when decisions meet disaster.
“There’s no disaster that can’t become a blessing, and no blessing that can’t become a disaster.”
Three days ago, my friend Mike Sowden, a fabulous writer and fellow travel blogger, sat in a Starbucks in Dusseldorf, spending a few hours over coffee and his laptop before flying back to the UK.
So engrossed was he in his afternoon writing session that Mike didn’t notice someone slide out his backpack—containing his money, airline tickets and that all important passport—from beneath his table and then out the door.
When I read Mike’s Facebook status that day, updating us on his misfortune, I commented that my heart had just sunk for him. But what I really wanted to say, and what no one should ever say in such a circumstance is—my heart is breaking because I’ve been there.
I’ve so been there.
One Friday two months ago, just a week after returning to London, I left my laptop sitting on a bench in a bus stop by my house. I might as well have stood in Piccadilly Circus and asked, “Hey everyone, who wants a free laptop?”
When I raced back to the stop half an hour later, my heart beating so loudly in my throat that it hurt, the only thing there to greet me was the long, hard, cold red plastic of the bench.
Not that I could have cared any less about the physical entity that is a laptop. But what I could have cared less about were the 8,000 pictures and who knows how many videos from India sitting on its harddrive.
And then, because I seem to have a special knack for self-inflicted loss, there was the time I put a small purse holding my wallet, passport and flat keys under my pillow on a weekend trip to Belfast. We were staying in an 18-bed hostel dorm without lockers and I’d wanted to be safe.
It would’ve been a genius plan, had I actually remembered to take the purse with me the next day.
By the time we got back from our daytrip to the Giant’s Causeway, the purse was gone. And thanks to a tiny slip of paper in my wallet, on which I’d written the pin numbers to my new UK bank accounts (conveniently marked checking and savings), every pound to my name was also gone.
Now you know why all I could say two months ago at the bus stop was, déjà vu.
When these things happen, no one tells you you’re an idiot. No one yells, “What were you thinking?” and berates you for your tragic lapse in judgment.
What they tell you is how sorry they are. How everything happens for a reason. How a friend of their cousin’s brother-in-law twice removed in New York once had his laptop stolen, only for an Apple salesman in Colombia (South America, that is) to call him up a month later and ship his harddrive back.
And when no one else is saying you’re an idiot, that job gets left up to you. When you’re walking down the street. When you’re trying to fall asleep at night. When you momentarily forget during a Friends re-run, only for it to come crashing back into your mind like a breaker in a hurricane…
“You’re an idiot. You are an idiot.”
In both cases, I’ve been in the middle of a Major Life Change (otherwise known as a MLC).
Not long before that weekend in Belfast, I’d decided not to renew my job contract, go traveling with some new Kiwi friends (and thereby give up my work visa, which carried the stipulation that I stay in the UK throughout its full duration), live off savings for my last six weeks in London, and, to top it all off, move to New Zealand.
And only days before that Friday in London, I’d decided not to apply for a two-year post-study UK work visa, politely decline a job offer that would’ve allowed me to pay back my student loan in a year, and, to top it all off, move to India.
Funnily enough, Mike is also in the middle of a MLC. He recently decided to quit his own full-time job, give up the security of that income in exchange for more time to write and travel, and make freelancing work for him.
Is it an accident these things happen so close to a big life decision? Decisions that aren’t easy, aren’t fun to make, and once made, will most likely forever alter the course of your life?
I’d like to think these moments aren’t lessons, that they’re not meant to teach us anything—keep an eye on your belongings at all times, don’t leave your laptop in a bus stop—because for 99% of the time, it’s common sense stuff we’re already doing.
Rather than a lesson, I can’t help thinking they’re a test.
As if the universe finds out about our decision, says, “Let’s see how serious she was about that,” and decides to organize a little experiment: to check if we go running at the first sign of disaster.
Because that’s exactly what I want to do. Run. Hide. Crawl back into bed and start the day over. Leave my laptop at home. Cry.
Which I did—both times, many times. In the U.S. Consulate General in Belfast, filing for an emergency passport. In a London Starbucks, siphoning free internet onto my iTouch, sobbing so hard a Polish barista asked if I was okay and brought me ice water.
Slowly, though, I’ve started to see that when our decisions—the big kind, the scary kind—meet their own travel disasters, it might also just mean they’re the right kind. That we’re doing something right.
And Mike, my friend—hang in there. You got this.
Have you ever lost valuables or had them stolen while traveling? How did you deal with the loss?