How I Lost My Camera Bag and All My Gear in Italy

For ten harrowing minutes, I lost everything in Italy. My beloved backpack of gear was gone.

The Nomatic orange pack was full of essentials — some $7,200 worth of drone, laptop, extra phones, solid state drives, microphones, GoPros, Insta360, plus all the charging cables and European power adapters. Everything I needed to be able to write stuff like this, have access to essential directions to get myself around in a foreign country, and communicate with others. (The incredible Translate app!)

It Was the Taxi Driver’s Fault

Let me tell you what happened. The taxi met us at 7:30 in Palermo at our B&B (Bed and Breakfast Cannoli, a fine establishment, though they don’t actually serve any cannoli) to take us to the bus station for our next stop in Siracusa, and there are only two scheduled departures a day—at 8 a.m. and 1 p.m.

A person in a blue and orange shirt is entering a large wooden door of a building, beside which are a trash bin and a no parking sign.
The crazy entrance to the Bed and Breakfast Cannoli in Palermo

The cabbie pulled up and double-parked. A woman in the car behind him couldn’t pass and immediately started screaming at him like he’d murdered her baby—and he screamed back. I don’t speak Italian, but it was just like something you might see in an Italian movie. It went on for quite a while, or at least so it seemed.

He then opened his trunk and began reaching for our bags, continuing to yell at the woman all the while. He wanted to put them in the back of his crowded car himself. Fine, I thought, and I took my place in the back seat. He threw the bags in the trunk and we took off.

Movie clue: smell a problem yet?

In five minutes, he weaved his way expertly through traffic and we arrived at the train station. “Twenty euro,” he said. When he opened his trunk there were our two suitcases, my tripod, and only one backpack, Ruth’s.

Mine was nowhere to be found. Horror as we realized that the orange backpack wasn’t there.

A sleek brown backpack with a reflective silver stripe, a sturdy handle, and adjustable straps, standing upright against a plain background.
The Nomatic Luma backpack

I demanded that he drive back to the B&B immediately, but he didn’t understand and wanted to be paid. I typed “drive back!” into Google Translate, and he got the message.

As he navigated his way through what was now Only in Italy early morning gridlock, with everyone seemingly honking horns, scooters coming at us from every direction, drivers weaving in and out of lanes, zipping through red lights and passengers taking their lives in their hands on the streets of Palermo, I braced for the worst.

After all, just the day before, Ruth had ordered a Croissant from a cafe, ate half of it, stood up to take a photo, and walked a few yards away. Within seconds, a man came right over and snatched the remains off the table and put it in his mouth, as I was sitting right there.

My backpack didn’t stand a chance!

A person with a backpack is entering a yellow taxi parked by the curb in front of a building with wooden doors and a small tree nearby.

There’s a recent story about a photographer visiting Italy who stowed his gear bag (with $16,000 worth of stuff) on a train along with other luggage, took his seat, and then never saw his bag again. It was lifted by a trio of gear snatchers. The comments to his video had many people talking of similar experiences in Italy.

My bag was a goner. I knew it.

But as we finally arrived back outside the B&B, there was actually a storybook ending. The backpack had been pulled off the road and propped neatly against the wall, as two kind gents waited there, apparently certain that the owner would return for it. They were grinning with joy as we pulled up.

I was delirious.

We tipped them 15 euro for their troubles, just what Ruth happened to have on hand, and dashed back to the station, where we ended up missing our bus by 60 seconds. (And the cabbie charged 60 euro for driving there, back and back again.)

But which would you rather do? Lose your laptop or miss a bus?

The moral of the story: never let a cab driver in another country put your gear bag in the trunk. Hold it in your lap the entire time!

About the author: Jefferson Graham is a Los Angeles area writer/photographer and the host of the travel photography streaming TV series Photowalks. This article was also published here.