Warning: Long-term travel may cause heart attacks…well, almost.

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Last Updated on September 13, 2012

Life as digital nomads can sound glamorous and carefree, and to a certain extent, it really is. Working for yourself and taking back the power to make every decision in your life from your daily work schedule to what country you will sleep in next week certainly liberates the soul.

But there is a dark side to this lifestyle, and sometimes I feel we GlobetrotterGirls might suffer an extreme form of this affliction, known, to us at least, as the “near heart attack”. The onset comes after a seemingly innocent question regarding the location of a particular item. The result is blind panic, cold sweat, shortness of breath, total energy drain and sometimes total embarrassment. We must look ridiculous, on the street, in restaurants or wherever this hysteria finds us, two seemingly normal women, patting ourselves down, appearing in total panic and muttering to ourselves as we retrace our last steps.

The standard heart attack-inducing conversation goes:

Where’s the wallet, honey?
I thought you had it?
No, don’t you?

(Look of utter panic now on both our faces)
But I, no…wait…you…
Wait, where did we use it last?

Cue frantically and dramatically throwing belongings out of our bags, stuttering, perhaps some shouting in the middle of the street.
Oh, wait, I found it.
Are you serious?! Where was it?
Right here, in my bag.

Sheepish looks exchanged, hearts pounding as color returns to our faces.
I need to sit down.
Me too, let’s get a coffee.

With no permanent address, item replacement is a pain

Minivan with our packs in Guatemala
All our belongings ‘safe’ on top of a mini-van in Guatemala. Not attached at all while driving.

We might seem like drama queens here, and we’ll be the first to admit that individually, we both are. Put us together and we are a proverbial panic powder keg waiting for a tiny spark. But there is some validity to our freakouts, as I am sure any long term traveler will agree. Digital nomads are minimalists by design, carrying belongings for years that others may pack for a weekend escape. We diligently pack exactly what we need and every item serves a purpose. This means that almost everything (save for toiletries and most clothes) are an absolute pain to replace.

We risk losing our belongings in transport and through left, but the worst are incidents with lost or stolen credit cards while traveling. This turns into an excruciating experience. First, the freak out that the account will be drained, the travels are over and oh my god, we’ll have no money, we’ll have to get office jobs to pay back charges. Irrational, but a real fear nonetheless. Then there are the countless phone calls with banks, answering a slew of security questions, explaining the situation, making the decision whether or not to cancel the card. But with no real permanent address, where will the next card be delivered to and how to get your irresponsible mitts on it? If halfway across the world, you wake up at odd hours to make very important phone calls whose success depends solely on whether Skype has a good connection today or not.

SD card case
Keeping SD cards loosely in jacket pockets wasn’t such a good idea, so we bought this little bag in Mexico. Perfect!

We have actually lost something…once

Only one time have we actually lost something of value. Early in on our travels, we somehow misplaced an SD card with hundreds of images from what is still one of our most picturesque times – Up and down the Pacific Coast Highway, countless beaches, and wandering through the streets of Los Angeles. This included Hollywood, West Hollywood, Santa Monica and gems from the neighborhood we stayed in filled with gorgeously groomed homes and other off the beaten path images of the City of Angels. We learned an important lesson after that on how to keep our things safe (online storage and backing up daily), but the feeling of loss certainly instilled in us a deep fear of losing anything again.

OMG! The DSRL camera got stolen!

Just a few weeks later, in San Francisco, starving after a long day of sightseeing (including phenomenal street art), we slumped into seats of a diner ready to pig out, then, eyeing the prices, quickly made our escape before ordering. We headed to a sub shop across the street and placed our order before the inevitable conversation began.

dani & her camera
Dani with her beloved Canon DSLR camera.

Where’s my camera?
What? It was around your neck!
Did somebody cut the strap?!
Where’s the last place we had it?
The Diner…

Go Go Gooo!

She takes off running while I play it cool for the sub girl (or sandwich stylist) waiting for our order and quietly crying inside. Not 30 seconds later, Dani comes toward me clutching her camera, grinning ear to ear.

It was still on the seat. Right where I put it, she says, strangely proud.
It’s pain down my left side that means it’s a heart attack, right?
I ask, half sarcastically.
Number 7…your order’s up
..says the sub girl.

We’re not even hungry anymore.

Our most embarrassing near heart attack moment ever

Throughout the trip we have experienced these freak-outs on a regular basis, but it was actually just recently in Lisbon that we experienced the most extreme near heart attack ever…

The day had started as any other June day does in Lisbon. The sun was shining and the mercury was rising, so we escaped our non-air-conditioned room and went into the city to work at a cool cafe for the day. We found a very comfortable Starbucks where espressos cost less than $1, and as the cafe is connected to a train station on one side and a five-star hotel on the other, the people watching is priceless. In fact, after just a few minutes here we decide we love this Starbucks and that we want to come work here more often during our three-week stay in Lisbon.

Five hours later we would be leaving that very Starbucks quickly with our heads hanging in shame, never to return again.

Hungry after four hours diligently pounding on our keyboards, we decided to run to the grocery store before heading home for the afternoon. We zip through the store picking up basic salad/sandwich essentials and, as we’re in line at the check out, I notice my backpack feels really light. Too light.

Did you pack my laptop when we left Starbucks? I ask. (I had run to the bathroom before we left, Dani had met me with the bags outside).
Didn’t you?! Dani sort of shrieks.

Before I have time to even think, Dani hurls the peppers and bread she is holding to the floor, pushes past the people in the checkout line and takes off at full sprint down the 500m to Starbucks.  A little dazed, my reaction time is slower but before I know it I am slipping after her down the tile sidewalk in sweaty flip flops. A group of shady street characters, still cheering and hootin’ from the scene Dani just made speeding by, turn their hollerin’ on to me as I rock past. I know Dani is in front of me but she is nowhere in sight. By the time I get in to Starbucks, I see she has already nearly roughed up the poor souls who had sat in our seats and has launched a soulful cry-whine on the friendly bilingual barrista, who, when I get to them, is suggesting we go to the police, as there is really nothing they can do.

The police? The police won’t bring back all my work. I’m on deadline for an article and…I…

My whiny whimper trails off and, as heads from all angles turn and lock on us, I tug at the zipper on the backpack. I don’t even have to open it all the way before I realize the netbook was there the whole time.

Before Dani’s gulping of air turns into a dramatic howl, I look at her and manage to growl:

Dani. Outside. Now.

Seeing the sense of relief and embarrassment that has replaced the blind panic on my face, her shoulders sink and she silently follows as we leave the building and never look back. I didn’t even have to tell her I had the computer, she knew. She knew that we gone in to hysteric overdrive, stressed from deadlines and the thought of losing all that work. We hugged and maybe even cried, although that may have been at the thought of never visiting our favorite Lisbon cafe again. Note: our Asus Eee PC Netbooks are actually so light I didn’t feel mine in my bag. At the time, this was no consolation for our utter embarrassment.

The above scenario is by far the nearest we have come to a heart attack on the trip so far, but even the split second freak-outs add up to take their toll.

If there is one thing we’ve learned while on the road…it’s that long-term travel certainly isn’t for the faint of heart.

Globetrottergirls @ work

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Tags : lisbonLos AngelesTravel Mishaps


    1. Jade – travel insurance for your equipment is not a bad idea at all!! We were lucky enough not having to use ours for a stolen netbook / camera, etc. Fingers crossed that we won’t need it anytime soon. When are you starting your backpacking trip?

  1. I couldn’t stop laughing as I read this, because the once I witnessed is not on here. Remember when we arrived to that crappy crappy hostel in Boce Del Toro and we thought someone took your small backpack… oh man and the both of you start panicking and almost crying… ahhh priceless then we found it… after we had called the hostel lady…lol!!! Ahh good times…

    Sometimes I do freak out that I have lost my wallet, but realized I put it in another pocket or something. I think we panic so much because we know how hard it is to replace stuff on the road.

    1. OMG, we both had TOTALLY blocked that ‘incident’ out!!! Man, that was embarrassing *blush*… but the backpack was gone, you witnessed it!! Still want to know which idiot put it on that bunk bed. 😀 P.S. Get ready for some more drama when we travel together again!!

  2. OMG Ladies how can you live like this?!

    I know that it is easy to panic about stuff when you are on the road, as even stuff that at home you’d consider ‘little things’ are a big deal on the road, for the reasons you have pointed out.

    But still, wow!

    Thanks for the jolly retelling of your tale (things always look better afterwards -hey?!)

  3. This is hilarious and so true! That last story is classic. I don’t think we’ve had any freak outs quite that bad, but Simon (who carries the wallet & ipod touch) is always thinking he’s lost something and panicking. It’s got to the stage when I don’t believe him anymore.

    1. Haha, good to know that we’re not the only ones who freak out occasionally… okay, every day. Every single day. It is exhausting 😉

  4. What an enjoyable post! The laptop story is a hoot. I’m just getting over a mini-heart attack after leaving my wallet at a vendor booth at a festival in WV. I was 15 miles away when I realized my plight. Don’t you know when I got there, the wallet was still on the countertop. I couldn’t believe my luck. The rest of the day was oh so sweet.

    1. Ross, how lucky are you!! Awesome that your wallet was still there. I felt the same when I saw my camera still sitting on the bench in that San Fran diner. Lucky us 🙂

  5. Loved this post! It is a reminder of how we all can panic sometimes for no real reason! I know my husband, not me, does it at home frequently and I can only imagine how stressful it must be in a country whose language you are not totally versed in!

  6. This post is well written and so easy to relate to! I’ve misplaced stuff while traveling, and have miniature heart attacks too! I lost my credit card during dinner, ran all the way back to my cabin and proceeded to tear the place apart. After I didn’t find it, I returned to my dinner table crying inside, only to realize that the card was under my chair! Ahhh…Good times 😉

    1. Jodi – I laughed out loud when I read your story! So glad to hear that we are not the only ones out there who overreact sometimes… 😉

  7. I got anxious just reading this lol! I freak out really easily too and sometimes things can be right in front of my nose and I’ll be frantically searching for them, tearing my hair out. Having said that I do that when I’m at home, so even if I have to experience this every now and then on the road, I’d still rather be travelling! 🙂

    1. Hi Julia, so glad to hear you know what we’re talking about! I hope that you won’t have as many freak-outs as we do once you hit the road. It is really tiring 😉

  8. Ha! In just one evening in May in Mexico City both myself and a friend I was travelling with managed to leave our visa travel cards with separate ATMs… Good times of tense & frustrating Skype phone calls to 24hr customer service followed and we both thanked the bank for the pre-issued backup cards.
    Meanwhile, many many calls later & I still haven’t managed to get a proof-of-purchase receipt from my Oz phone provider for the iPhone I ‘lost’ in London in June. Organising this for insurance purposes is proving to be quite difficult whilst roadtripping through Europe :-/

    1. Pre-issued back-up cards – that is very smart!! Didn’t even know that you can do that. Definitely makes things easier, but like you say with the iPhone – dealing with losing something and trying to get it covered by your insurance is just such a pain.

  9. Jess, this is completely true!! I try to be super organized when it comes to travel and planning and often it just doesn’t pan out according to plan. Thankfully I haven’t lost a big DSLR camera — that would completely freak me out — but little snafus like leaving umbrellas in the car, or a CREDIT CARD in INDIA behind (luckily no damage done)–eeks. Been there! Kudos to you for traveling around the world. That’s my dream too! Been to 15 countries and counting…hoping to make it at least 20 by next year. Looking forward to reading your blog more.

    1. Hi Charu, thanks for your comment! We were much more organized when we started to travel, but somehow we are getting worse and worse with every week, it seems 😉

  10. Oh yes, the miniheart attacks – we’ve already had one involving passports, and wallets… and my laptop as well.

    Good lord ladies – I understand!

    1. As long as they are only ‘near’ heart attacks it’s okay – hopefully we will not experience the real loss of a laptop or camera or something similar 😉

    1. I am so glad we’re not the only ones going through that every day 😉 We’re ready for Savannah, for the heat, humidity, the South!! Very excited for our U.S. road trip and especially Savannah!!

  11. I do this ALL THE TIME except the difference is my boyfriend stands there with a total blank face while I paw through my bag like a squirrel, always finding what I thought was lost.

    I sometimes miss the carefree days when the most valuable thing I traveled with was a cell phone!

  12. Loved this post! It’s really the truth, isn’t it? I’ve almost faced every situation you’ve described over the course of 6 being abroad. Those moments of panic are frustrating beyond belief but make for funny stories often later on.

    1. Thanks Samuel! It’s very true – we can laugh about it now, but in the moments of our freak-outs we felt more like crying 😉

  13. I am picturing this scene in my head and am cracking up on my couch. So funny! I have had multiple near heart attacks, the most recent being when I was sure that I had left my wallet in the backseat of a cab in Leon, Nicaragua about 5 minutes after exiting the cab. Upon this “realization” I immediately threw my belongings to the ground so that I could frantically paw through them, all the while muttering universal four letter words. The whole time, a nice Nicaraguan grandmother was watching the whole scene. I of course, found said wallet within 30 seconds, but my elevated heart rate lasted for approximately 10 minutes.

    1. Thanks for sharing your ‘near heart attack’ story, I laughed so hard. I am glad that now, looking back, we can laugh about all these moments, but right there & then we just felt like IDIOTS 😉

  14. Haha, totally funny because it happens all the time. you have to remember to stay calm, which is almost impossible when you think something is wrong, especially like losing your wallet.

    1. Jade – we have been trying to stay calm about it, but for some reason we both tend to freak out easily 😀 For some reason it is getting worse the longer we travel 😉

    1. That’s such a good point – I don’t even want to imagine how it would be to travel without the internet!! We are depending way too much on it now.

  15. This one had Sam and I in stitches. Can really relate to your near heart attack scenarios, we’ve had a couple embarrassing ones ourselves! Really enjoyed this post.

    1. Haha, thanks Sarah – glad you enjoyed it. Letting this out in a post was really helpful, actually, and has taught me (just me, I’m afraid) not to freak out as much. There are still a ton of minor ones, but I at least always check my bag first before I assume my laptop has been stolen 🙂

  16. We are departing in just 3.5 short weeks and I am curious after going over many blog posts, where do you keep your packs while you are out on excursions? Do you use any locks?

    1. We don’t use locks oftren, but that’s because we usually stay in private rooms – we just lock the room and hope our stuff is safe in there 😀 In the rare occasions that we stayed in dorm rooms, we used the lockers – locks are definitely useful if you plan on staying in dorm rooms. We don’t need them often, but every once in a while. I also usually lock up the zippers of my backpack when we take overnight buses and the packs are stored down below.

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