Travel with an ugly-looking bag. Status symbol does nothing for you when it’s in a thief’s hands.

The importance of this travel tip dawned on me while in Costa Rica, on a bus, and heading from San Jose to the Vegas-like streets of Playa Jaco. Cheap and without working air conditioning; the bus proved to be a great way to save money, get around, and even fulfill a bit of what’s called the Human Safari component (more on that in a future article) without needing a gun or a tetanus booster.

The San Jose-Jaco route had another stop along the way. When we’d arrive, about half of the bus would shamble out and the driver would soon be doubling as the bag boy. One afternoon, at this mid-route stop, I watched all the bags come out in the usual fashion. I had only a backpack, tucked between my legs and half-open to allow painless retrievals of almonds or headphones.

Back in San Jose, while in line, there was a local girl in front of me who had a neon yellow suitcase. She had clearly said “Haco” to the driver who was at the time showing the third face of his dutiful trinity as the bus’s ticket-collector. She’d handed him that yellow monstrosity of a suitcase and boarded.

Now, nowhere close to Jaco, I looked down at her property. It was outside the buswith about two dozen other bags. The driver had off-loaded everything. Costa Ricans and gringos alike were picking through it all, and with no real way of clarifying whose stuff was actually whose other than who grabbed what first. Myself, the girl, and all the other Jaco-bounds were still seated inside, most unable to see their belongings on the ground.

What I refer to as the “Costa Bus Flaw” is a common thing you’ll run into. Many times you’ll be momentarily separated from your bag—a good number of these moments, other people will have some sort of access to it. An ugly-looking bag is the insect disguising itself as a leaf. Make them think you’re poor. Travel incessantly and you will be anyway. An ugly-looking bag is good for people seeing you in general but absolutely great for the moments where you may not have supervision over it.

Or look at it this way, if someone has to get their shit stolen—let it be the other guy. This is the law of the jungle we’re talking about here. The Gucci gear that one loudmouth prick brought will get swiped before your puke green satchel even receives a mildly molesting fondle.

Then let’s say you take your shitty-looking bag to a place like the beach. What happens when you want to head into the water for a bit? Unless you have some robust type of floaty or a good waterproof bag—your stuff will stay on the sand.

Beaches are notorious for scumbaggery—and not always in the glorious way.

Pick-pockets comb the sands as much as seagulls and ill-natured crabs. Travel Tip #5.5: If you need to go somewhere for a bit, leave your bag by a nuclear family. This has worked all over the world: pick a family where you could possibly pass as one of their wayward cousins, approach asking “Heyyy, so I’m hoping to hop in for a few. Mind if I leave this here?”

Watch them smile when they realize you are trusting them without really knowing them. This creates a sort of ethical incentive on their part—now hit the water and peer through your Oakleys at every ass in sight! Rest assured, nuclear families are super-low risk for being thieves themselves and the real thieves will assume your bag is theirs.

When you’re done tanning, reading Eat Pray Love or whatever, or just perving out because thongs are just one way the surrounding culture expresses their lax views on public nudity, have the taxi drop you off near your hostel—not right in front. But we’ll get to that, and why, in the next one.


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David Rose (AKA Mr. Blonde)
David Rose is the author of No Joy, From Sand and Time, and Mulgara: The Necromancer’s Will. He holds a postgraduate degree in applied uselessness—a.k.a. philosophy—from the London School of Economics. He lives all over the place.