No matter whether you are traveling within the US or abroad, unexpected events can happen and create an emergency situation. We’ve compiled some solutions to common travel emergencies you might encounter while away from home. Whether you get sick, lose something important, or have problems with your flight or rental car, we have some tips to help avoid the panic.
Even the healthiest person can be taken down by unfamiliar germs and bacteria that you might encounter while traveling. If you are on vacation in a foreign country, you might not know what to do if you get hit with a cold, flu, food poisoning, or something worse. If you’re traveling outside of the US, it’s a good idea to get travel insurance and make a copy of your card.
- Mild sickness: If you simply have a cold or other non-serious illness, the first stop should be a local pharmacy. Go to one in a touristy area if you are in a non-English speaking country because they are more likely to have someone on staff who can communicate with you. If you are staying at a hotel or resort, you can also ask a staff member where to go.
- Serious illness: Many hotels or resorts can also call a doctor for you if you need medical attention and are not able to go to a hospital. Otherwise, you can call the local emergency number for an ambulance or take a cab to the nearest hospital.
If you are traveling abroad, losing your passport can seem like a dire situation. But there are some things you can do if your passport is lost or stolen while overseas. Keep in mind that these tips are focused on a lost or stolen US passport, but it’s likely that similar steps can be taken through your own country’s embassy or consulate.
- Report your passport as lost or stolen: You can do this online and it will help protect you from identity theft if someone else finds your passport.
- Replace your passport: To do this, you will need to go to a US embassy or consulate in whatever country you are in. You will need a passport photo, ID like a driver’s license, evidence you are a US citizen like a photocopy of your lost passport or your birth certificate, your travel itinerary, a police report if you have one, and completed forms DS-11 and DS-64. You can also fill the forms out at the embassy or consulate.
- Get your passport: You will either be issued a regular passport valid for 10 years, or an emergency passport that will last until you return to the US, depending on how urgent your travel plans are. In most cases, you will get your replacement passport on the next business day unless it is a weekend or holiday.
Accident with a rental car
Once you’ve checked that everyone involved in the accident is OK, you should exchange coverage information and take photos. Obviously, if someone needs medical attention, you should call 911 in the US or the emergency number for the country you are in. Your next step is to contact the car rental agency and you will need to fill out paperwork. You will also need to carefully read through your personal auto coverage policy or the coverage you bought with the rental car in order to see what is covered and how much you need to pay for repairs. In some cases, like if you don’t have rental car coverage on your policy, you will also need to keep paying for rental of the vehicle while it’s being repaired.
Lost or broken glasses
If you wear glasses, there are some steps you can take to avoid not being able to see properly, and some tips on dealing with lost or broken glasses. The first tip, overall, is to carry an extra pair of glasses or contact lenses in your carry-on suitcase. This way, if your suitcase is lost or damaged your spare pair of glasses will be OK.
Broken frames: This is the best-case scenario. Even if you don’t speak the language wherever you are, you can take your broken glasses to an eyeglass store, show them to a staff member, and see if they can be repaired.
Lost glasses: Maybe you are doing something like ziplining or skiing and either lose or completely destroy your glasses. If you didn’t bring an extra pair with, you might panic. The best thing to do is to find the nearest eyeglass store with an optometrist. If you don’t know your prescription, they can call your optometrist’s office and get it. If this is not an option, try to find a pharmacy or store that sells reading glasses, which can help in a pinch.
Another last resort, if you don’t have access to an optometrist or store, is to use your smartphone camera! This works best for people who are nearsighted (when things far away are blurry) and while it’s not a long-term solution, it can work well in a pinch (or even to find your glasses if you’ve simply misplaced them).
Missed or canceled flight
A common stress dream is not getting to the airport on time for a flight. But unfortunately, that dream can become a reality if you oversleep, get stuck in traffic, or have a flight delay that causes you to miss your connection. What happens to you after a missed or canceled flight depends largely on what airline you’re flying with. Here are a few general steps to take.
- Talk to an airline agent: If you are running late for a flight due to traffic or oversleeping, or a delayed connecting flight, your first step should be either calling the airline or talking to an agent at the airport. They might be able to rebook you on a later flight. Whether you will get charged for this change depends on the airline policy. You should also be aware that if you do get rebooked on another flight, you will likely be on standby and only get to fly if there is a seat available.
- Try rebooking online: If you know for sure you are going to miss your flight a day or two before your departure and want to book something later in the day, you can try rebooking yourself online. Many airlines like American and United offer this option, but you must rebook before your original flight departs. You can request a same-day change up to 24 hours before your flight is scheduled to depart. In any case, you will need to pay for the privilege of rebooking.
- Rebook for free due to a missed connection: If you missed your connecting flight due to a delayed flight, the airline will most likely rebook you for free. You should call the airline or talk to a gate agent when you land.
If you are a frequent flyer, you might know the misery of lost (or delayed) luggage. Once you realize that your checked bag is not on the conveyer belt at the luggage claim, the panic might set in.
The first step is to visit the baggage reclaim desk to see if there’s a chance your missing bag is there, or to figure out the next step. If your luggage is not there you need to file a Property Irregularity Report before leaving the airport and get a case number for your bags. You will need to make an itemized list with values of what was in the missing luggage (taking a photo of the contents of your bag before checking it is a good idea). The airline is required to provide you with some funds to buy replacement essential items while you wait to see if your luggage turns up.
You will have to wait 30 days to declare your luggage as officially lost. If it doesn’t turn up, you need to contact the airline and make a claim for compensation based on your itemized list of the luggage contents. The most you can get back is $3,400 per person (as of 2019), so if you are bringing high-ticket items on your next trip, make sure to bring them with you on the plane if at all possible.
Lost or Stolen phone
First of all, as a general rule, if anything is stolen while you are on vacation you should file a police report. But if you find yourself suddenly without a phone, you might feel like you’re missing a limb. When you travel, a smartphone plays a key role, holding reservation information, boarding passes, maps, payment methods, and a way to contact people. So when it’s lost or stolen you’re in a real bind. You can try Find My iPhone or Find My Device on your Apple or Android device if you have it activated, although the phone needs to be turned on for this to work. You can also wipe the phone through this method.
If you drop your phone in the toilet or it’s lost for good, you first need to call your phone carrier to get it disabled. Then, if you absolutely need a phone to function, you will need to find the nearest store to get a phone and SIM card. This will likely set you back several hundred dollars depending on where you are. Your best bet, especially when traveling abroad, is to bring a second old phone with so all you need to do is buy a SIM card if you lose your phone or it’s stolen.
Credit or Debit Card Problems
Ah yes, the dreaded “suspicious activity” freeze that happens when you try to use your debit or credit card in another country. Not having access to your funds can ruin a vacation quickly, whether your card is frozen or is lost or stolen. The latter 2 problems likely mean you will need to call your bank and have your card frozen to avoid fraudulent charges. But if your debit card is just frozen because you tried to take out cash at an ATM in France, your best bet is to either call the international number for your bank or try to do an online chat if you have access to a computer. You can confirm it was you making the transaction and once again have use of your card.
The best thing to do is set an alert online or contact your bank before leaving for your trip. That way there will be a note on your account that you are traveling.