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Character leaves a trail of things behind, à la "Hansel and Gretel".
Sometimes, as in the aforementioned tale, the trail is left to find one's way back. Other times, it's used by someone else to follow them. This is usually to represent a character's resourcefulness either as a tracker, or as a planner for when/if the need to backtrack is found.
Bread Crumbs need not be consumable or even material, sometimes the trail is one of foot prints, golden twine, even an aroma of a special perfume. It, however, is usually not permanent, capable of being destroyed or tampered with by outside forces, such as wild birds or trickster-like beings, although even this is not the one rule.
- There was an advertisement in the United States not too long ago where some kids in a city left a trail of food behind them. After the food disappeared, they discovered their location with some kind of GPS device.
Anime and Manga
- In Chapter 498 of Naruto, we learn that Kushina was kidnapped, she left a trail of her hair to for some one to follow. Minato was the only one who spotted the trail, which led to their eventual Rescue Romance.
- Shoulder a Coffin Kuro has an example of a child using the food trail type to keep from getting lost in a forest. The main characters, themselves lost and trying to find their way to the girl's village, are decidedly dejected because they are certain that animals have already eaten the crumbs.
- In Yu Yu Hakusho, Kurama uses Lamp Weeds to mark his trail.
- One episode of Pokémon has the Team Rocket capture all the Pokemon in a gathering, including Ash's and his friend's, they were tracked down by following trail of ink shot by Misty's Horsea on the road.
- In the first appearance of Naga in the Slayers OVA, Lina and Naga have to navigate a maze and Lina marks their trail with chalk marks so they can find their way out. Then she learns that Naga thought it was just graffiti and wiped the marks off.
- In Excel Saga, Hyatt uses a trail of medicine to lead Excel to her kidnappers. Unfortunately, birds then start eating the pills... and promptly die. Excel then follows the trail of dead birds back to Hyatt.
- "Hansel and Gretel" in all its incarnations. Trope Namer, Trope Maker and Trope Codifier.
- Hop O My Thumb seems to be Hansel and Gretel's eternal rival. In France, this trope is more associated with him than them.
- Likewise in Spain.
- In the Grimm folktale "Spindle, Shuttle and Needle," a poor orphan girl who was using the titular items while the king's son was out looking for a girl who was "at once the poorest and the richest" started singing a little rhyme her godmother had taught her: "Spindle, spindle, one two three, Bring my suitor home to me." At which point the spindle jumped out of the window and chased off after the prince, leaving a golden thread for him to follow back to her.
- In The Grateful Prince, the prince leaves peas behind as he goes with the old man. When he returns with the Damsel in Distress, they follow them.
As the prince had expected the peas had taken root, and grown into a little hedge, so that they were sure they would not lose the path.
- Aliens. Ripley dropped flares behind her while entering the xenomorphs' nest so she could find her way out.
- In Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, Will Turner leaves a trail of bodies strapped to barrels in order to lead Beckett to Shipwreck Cove. At least until Jack interferes and sends Will with them.
- The "birds eat the trail" aspect is inverted, as scavenging seabirds that flock around the bodies actually make it easier for Beckett to spot them and follow.
- The Hallelujah Trail: Oracle Jones stakes out a safe path through Quicksand Bottoms with torn up strips of his red long-johns. Then Cora Massingale and the ladies of Group C move his stakes.
- In Madeline: Lost In Paris, Madeline drops beads as she's being taken away by her "uncle" so that her friends can follow her.
- Played with in the Korean horror film Hansel and Gretel.
- Danny Dunn and the Fossil Cave: Danny and his friends are exploring an underground cave system. Danny tries to mark their path by dropping a radioactive substance behind them, intending to find their way back with a Geiger counter. His plan fails when some of the substance gets caught in his upturned trouser cuff.
- In Pyrates, while in the process of being kidnapped, Shannon leaves a trail of cookie crumbs as a hint for her friends.
- In The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Pippin purposely drops the brooch from his cloak so that Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli can know that he and Merry were prisoners, on top of the footprints he left, where they would not be obscured by orcish footprints.
- In The Elenium, Sparhawk and his friends track Adus through a maze by following the blood trail he was leaving from a wound he received shortly before entering the maze. Then they realize that given the length of the trail, she should have already bled to death and discover that at some point the red splatters they had been following had switched from blood to paint.
- One of the story in "Oathblood" has a more up-scale version of this two kidnapped children lay a trail of silk and peals, so that their teachers can find them.
- Both subverted and played straight in Tom Sawyer. Tom and Becky Thatcher became lost in the local caves because they didn't leave a trail (of candle-smoke marks) to find their way back. Then a couple pages later, when he was exploring side passages to try to find a way out, he used a big piece of kite string to keep from getting even more lost.
- In Michael Flynn's Up Jim River, the scarred man explains to the harper that her mother would have left a trail of breadcrumbs — and then has to explain the idiom.
Live Action TV
- On NCIS, when Ziva and Tony are trapped in a shipping container on the back of a lift, Ziva leaves a trail of money behind them in the hopes that Gibbs will follow it and find them.
- Or, for that matter, that someone else will do so, if only to gather up the money for their own benefit.
- In the CSI episode "Gum Drops", while searching for a missing child only he believes is alive, Nick finds pieces of gum that he believes she dropped intentionally. This is emphasized by a picture in her room of her dressed as Gretel.
- In the TV movie Get Smart Again, Professor Helmut Schmelding left a trail of books from the entrance of the warehouse that the KAOS agents were hiding in to the actual entrance of their base, starting with a copy of Hansel and Gretel.
- The probable Ur Example: in the Greek myth of the Minotaur, the hero Theseus was able to find his way out of King Minos' labyrinth by using a ball of thread given to him by Ariadne. He tied one end to the entrance and unwound it as he walked, so he could follow it out afterwards.
- According to the manual, the banana trails in Donkey Kong Country were left by retreating Kremlings as they wheeled away DK's fruit hoard.
- Team Fortress 2: Exiting a teleporter will cause you to leave a trail of glowing particles for 18 seconds. The enemy team might use this as a clue to identifying the teleporter's location.
- In MOTHER 1, you can eat the Bread item to recover some HP. However, if you Use it instead, you get Crumbs, and by using Crumbs, you return to the spot you were in when you used the bread. Handy!
- In old adventure games that contained unmappable mazes of identical passages, players often resorted to leaving a trail of objects to find their way around.
- The Track psyenergy in Golden Sun Dark Dawn allows you to follow a scent path to find your way around. However the only times it's useful are in the first dungeon you can use it in (and it isn't necessary if you know how to traverse it), and a puzzle in the final dungeon that requires you to follow the hidden scent path to unlock a gate.
- Fable 2 uses a glowing trail on the ground to point the way to the player's active objective, rather than a blip on a radar screen. It's even referred to as a "breadcrumb trail."
- Dead Space has a similar effect, though rather than being always on, it's invoked by a button press, when then shows a specific path the player must take.
- In the Facebook flash game Indiana Jones Adventure World, one of the scenarios involves tracking down a kidnapped Sallah, who leaves a trail of his clothes. Chibi-Indy snarks that he hopes Sallah still has his pants when he's done making the trail.
- In Sinfest, Fucshia follows a trail of books into a cave. Whether the Storytime Zombie actually meant her to follow them is another matter.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender: Aang leaves a trail of Appa's shedded fur for Azula to follow in "The Chase", deciding to confront her personally at a place of his choice. In a Genre Savvy–but ultimately bad–decision, Azula follows the trail herself, but sends her minions to search for the other members of the Gaang.
- Johnny Bravo once used a trail of bread crumbs thining it would help him find his way home. Sure enough, birds ate the trail and he got lost even though he was right outside his house. Another time, Johnny, Carl, and Susie were traveling in the woods and Carl used a trail of pebbles while stating Hansel and Gretel's mistake. They get lost because Johnny eats the pebbles.
- Amber McCarthy, a thief from East Sussex, made the mistake of spilling cornflakes all over herself while absconding with the contents of a shop's till. Police followed the trail of cereal all the way to her hotel room.