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.
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.