case of emergencies. Since I was going to Couchsurf for the rest of my trip, I also had to let my hosts know that I would be unreachable and arrange with them when and where to meet.
Had I panicked, I wouldn’t have been able to do all that.
2. We Have Become Too Dependent on Phones
The other thing I noticed was just how dependent I had become on my phone. It’s true what they say – as phones become smarter, people become…less smart.
Apart from the obvious functions like making phone calls and sending text messages, here are the other things I realized I had been relying so much on my phone for:
- Torchlight for finding my way in the dark. Not that I frequently wander around in dark alleys, but it’s useful indoors too (for example, in a hostel room at night when trying not to wake up the other guests, or in a sleeper train/bus after they’ve turned off the lights, or to look for the hair clip that I dropped under the bed).
- Clock because I don’t always bring my watch with me when I travel, for fear that I might lose it.
- Calendar to alert me on upcoming flights/trains/buses, etc.
- Calculator to keep track of my expenses and convert those tricky currencies.
- GPS for using the offline map (because unlike some people, I don’t have a built-in navigation system in my brain).
- E-hailing apps to book a ride in places where there are no buses/trains.
- Booking apps, banking apps, and a whole load of other apps that are essential for travel.
- E-mail, because all flight details, tickets, boarding passes, booking confirmations, forgotten passwords, and everything else are sent to your e-mail.
- Entertainment, social media, camera, address book, and Google.
3. Phones Can Be Tracked Down
I learned this a little too late, but most phones can now be tracked remotely, provided that you have installed the necessary app. There are many apps that are specifically designed to locate a lost phone. Some of their services include:
- Tracking down your phone via GPS
- Locking and erasing your phone remotely
- Remotely activating a loud and/or flashing alarm on the phone
- Forwarding calls to another phone number of your choice
- Starting and stopping your device’s Wi-Fi and GPS functions
- Sending and receiving SMS messages via your computer
4. Secure Your Information
These days, with all the convenience of online shopping and banking, losing your phone is not just about losing a bunch of numbers to call. It can severely compromise your personal security.
Once someone has access to both your phone and your e-mail account, he can retrieve passwords, get past two-factor authentication systems, log in to your other accounts, make purchases on your expense, and also obtain your personal information, such as your mailing address. If you’re a woman traveling alone, this gets even scarier because that person also has the details of your flights and accommodation.
The most obvious solution to this (although many people still neglect to do it) is to lock your home screen with a thumbprint or a strong passcode. An experienced hacker will probably still be able to unlock it, but at least it buys you some time to log out remotely, change your passwords, etc.
Do NOT save passwords to your browser, no matter how much time it saves you. Otherwise, a thief could easily access all your sensitive information simply by unlocking your phone.
As soon as you realize that your phone has been stolen, these are the first things you should do:
- Alert your cellphone service provider immediately, so that they can suspend or disconnect your account in order to avoid unauthorized cellular usage.
- If you have installed a “kill switch” on your phone, lock and wipe your phone remotely to prevent the thief from resetting it.
- Get access to a computer, and remotely log out of your e-mail account on all other devices. Then, change your e-mail password as well as the passwords for all important accounts that you access on your phone, especially those that involve financial transactions and your credit card details.
5. Always Back Up Your Data
Every time I travel, I usually have important documents printed out and keep at least two copies, one in my backpack, and the other in the hostel safe. If necessary, e-mail a copy to a trusted friend, in case you’re unable to retrieve it online. I also write down important phone numbers and addresses in a little notebook that I always carry with me. It may be difficult and somewhat guilt-inducing to get out of the habit of going paperless, but sometimes it is necessary.
As for photos, both iPhone and Android devices have features for online storage. Otherwise, upload them regularly to your social media accounts for safekeeping. I was glad that I had uploaded my photos everyday, but I had still lost the ones I took in the prison (there was no WiFi there).
6. Cyber Cafes Are Extinct
I had a long layover at Beijing International Airport before my flight home, and I was bored out of my mind. It was a small terminal, the bookstore only sold Chinese books, and there was nothing I could keep myself occupied with. So, I decided to try my luck and ask the young lady at the information counter if they had a cyber cafe in the airport. The conversation went something like this:
It was amusing and exasperating at the same time. Language barriers aside, the poor girl had no idea what an internet café was. And it’s easy to understand why. These days, there’s no point in having an internet cafe when everybody has a smartphone and there’s wifi everywhere.
But you have no idea how frustrating it is to see all those “Free Wifi” signs and not be able to use it!
7. Bring A Spare Phone/Camera
When I travel, I sometimes bring a spare phone, knowing how absent-minded I am and how prone I am to losing things. But for some reason, on this particular trip, I chose not to. Unfortunately, bad things tend to happen when you’re least prepared for them — like how there would be a thunderstorm on the one day that you forget to bring your umbrella.
I had, however, brought a tiny sports camera with me. Although I’m not much of a photographer, taking pictures during my travels is very important to me. So, the spare camera really saved the day.
8. Learn to Do Things the Old-Fashioned Way
Throughout the ten days that I didn’t have a phone with me, I had to relearn how to:
- Read a map. Yes, the paper kind.
- Approach strangers to ask for directions.
- Convert currencies and make quick calculations in my head.
- Ask people (instead of Google) for information.
- Jot down important notes in a notebook. Yes, the paper kind.
- Learn some basic words of the local language instead of using Google Translate.
I consider myself lucky because I wasn’t born with a smartphone in my hand. I had started traveling years before I knew anything about Booking.com or Google Maps. Everything was done manually. I booked hotels through phonecalls or emails. Sometimes I simply winged it. And I survived. So, I said to myself, “If I could do it then, why can’t I do it now?”
If you’re of the younger generation who are not used to living without a smartphone, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the basic skills of traveling like reading a conventional map. Try to go without a phone for a day and see what you can learn from it.
9. Get A Travel Insurance
First of all, everyone should get a travel insurance.
Secondly, you should study the fine print before you actually buy one. Know exactly what the policy covers and does not cover. The good news is, there are many that do cover lost/stolen personal items, including phones, tablets, laptops, and cameras.
However, there’s usually a limit as to how much you can claim. This varies from one insurer to another and is subject to value depreciation based on the age of the device. Most insurance plans won’t cover:
- Damage due to wear and tear, weather conditions, insects, rodents, or vermin.
- Items accidentally left behind in the hotel room after check-out, on a plane, in a rental car, or other modes of transport.
- Items stolen or damaged in the cargo hold of your train/bus/airplane. This is considered negligence on your part because you’re not supposed to keep valuables in the cargo hold in the first place.
To claim for a lost/stolen/damaged phone, most insurance companies will require:
- A copy of the police report (made within 24 hours)
- The IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity) code, which is a unique identifier for your device. But this code can only be obtained when you have the phone with you. So, make sure you get the number (and write it down) before you travel. Click here to learn how.
- Receipts or phone contracts to prove that the device belonged to you.
10. Humanity Isn't Dead
There are bad people out there, but there are also good people. It doesn’t take losing a phone to learn this. Travel should have already taught you that. When you’re out there exploring the world (especially if you’re on your own), you’ll quickly learn that while bad people exist, so do good people who would drop everything to help you.
During my phoneless 10 days, people were so willing to help me with directions even when we didn’t speak the same language. Sometimes, I had to borrow strangers’ phones to get in touch with a host that I was supposed to meet. And then there were also those who offered to take photos of me using their cameras and e-mail them to me later.
It was a humbling experience that showed me just how much good there still is in the world.
Have you had anything like this happen to you? What did you do? Share your experience in the comments section below.