‘Fess up: Is the lost-and-found your personal lending library?

Picture this: You’re on a long road trip. One evening, you reach into your rollaboard to retrieve your $19 smartphone charger, and it’s gone. It’s at the last hotel.

Do you:

a) find the nearest electronics store and buy a replacement.
b) call the hotel’s lost-and-found and find out if they have a charger.

If you answered b) then you’ve probably been around the block a time or two, you grizzled road warrior, you. And so has your moral compass.

That’s no accusation. I found myself giving this advice — “Just go to the lost and found …” — to a traveler just a few days ago, and then stopping myself.

What did I just say? Did I tell someone it is OK to steal?

It turns out this question of whether the lost and found is more of a lending library is difficult to answer. That’s because, technically, the lost charger at the other hotel is going into that hotel’s lost and found. If you don’t claim it, someone else will.

I’m not the only person giving out this problematic advice. Behold, Lifehacker has done it too. It, in turn, got the idea from Reddit.

But what happens when the owner of that charger shows up and the gadget has been taken by you? How is that fair to the other guest?

Before you answer, consider the following real-life scenarios in which the lost-and-found was used for purposes it was never intended:

I’ll have a glove.
True story: We were skiing in Kirkwood and our seven-year-old daughter lost a glove. It wasn’t just gone, it was gone gone, over a chairlift and into waist-deep powder snow. They’d find it … next spring. Instead of launching a search party, we went to the lost and found and grabbed a matching glove. No harm, right? Well, yes, but what if the rightful owner showed up? See the next example.

Nice jacket.
We were recently staying at an upscale hotel in Philadelphia. We left a jacket in the lobby and by the time we discovered it was missing, an attentive employee had found it and put it in the hotel’s lost-and-found box for safekeeping. We called and were assured it was there. But when we arrived, we discovered it wasn’t. Someone else had already claimed it. Ouch!

Happy ending.
My favorite lost-and-found story is about my son’s iPhone, left behind at a vacation rental. We knew it was missing and we searched the home for the missing device. Two weeks later, another guest discovered it and passed it along to the rental manager, who mailed it to us at no additional charge. We all breathed a sigh of relief and were grateful that no one used the rental’s lost-and-found as a lending library.

Since those three experiences, I’ve been far more respectful of any lost-and-found — and wary of advice to simply “help yourself” to something that another guest left behind. You never know when someone might come back for it.

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