When your backpack gets stolen -or how to survive a robbery.

What’s one of the biggest fears of any traveller? Probably getting robbed, right? Everybody gives advice on how to avoid getting robbed, or we all say ‘’be careful with your stuff’’, but what happens when you lose everything? Do you keep travelling?

When you travel like I do, losing your backpack is not just losing your clothes and your souvenirs. I lost everything; clothes, equipment, savings for the whole trip, passport. But I lost more than that, I lost my home and a sense of comfort and security only my camping equipment could provide when I was on the road. At first, it was the shock, disbelief. Then, a sort of frozen denial when you’re just not ready to let the reality of what happened really sink in. Still, we were lucky in our bad luck. The presence of my mother and stepfather, who still had their passports and money, made it much easier. I was able to fill out the paperwork at the Canadian embassy in Rome in a stressful but quite simple and straightforward day. Contrary to what we might think, losing your passport (as a Canadian in Europe) is not that much of a nightmare. The day my mother and stepfather left was when it really hit. How could I go on? I had to get back on the road, with nothing. No blanket, no coat, no sleeping bag, no passport, no money. How long could I last? Sure, I was living on less than 5$ a day before and I have my tricks, but I also had a tent, a warm sleeping bag and a burner to cook.

So, what did I do? Somebody asked me what my first reaction was, if I thought about going back home. The answer is quite simple: no. But I realized that this would not have been possible if I didn’t travel the way I do – if I travelled in a more conventional way. How could I keep travelling without money? Because I was already travelling without money. Not completely, as it would not be the most ethical way to do it, for me, but I discovered that one of the greatest advantage of travelling with people – of people based travelling, is that there will always be good people. Actually, not having money doesn’t change much in this equation. One of the most important things that allowed me to keep going is being able to settle down and get myself back on my feet.

For me, the answer was volunteering in exchange for food and accomodation, through workaway.info  (if you plan on signing up and want to support me, using this link will extend my membership for free!). I found a wonderful project with an amazing host, which allowed me to spend time in the tranquility of the Italian mountains, taking care of animals and having a lot of free time to figure things out. It was not always easy, of course. Sometimes I felt discouraged. Often, I felt regretful or angry thinking about the ifs and the coulds. But quickly, I made peace with it.

In the very first hours it happened, I decided I could not be angry. I am certainly more privileged than the people who stole from us, even after the robbery. I realize that I was extremely lucky to start with, to even have something worth stealing. Although it was annoying to get robbed of such a big amount of money considering the efforts and care I gave to save a few cents. At the same time, in my home country, it takes only 1 month and a half working full time at minimum wage to get back the money I lost.

Of course, I could have done a lot with such an amount. Of course, it’s annoying when you think of all the efforts I made to save that amount. But when you think about people from other countries, where the minimum wage is 1$ (when there is one), or their currency is 1000 times lower than most western countries, or refugees and new immigrants who risk their lives and lose everything, just to get to a situation I was born in, it seems like a very small price to pay.

How getting robbed was a good thing

Still, loosing everything led me to a turning point. It forced me to stop and think: what am I doing? Why am I doing it?

From the beginning of my trip, my philosophy was to expect to lose everything. My best advice for packing is to only bring things you won’t mind not bringing back. That goes for clothes, books, jewelry and anything with sentimental attachments. Of course, I did not follow that rule very well myself and I ended up losing many things I wished (and was planning to) send back.

On the bright side, it means that I lost all the extra clothes and stuff I didn’t really need. It also means that I was able to only get what I really need: 4 shirts, 1 pair of pants, and 1 pair of soft pants to use as pyjama and to wear as an extra layer underneath your pants. Although underwear is what you need the most of, I also realized that it’s much better to have a small amount (4-5) and wash them daily instead of constantly carrying a bag of dirty underwear. Same goes for socks (although they are much more of a pain to wash by hand, please share your tricks if you have any!).

Considering that I didn’t have much money left, I also had to be creative in order to equip myself again. Losing my backpack itself was also a though one, because getting stuff back also meant that I needed a backpack to carry them. A few days after arriving in Seborga, I found a few pieces of clothes and a bag, covered in mud and not so ‘’prêt à porter’’. Lilian had no use for them, and after washing them, I ended up with a beautiful new beige bag and an original shirt- for free! As I said earlier, I had the great luck of finding an amazing host, who brought me to the local market in Bordighera, where I found clothes for less than 2$ a piece, including warm sweaters and jeans. That also means that, if I happen to lose my things again, not only did they cost very little, but they also have no emotional attachment. It also means that if I feel like some piece of clothes have become useless, I can just give them away. Oh, the feeling of freedom.

Getting robbed was a great lesson. It taught me that there are much worst things in life, and that, although we learned to fear it, it is far from being the end of the world. This being said, I know that I am able to say this because of my privileges. Getting robbed was also a great lesson about privileges. Not only did my privileges allow me to have what I had and be where I was (passport privileges), they also allowed me to remain there, and be able to get some of what I had back. Let me explain.

If I was not a privileged white Canadian, travelling in itself would be much harder, or even impossible. We have the incredible luck of not having to pay for extremely expensive visas for the great majority of countries, and crossing borders is insanely easy for us. Another major point is that our bureaucracy is quite simple- and reliable, and we have access to Canadian embassies almost anywhere in the world. This implies being able to re-do our passports in a day. One day, without needing to go back home. Another amazing privilege not everyone has, although we tend to forget. Our currency, although one of the lowest of the richest, is very strong and allows us to travel to most place on a low budget. If it was not for the politics that make our lives easier and guarantee us a minimal wage, social security and the government’s scholarships and grants, I would not have been able to leave in the first place.

In the end, the savings I lost are equal to what I pay to be able to study for 6 months in Québec, so why should we be any more outraged? Because I get something in exchange when I pay my school fees? Because it’s ‘’not fair’’? I don’t know who stole our backpacks and what their situation is, but I am sure that my life is much more ‘’fair’’. How easily I was able to overcome this just shows how unfair life is, in our advantage. Realizing how, although I am not the richest and I do live on a very strict budget, I am able to get, and spend, such amounts made me quite in peace with this event.

How could I complain? At the end of the day, almost all I had is replaceable and I still consider myself lucky to say that, in almost a year of travelling, hitchhiking, wild camping and sleeping in strangers’ homes, the worst that happened was losing all my material stuff (except my camera and memory card, thankfully). No matter if you don’t have money, you can meet amazing people and travel with hitchhiking, sleep with couchsurfing or just with the people you meet. There are a million ways to get by.

What I can say is, it’s really not as bad as you think. If loosing everything can’t stop you, what can?

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