How To Fight Crime With Crap

MikeachimTravel13 Comments

My rucksack top is open. I didn’t leave it that way, so…someone else has.

They’ve pulled my bag under the chair I’ve been sitting on, and they’ve opened it. Mere curiosity? Alas – my travel wallet is gone, along with my passport, EastJet boarding pass and credit cards.

I slump against a wall. I have 5 hours before my plane leaves.

Ah, travel.

This isn’t about how I ran around Düsseldorf for 5 hours like a hyper-caffeinated Forrest Gump. This isn’t about how I made it onto that plane with minutes to spare and at least 10 years taken off my life. This isn’t about fury, self-recrimination or getting back home at 4am and falling asleep face-down on the stairs. That’s for another time.

This is about how the thief missed my camera.

See, I have a new camera. Or…”new” isn’t the word. A better one is “craptastic”. It’s a Panasonic Lumix, one of those fancy new things you can slip into your pocket. My last camera required two hands and a knee to lift it to your eye. If you wanted to change the exposure, you carefully unscrewed the back, took the film out and put it into a new camera. It was that kind of camera.

But then it died. And I needed a new one. I needed a photon-bucket that wouldn’t require a friend to help with the focus. I needed something portable, practical, technologically advanced and stupendously idiot-friendly. A friend pointed me at the bottom end of the Lumix market. It arrived a week later. I’d steeled myself – but I wasn’t ready for the scratched, scuffed, sad little item that tumbled out of the parcel addressed to me. To a geek like me, a lover of shiny things, it looked more than disappointing. It looked awful. My heart sank…

…and my brain said “that looks perfect”.

I grabbed a sharp knife and started scraping more of the paint off it.

Last year, Shannon O’Donnell ‘fessed up her best MacGyver-style travel tricks. Want to secure your belonging to the chair you’re sitting on? Always carry a carabiner clip. Hole in your pants and a sudden need to eject your iPhone’s Sim card? A sewing needle is just the ticket. And so on.

But the piece of advice that sunk deepest into me is the quirkiest, and it’s this: look like crap.

I don’t mean to suggest Shannon habitually looks anything less than elegant, of course, or that she’s suggesting the next generation of travellers lurch round the world looking like extras from The Walking Dead. What she means is that if you have valuables, it’s a really great idea to make them look less than worthless – literally, “less than”. A really stupid, burdensome thing to steal. Turn them into visual embarrassments. Crappify them to high heaven. Or in my case, buy them second-hand in the worst state available, and then worsen them.

There are two ways to crappify: you can either deface, or you can fake. The latter case is wise if you can see yourself selling it on the way to a better model – for example, Shannon suggests wrapping duct-tape round your SLR to make it look sketchy. You could use cream tape and write things on it that would scare off any normal human being, such as “Property of the FBI” or “I’m a Belieber“. And if you never plan to sell your precious equipment on – why not make it something *nobody* can sell on? Who steals useless-looking junk?

When I was robbed, I was working on my laptop. My camera’s memory card was in my plugged-in card reader, but I’d popped the camera body back into my rucksack…which was just as stupid a move as putting my travel wallet in there. However, thanks to that enthusiastic cosmetic vandalism on my part, my camera looked like it was broken – and the thief passed it by. Coincidence? Perhaps – but it was a minor blessing on a very bad day, and so I’m regarding it as a valuable lesson with wider implications…

So if you meet me somewhere in the world, and you’re immediately rendered rigid with horror at my dreadful, truly appalling fashion sense, don’t worry – it’s deliberate.

I’m actually trying to avoid being stolen.

Just so you know.

(This article appears in the June/July ’12 edition of Wild Junket magazine – reprinted here with kind permission from Nellie Huang). 

Images: Mike Sowden & Eran Finkle.