Half a croissant, on a plate, with a sign in front of it saying '50c'
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Travel Safe

To appeal to thieves with a conscience
  (+9)(+9)
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A few times each year I get the urge to jump in the car and head south for mainland Europe for a couple of weeks, and - being a man of relatively early years - my route usually takes me through what older tourists may describe as the 'seedy underbelly' of the continent: grimy hostels, dimly lit bars and so on.

While my bizarre preference for hostels over hotels offers me the chance to meet any number of interesting people, it also lands me in the crosshairs of every mugger and petty thief Europe has to offer - just last month my travelling partner was knocked out and robbed on one of our trips after taking a poorly judged drunken short cut through an alley, and I've lost count of the number of times things have 'gone missing' from my pockets, my bags or my car.

Most of the time this isn't too much of a worry. The loss of a camera, mobile phone or a little money is just one of those unfortunate things you have to allow for when you do the kind of travelling I do, and most hostellers wear their tales of misadventure like badges of honour - you're not a real traveller until you've spent a day in an Barcelona police station trying to describe a robbery in broken Spanish.

Unfortunately, muggers and thieves tend to be quite indiscriminate in their pickings - they'll happily grab your bag, take what they want and dump the rest in a bin around the corner. The problem, then, is not that you've had your camera and your wallet stolen - if you have any sense your camera is insured, and you'll cancel your credit cards before the thieves can have any fun with them. No, the problem is the loss of all those little things that can't be replaced - contact details of the people you've met along the way, keepsakes you've picked up on your travels and all sorts of little things that have no real economic value to anyone else but infinite sentimental value to you. As a hoarder of trinkets and drunkenly collected email addresses I'm terrified of losing these things.

The idea:

A box, roughly the size of a hardback book, in which to store those worthless but personally priceless things. The box is brightly coloured to be easily noticeable, and is covered with a material that does not retain fingerprints well.

On the top of the box is a clear plastic cover, under which a card can be slotted carrying your home address and sufficient postage to deliver it there from your holiday destination. The card also carries an explanation as to the personal, sentimental value of the contents and a request (in whatever language is prevalent at your holiday location) to please drop the box into a postbox.

Most importantly, the box does not have a lock. It is vital that the thief (or whoever finds it after the thief has discarded it) can access the contents without breaking open the box to check that it really doesn't contain anything of value.

In the event of your bag being snatched the chances are good that most of its contents will end up being discarded. Perhaps the thief himself (who, I assume, has robbed you for financial gain rather than simply because he is a dick) may drop the box in the post in an attempt to make amends in some way for his sins (again, he probably doesn't *enjoy* robbing you, and though he'll still do it there's a chance he may feel a little remorse).

More likely, though, is that a passerby will spot the brightly coloured case once it has been discarded and might take the time to post it back to you. This sort of goodwill isn't beyond the bounds of possibility - when my travelling partner's camera, wallet and phone were stolen last month I received a phone call at 4AM from whoever found the discarded phone (it wasn't worth much). He had evidently found the phone on the street, searched the recent calls list and, finding my number at the top of the list, called me to try to reunite the phone with its owner.

If only I could have understood a word he was saying we might just have gotten it back. Debo aprender español.

sambwiches, Sep 29 2008

Photo Safe Photo_20Safe
A related idea for holiday snaps [sambwiches, Sep 30 2008]

[link]






       A brilliant solution.
Voice, Sep 29 2008
  

       most humbly suggest difficult to open without a key, but transparent on at least one of the major faces.
FlyingToaster, Sep 30 2008
  

       Great idea (+). I would bun just to reward the idea of the trips you take and I used to take. I racked my brain for a solution such as this when I lost my digital camera at the end of a trip. Loosing the camera was annoying, but loosing the pictures was crushing. Got any ideas to get them to keep the camera but mail me the card.
MisterQED, Sep 30 2008
  

       //Got any ideas to get them to keep the camera but mail me the card.//   

       I was going to mention a memory card as a good item to keep in the box, but the problem is that - even though the cost of memory has come down enormously in recent years - cards can still be wiped and reused so they'd probably be kept by the thief. Saying that, it gives me an idea for another thing. Watch this space....   

       Update: Photo Safe [link]   

       //but transparent on at least one of the major faces.//   

       The problem with that is that a thief might assume that you've hidden a wad of traveller's cheques underneath all the seemingly worthless stuff visible in the box, and might be tempted to just crack it open on a rock to make sure. Plus a transparent face would make the box that much less noticeable to passersby once it's been discarded in a bush or whatever.
sambwiches, Sep 30 2008
  

       // roughly the size of a hardback book / brightly coloured / clear plastic cover //   

       A VHS video cassette case would be perfect.
BunsenHoneydew, Oct 05 2008
  

       whats to stop me putting the valuable things the thief wants in there? once they realise this, end of the system!
williamsmatt, Oct 05 2008
  

       //whats to stop me putting the valuable things the thief wants in there? once they realise this, end of the system!//   

       Hence the lack of a locking mechanism. It's vital that the thief can access the contents - without having to break the box open - to check that it contains nothing of value to him.
sambwiches, Oct 05 2008
  
      
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