Absent-minded Vacations

Eileen Bailey normally works out of her left lobe: She number-crunches for a national concern headquartered in Phoenix, Arizona. There, she always has her ducks in a row; her feet on the ground; her mind on practical matters.

Of course, the organization is standard operating procedure at home, where routine usually reigns supreme. Now, vacation travel…that’s another matter. Bailey was mildly surprised at her forgetfulness when, on the first leg of her holiday to the East Coast, she left her purse at a restaurant in Philadelphia. Good fortune is what it is, a half hour later the purse was still tucked under the table where she left it.

But the very next day, when she walked away from a restaurant in Miami without her pocketbook, well, the conscientious accountant was downright shaken by her absent-mindedness, and overwhelmed that a caretaking karma could keep her credit cards in a row, in a purse that was still hanging around after she committed the same faux pas, ahem, twice.

Bailey said she wouldn’t have been so startled by her relaxed travel mentality had her purse not been as natural to her as her skin. A carry-on bag, or a wrapped souvenir, okay. But her purse?

Not to worry: Mind loosening events such as these are part of the unwinding process, even though the leave-behinds may be critical to a positive vacation outcome. Cash. Car keys. Credit cards. A passport.

If you’re lucky, sunglasses are the worst travel casualty. And even a lost or stolen purse doesn’t have to be the end of a hard-earned vacation. Just a few simple steps can ensure a travel comfort zone, but they must be taken at home while you’re in that organizational mindset. First, write down the numbers of every credit card you carry, then make two copies of the list; include your passport number, too. Leave the original at home; give a copy to your travel buddy, if you have one; and put the other copy in a suitcase.

Some airline companies don’t recommend hiding such lists in suitcases because a bad apple or two in the crew has been known to go through travel bags in search of valuables. Ex-princess Fergie’s diamond necklace and bracelet were found at the home of an airline baggage handler, and even “good guys”, like the Dutch officials who, a few years back, tested airport security by tucking explosives into the bag of a university professor living in the United States, have been known to mess with checked luggage.

Of course, once you’ve claimed your bags, unlike a bomb (which the Dutch agents forgot about and later said was never wired to explode, anyway), you may not notice that someone tampered with a piece of paper: At the same time you’re using the real thing, someone else is ringing up dollar signs with your stolen credit card numbers.

But a savvy traveler can feel fairly secure by putting that slip of paper in a pant or skirt pocket packed in the suitcase. Besides, the alternative — losing your purse — is more likely to happen, and no backup means no help.

I gamble with cash by skipping the traveler’s checks, in part, because I like to travel off the beaten path where city banks don’t flourish. In part, because I don’t like the double hit that comes when you buy checks, then in some countries, pay a chunk of change for cashing each traveler’s check.

Lost car keys have been my worst travel nightmare. And I don’t need to lose my purse to lose a key, which can be equally annoying about the time I lock the key inside the car. I thought I had this problem solved when I traveled to Alaska. I’d found a magnetic key box that could attach to the inside of a bumper or some other exterior part of the car. Alas, magnetic key boxes are no match for the Alcan Highway. When I needed them the hidden keys weren’t there, not even the box.

Carrying two sets of car keys works provided they both aren’t in the purse you lose. Traveling with someone else who has a set of keys works for some people. Carrying keys on an expandable leash-like cord that attaches to your belt works for some people, too. But for me, it seems this pesky problem will remain steeped in time wasted waiting for a locksmith, or in the case of the Alaskan Bush, smashing through a window to get at the keys locked inside.

See Barbara’s site at


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