Survival Kit for an Airhead?
October 30, 2015 11:24 AM   Subscribe

I lost my purse while out shopping and realized that pretty much, my whole life is contained in my purse. If I hadn't found it, I really don't know what I would have/could have done next. I need tips, and tricks for what to do should this happen to me again. If you have ever done the same and have any anecdotes to share, it would be much appreciated.

To set the scene, I was looking for a Halloween costume in a very large thrift store, wandering up and down the aisles, picking out potential items for a Halloween costume. I found a jacket that I wanted to quickly try on, so I set down the other things I had draped over my arms, including my purse.

Somehow in the process of picking up the clothes I set down, I overlooked my purse. I continued on with my shopping. Much more wandering up and down aisles ensued. I finally decided on an ensemble and headed toward the checkout area. It was at that point that I realized I only had clothes in my arms, and no longer had my purse.

Panic started to set in.

I did a walk around the store and didn't see my purse. I vaguely recalled setting it down at some point, but didn't know where. I decided to ask a worker if anyone had turned in my purse. Negative.

More panic.

I decided to do a more thorough search, but as I did so, several things occurred to me:

In my purse, are
- my car keys AND my only spare set of car keys.
- my house keys
- my smart phone, containing my only connection to contacting anyone who could help.
--- I don't have any phone numbers memorized...because they are all stored in my smart phone

I'm in a store filled with strangers who easily could have found my purse and walked out the door with it. And while I could ask someone to call the police and file a report, then what? I still wouldn't have a way to call anyone for assistance. No one I know has a landline and to my knowledge, there isn't a way to look up someone's cell phone number. My stop at the thrift store was impromptu, and no one knew where I was, so they wouldn't know to look for me. I was in the middle of an urban setting, but still felt very, very lost.

The good news is, after some careful searching, I found my purse caught on a hanger. Deep sigh of relief.

But the thing is, I know myself, and I'm bound to do something like this again. What should I do, how should I prepare, in the likelihood this happens again? (Other than say, tattooing important phone numbers on my arm?) Has anyone been in this kind of situation, and if so, how was it resolved? What did you learn from it?

posted by BeBoth to Grab Bag (31 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
I have a spare set of house and car keys at my office. Two neighbors have a spare set of housekeys, as well as my brother and my parents.

I've memorized my parents, brother's and friends' phone numbers.

I have some money hidden in my office, with one of the friends above, and one other useful place. I have a spare credit card at work.

I also have the iphone finder app enabled on both my phones.

Also, before I had people's phone numbers, I once called my office and asked the receptionist to go to my desk and read me the number listed on my father's business card, which I'd pinned to a wall.
posted by punchtothehead at 11:33 AM on October 30, 2015 [2 favorites]

If you can keep your phone on you - in a pocket or something - one of these gadgets might help.
posted by bendy at 11:33 AM on October 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

The first strategy for this is to never, ever "set down" your purse in a public place. Forget losing it or forgetting about it, it could get stolen! I carry a small cross-body purse for this very reason. If I go somewhere I really think I'll be tempted to set it down or that it might slip off my shoulder without me noticing (or someone could snatch it right off my arm), I'll wear it across my body so that it's secure.

Other things:

1. Why do you have two sets of your keys in your purse? Keep the spare somewhere useful, not in the same place as the first set.

2. I generally carry my smartphone in my pocket and not in my purse unless I'm wearing something with no pockets. This lessens the total risk of something happening to my purse, and (the real reason I do it) I'm more likely to actually notice if I get a call or text. You may also want to get insurance on your phone and remember to back it up to the cloud/your computer periodically.

3. Re your wallet, money, ID, etc. there is really nothing for it besides just not setting down your purse. You may want to look into a stash of emergency cash at home or a way to get emergency cash in a situation where your purse gets stolen, but you're going to want to cancel all your cards in the event of something like that anyway, so it's a bit of a wash. Most banks can cancel and reissue cards quite quickly, though, and allow you to take out a withdrawal without having your card on your person.
posted by Sara C. at 11:34 AM on October 30, 2015 [7 favorites]

Best answer: 1.) memorize the most used phone number of the main local person you are mostly likely to call in this kind of emergency - i used to sing people's numbers to the song '8675309' in my head over and over and it worked really well. give that person a key to your place and the spare key to your car.
2.) get a safe deposit box. make photocopies of the front and back of your id, car insurance/registration, all your debit/credit cards, and anything important that you keep in your wallet. write down the serial/IMEI number of your phone, in the event you lose it and have to cancel it (i have heard varying reports about having to provide these for cancellation.) put those in the box and keep the key in your home in a safe place that you will not forget about.
3.) every once in a while, i take an quick inventory of what's in my purse. and sometimes i take photos, which back up to apple's icloud. in case i lose something important, i know what it was.
posted by koroshiya at 11:35 AM on October 30, 2015

Get a small purse with a cross-body strap so you don't ever have to put it down when shopping.

Pick two friends who would be willing to bail you out in this situation and memorize their phone numbers. Take the time to memorize it. If you can convert it to letters on the dial that make sense it will be easier to remember. Then, dial their numbers by hand every time you call until you are 100% confident that you can remember the number. Alternatively, for one of the people if, say your parents still live in the home you grew up in, (and you have this kind of relationship with them) give them a list of emergency phone numbers so you can call them and they can help call others.

If you have an iPhone, there will be a back up on your contact list in the cloud, you just need access to a browser. Backing up your address book to Dropbox might provide a similar function. Find my iPhone can also help find your purse if the two of them are together.

Hide a spare key to your house (or give it someone nearby who is likely to be home) so if you lose your keys and you can get a ride home, you can get into the house.

You can hide a spare car on the car but that never felt secure to me, so I don't do that one.
posted by metahawk at 11:36 AM on October 30, 2015

Also, I keep a copy of all my credit card numbers plus the number to call if lost or stolen in my secure password software (I use 1Password) so if I have access to my phone, iPad or laptop, I'm good. (i don't keep that in the cloud - makes me too nervous but I know others do since it is strongly encrypted)
posted by metahawk at 11:38 AM on October 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

Oh, and also, why memorize important numbers when you could send yourself an email with them, or even just keep them in your email contacts? Hell, you could write a few important numbers on a post-it and keep it in your car, your office, on your fridge, etc.

Being an active social media user also helps with this, as a PM on Facebook is about as useful and speedy as a text message these days, anyway.

The number to call to cancel your cards, etc, is usually easily googled. In my experience you do not need the card number in order to deal with this, your name and identifying/security info is usually plenty.
posted by Sara C. at 11:38 AM on October 30, 2015 [2 favorites]

OK, here's a minimal solution to your problem:

* keep at least one credit/debit card and at least $100-200 of cash at home.
* keep a hide-a-key or similar at home so you can't lock yourself out
* keep your extra car keys at home

Now you can call a cab (someone at the thrift store would have let you call a cab, and might even have had the number handy) and get home, and take the cab back to your car. At least you have a car and some money and a credit card now.
posted by mskyle at 11:38 AM on October 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

I have a written list at home in a drawer called "Items In Wallet," with any relevant details (such as phone numbers on the cards, account numbers, etc.). It's all fine and good to have your credit card info stashed somewhere, but I have all sorts of useful other things in there that I might only use a few times a year, and therefore would forget about replacing completely until I really needed them.
posted by something something at 11:44 AM on October 30, 2015 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I use Google Contacts as my Contact Bible so that stuff isn't lost if something happens to my phone.

I have spare keys stashed with a few different friends (I don't feel like I can leave my keys stashed outside my house for various reasons).

Keep a password protected file on dropbox that has important information in it so that you can access that from a desktop or tablet if you need to.
posted by Medieval Maven at 11:44 AM on October 30, 2015

Best answer: Lookout is one of the most useful apps for any smartphone user, imo. It can keep a backup of your contacts, photos, and call history if you, like me, are squeamish about storing all of that information in your Google account. It can help you find your missing device via a terrifyingly loud audible alarm -- they actually call it a "scream," and it's especially helpful if you're prone to misplacing your phone at home, which I do at least once a day -- and even remotely wipe your data in case your phone gets stolen.

I also keep a copy of my driver's license, one $0 balance, high-limit credit card, and a spare set of keys at a very local (as in, they live a block away) friend's house, so I'll always have access to money, photo ID, my car, and my house even if I'm relieved of my usual "everyday carry" set, as long as I can get back to my neighborhood.
posted by divined by radio at 11:47 AM on October 30, 2015 [2 favorites]

Ensure your phone is locked, and if it's an Android phone, remember these words: Android Device Manager. Smartphones are so ubiquitous now that you could probably borrow a store staffer's for a moment, open an incognito tab, and have Google locate and ring your phone - even if the ringer is off, which is the advantage over simply calling yourself.
posted by unmake at 12:38 PM on October 30, 2015

This is "illegal", i think, but after a couple shitty experiences with it over the years(including really, really tiresome stuff like my wallet RANDOMLY TEARING on an edge just enough and letting stuff fall out subtly without me noticing, ugh) but go to the DMV/state office and say you lost your ID. Order a new one.

Now you have two IDs, and the old one doesn't have a hole punched in it like it would if you just got a new one to get a new photo, or because you got an endorsement on your drivers license, or whatever.

It amazes me that several people have been like OMG DON'T DO THAT!!1! because not having an ID makes it such a pain in the ass to fix the other problems. I'd rather have no credit/debit card and have to wait for the bank to open than no ID. Because getting a new credit/debit card without an ID(and without waiting 2 weeks for it to come in the mail or whatever) is a huge gigantic day ruining pain the ass. Even if someone at the bank knows you, and you can answer all the questions and provide all the stuff.

Another one i do is keep a spare entire-phone-kit. Cheapo smartphone(craigslist value: ~$50), unactivated SIM kit from my carrier which cost like $3, and a spare charger. If my phone is lost or stolen i can just head home, activate it, spend 10 minutes or so downloading all my contacts and shit and just go. I keep it ~75% charged because i've heard thats the best for storing batteries, and it also makes it easy to charge the rest of the way up while i sync all my stuff to it. I even preinstalled most of the apps i regularly use.

I left my phone in a cab and never got it back a few months ago and this was SUPER DUPER AWESOME. It turned it from something that would screw up my plans for the next few days to a minor inconvenience that just made a vague sucking sound. I missed my nicer phone, but i wasn't hosed.

As for the keys and stuff, keeping two copies of something in one place is not a backup. You need two copies in two different places. Work is a great place for this kind of stuff, but i also have spare keys and a few other things and my parents house(which is not far, i could even walk there. replace with family member/close friend who also isn't).

The biggest problems i've had in these situations were 1. contacting people and 2. transportation. I haven't come up with a good solution to either of these. You can hail a cab, but sometimes they're(semi understandably, and i say semi because of how much of assholes they've been right off the bat when i even asked) unwilling to wait outside while you run in to get money and want you pay right then, especially now that they all have card terminals in the back seat. Calling someone is also problematic even if you have someones number memorized. You probably don't have any coins, payphones are rare, and essentially no business will let you use their phone anymore. Ditto for random people at a transit stop, or something.

The past couple times i've ended up getting a computer, logging in to gmail, and using the free voice chat calling thing to call one of my parents phone numbers. I've also walked all the way to my office just to use the phone and get online(luckily it was business hours and i could just walk in without anything). That's not a bulletproof solution though, at all, and i'm working on a good answer to that.
posted by emptythought at 12:38 PM on October 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

If you don't want to get an additional license under false pretenses, you could also just get a passport. ID problems largely solved.
posted by mskyle at 12:47 PM on October 30, 2015 [5 favorites]

This is "illegal", i think, but after a couple shitty experiences with it over the years(including really, really tiresome stuff like my wallet RANDOMLY TEARING on an edge just enough and letting stuff fall out subtly without me noticing, ugh) but go to the DMV/state office and say you lost your ID. Order a new one.

My (non-illegal) alternative to this is to always have a valid passport on hand -- this actually came in very handy when I got my wallet stolen a couple of years ago, all credit cards and IDs lost, but was about to board a (domestic) flight home for Thanksgiving in a couple of days.

It's a bit of a pain and $$$ to apply for one if you've never had one, but they're valid for 10 years at a time, assuming you're 16 yo+, and I've never had a problem using them as ID.

About the only thing that passports don't do that DLs/state IDs do is serve as proof of address, but a passport coupled with some pieces of mail is usually sufficient proof and I'm a bit hard pressed anyhow to think of situations in this kind of emergency where you need proof of address ASAP. (I guess maybe if your DL/new ID is somehow sent to you via secure mail, but I don't think DMVs do that anyhow.)

Obviously normally, you keep the passport at home in a secure location and don't carry it with you!
posted by andrewesque at 12:49 PM on October 30, 2015 [2 favorites]

mskyle: If you don't want to get an additional license under false pretenses, you could also just get a passport. ID problems largely solved.

This is a good idea. It opens up travel possibilities. The last time I renewed mine, I also got a passport card, so that when I'm driving through Canada, I can leave the passport book at home and don't have to worry about losing that.
posted by brianogilvie at 12:50 PM on October 30, 2015 [5 favorites]

Everyone should have a passport as a second form of identity. I keep mine at home away from my wallet specifically for if I lose my driver license, and generally it lives with our spare car keys in the house in the (combo-lock) fire safe that is also our go-box in case of fire or earthquake or zombie apocalypse. There's also important papers in there, including a list of our critical phone numbers.

We also have a shared Google doc with all those phone numbers and the info about other boring but critical things like who our car insurance is with and the landlord's address.

We keep a spare house key in a lockbox at home, outside but not glaringly in view, where we could direct a friend/dogsitter/law enforcement in all manner of emergencies.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:00 PM on October 30, 2015

First all memorize at least one or two important numbers. That's vital. Maybe get into the habit of inputting those numbers manually when you use them.

I am also probe to losing things so I try not to keep all my eggs in one basket by keeping some stuff in my pockets instead of relying on my purse. In my purse I only keep non-essential stuff. Like my phone, I got a small phone that fits in my pocket and that's where it lives - easier said than done as a lady but I only wear jeans and only jeans with sufficient pockets. I think men definitely have it easier in this regard. Plus if it wasn't in my pocket I would never know when it was ringing. I have a case on my phone that stores my Drivers license and debit card. (Probably inviting identity theft if I lose it, but I haven't come close to losing it since I started doing this and it makes it a lot easier to remember to put stuff back where it belongs when I'm done with it, making all 3 pieces less likely to get lost.)

I have a tiny man's wallet that also fits in my pocket or the outside pocket of my purse and this has my work Id and a credit card. This way if I only have my wallet or my phone I'll at least have some way to identify myself and pay for things. This also has a prepaid pay phone card after the last time I lost my phone. (Running around SFO in a crying panic trying to figure out how to make a call, good times)

I also keep cash in my purse in case I wind up with just my purse and nothing else. Basically I always try to make sure I won't wind up with no way to pay for a ride home.
posted by bleep at 1:24 PM on October 30, 2015

The most important thing is to keep some cash on you somewhere other than your purse. If your outfit doesn't have pockets, tuck a 20 in your bra or your shoe. Everything in your purse is replaceable, but it really sucks to have to rely on the kindness of a stranger to get you home.
posted by 256 at 1:31 PM on October 30, 2015

secret magnet box containing a spare car key, magneted to a safe area up underneath the car.
no I will not tell you where I parked
posted by ghostbikes at 1:43 PM on October 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

I switched the locks on my house doors to keypad locks. I'm not particularly handy, and it wasn't tricky. No more lost housekeys.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:20 PM on October 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

Memorize one phone number of someone who can help you. Ideally, this would be a land line (you can't call cell phones from jail.)

Make a photocopy of all your credit cards, and put that in a safe place at home. Also your IDs, membership cards, important documents. Do the front and the back (the customer service number of your credit cards is usually on the back.) If you lost one, you could easily replace it (or still use it online) if you had all the numbers to hand.

Write down your contacts and put them with your documents. Or, most smart phones will let you download a copy of your contacts. If you can email yourself a copy, all the better-- it'll be in your Gmail or cloud.

If your cell carrier gives you an upgrade every year and you're not required to give them your old phone back, save your old phone and its charger with your documents. Worst case scenario, you'll have a working phone only requiring an online activation if you lost yours.

Keep your documents, old phone, backup keys, and backup info in a bag where you know where it is. If the house is on fire and you have to take one thing, it's convenient and you can more easily reboot your life.
posted by blnkfrnk at 3:00 PM on October 30, 2015

I think in some states it is legal to have both a driver's license and a state non-driver ID from the DMV; might be something to look into if the passport cost seems a little steep.

Nthing photocopying all the cards from your wallet and keeping it somewhere safe; that's saved my bacon before. And make sure recovery services are enabled on your phone now.
posted by en forme de poire at 3:09 PM on October 30, 2015

I am pretty flakey and as such I have a personal policy of only cross-body purses, ever. Even if they are the convertible kind with handles that I might sometimes use, I always take a minute to switch to hands-free as soon as I enter any place where shopping/holding things might occur. For example, often big synagogues will have a gift shop with menorahs and Seder plates and talits and mezuzahs and stuff, but if I am at someone else's temple I am most likely wearing fancy clothes with one of my fancier purses, held by the handles so a crossbody strap doesn't interfere with the fit of my clothes. And temple is a pretty safe space to lose a purse, most people will be very caring and offer you use of a phone or a ride or whatever. But if I enter that gift shop, even just to waste time with no intention of touching anything? The purse's crossbody strap comes out and I sling it around myself. At this point it is totally subconscious for me to do this, and bags without that longer strap aren't even tempting in a fantasy lifestyle sort of way. And these days designers have twigged to my needs; there are tons of stylish and cool options if you are an accessories person.

Apart from just being really self aware about my tendency to lose stuff unless it is literally strapped to my body, there are a few other practical things that I do: extra house key in keyless lockbox in secret place (the cat sitter uses this but goodness has it come in handy), important contacts/numbers in Google doc that I can access through any internet connection because my email password is the one thing I CAN remember, and the tendency to be chatty and form friendly relationships with local retail people.

That last one has been so helpful - if you are a regular at a small grocery store or local coffee shop or anywhere, really, and you have established familiarity with the people who work there, you can feel okay talking to them if there is a problem - use the store phone, borrow their cell on break, I even once had a girl give me a free pot of tea and a ride home at the end of her shift because it turned out we were practically neighbors. But it is really about knowing I can speak to someone from a place of vulnerability and trust that they won't hurt me. So as long as I can get to one of my regular places, I have allies and can feel safe. And to get online to get to my email and contact someone for a ride, I get to a library.
posted by Mizu at 3:13 PM on October 30, 2015 [3 favorites]

Don't beat yourself up. I left my wallet in an Amtrak seat back pocket on New Year's Eve.

I have more than one ID so my husband keeps it in his wallet (updated the address on my driver's license by mail, didn't have to turn the old one in). I also usually have an emergency credit card at home. Replacing all of my cards was surprisingly easy - most companies overnighted me a new card. I have my husband's phone number memorized, as well as my sister's. We have two friends who have spare keys to our place.

Do you have an iPhone and iPad? The Find My Device app is pretty solid, even though I usually keep my ringer off. Plus it has my contacts' numbers.
posted by kat518 at 6:14 PM on October 30, 2015

Next time you're at work where there's a copier, lay out your IDs and credit cards and photocopy them. Or scan and email to your primary, non-work email address. Put a note on your phone with a phone # (thanks Google voice), literally on paper, taped to the phone, and the word Reward. Because the phone can get lost, be dead, and some nice person may want to return it to you, and you should make that easy. You have a screen lock, right? Magnetic keyholder is okay, better if you duct tape it in place and do not get in the habit of using that spare key for convenience.
posted by theora55 at 6:21 PM on October 30, 2015

You're not an airhead. You're proactively thinking ahead more than the average person.
posted by samthemander at 10:20 PM on October 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

I don't have any phone numbers memorized...because they are all stored in my smart phone

None memorized? Not sure if you can memorize a number?

I bet you have at least one memorized -- yours. So it's not impossible. Pick the most useful one and work on that.
posted by yohko at 1:21 PM on October 31, 2015

I switched the locks on my house doors to keypad locks. I'm not particularly handy, and it wasn't tricky. No more lost housekeys.

I gotta come out against these. Maybe on a side/back door, but if your place only has one door they kinda blow. They can't lock if you have a finnicky lock(and i know it replaces the lock, i mean if the door wiggles a bit when it's closed so that you have to wiggle it for the deadbolt to slide in, or the doorframe is old so you have to line it up just right and rehanging the door wont help), and they have batteries... which die. There ARE batteryless ones that run on power generated by turning the handle, so you just wiggle the handle a few times first... but they're super expensive.

Everyone i know who had one stopped using it for anything but locking the door sometimes after a couple months or something. The keypads die sometimes too on the cheap ones, even if they aren't exposed to the elements.

I know this is sort of tangential, but i seriously wouldn't count on one of those as a backup unless it was one of the commercial grade all stainless ones that looks like something from wargames. I just looked up the 100% reliable ones my office uses and they cost over $1000. Everything below that fell into the ones i don't really trust category. The all mechanical/non electronic ones are also sketchy. I've hacked one before(not for nefarious reasons). They work like those key lockboxes and are fairly easy to try all the combos on since they aren't truly 10 digit.

I guess that's just like, my opinion, but yea after seeing those either fail to lock or unlock and the frustration caused i wouldn't count on one.

secret magnet box containing a spare car key, magneted to a safe area up underneath the car.

I forgot this one. These are GENIUS. I've only been screwed over because of lack of one twice in my entire life. Once, the one for my dads truck fell off. The second time, my car didn't have one right after i bought it. I went to the store and bought one the next day, and it saved my ass probably 3-4 times. All my friends think they're stupid and that someone would somehow find it and steal their car... and you know what, i'd rather deal with that relatively non existent what-if than wait 45 minutes in the rain for AAA.

Oh yea, and buy AAA. Just do it. Little known fact is it stays with you, not with your car, and you can apply it to any car you're riding in. This is super duper kickass if you go on a road trip with friends in not-your-car, or are out of town visiting someone and they're driving you around and their alternator dies on a weird highway outside of town, or...
posted by emptythought at 9:21 PM on October 31, 2015

It gives you a generous warning before the batteries die, and has a key for emergencies, which you can hide outside. I've had one for four years and just had to replace the batteries for the first time, and it's never given me trouble (the other one is newer and I don't know how it will hold up).
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:32 AM on November 1, 2015

Response by poster: Thanks so much for all of your great ideas! I see I have some work to do. I am seriously amazed at what others have done to prepare in case of emergency. I think of myself as a responsible adult for the most part, but on this issue, I just hadn't taken any steps to bail myself out of trouble. I really appreciate your suggestions!
posted by BeBoth at 2:43 PM on November 1, 2015

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