From the tiniest troubles (spilling your preflight Starbucks) to the absolute catastrophes (losing your passport in a strange country), no trip will go perfectly as planned. But there are preparations you can make to prevent a total vacation meltdown. Read on to find out what you can do before, during, and after these 10 travel mishaps happen to get your plans back on track.
Hurricane Cancels Your Trip
A friend recently called me to extoll the cheap Caribbean cruise she found—just $199 for a September sailing! Sure, less than $200 is a great deal, but there's a reason this cruise is so economical. It's right in the middle of the Caribbean's hurricane season (generally from June through November), when travel plans often get snarled by stormy weather. That shouldn't discourage my friend from embarking on this cruise, but in this case, she should consider trip insurance.
Thoroughly research your insurance options before you book; read Ed Perkins' best practices for insuring off-season vacations. Be wary of nonrefundable bookings, and as always, read the fine print to see if you can cancel or reschedule reservations in the event of adverse weather. If there is any doubt or ambiguity as to whether your cruise or hotel booking will be affected by bad weather, call a customer-service representative and ask directly. You won't be able to prevent a hurricane, but you can prevent your trip from being blown off track.
You Get Robbed
The obvious advice here is to stay in safe areas, but avoiding dangerous neighborhoods can only get you so far. Unfortunately, travelers can get mugged even in well-lit, populated places. (Think of how many tourists are casually divested of their wallets while they stare at the bright lights of Times Square.) Using smart, theft-proof products like the ones we've rounded up in Seven Ways to Wear Your Valuables While Traveling is a good step toward protecting your belongings from would-be muggers. Other good ideas include using an almost-empty dummy wallet and carefully dividing your money between different places (your bag, your wallet, your pocket, and even your socks).
If disaster strikes and you do get mugged, report the incident to the nearest police station. A recent article by the Daily Mail revealed that only 40 percent of muggings are reported in England, for example, which makes it difficult to find and prosecute the sticky fingered.
You Lose Your Passport While Abroad
No, you won't be stuck in a creepy foreign prison if you lose your passport overseas. The State Department recommends immediately contacting the U.S. embassy in your destination so that local consular staff can assist you with obtaining a temporary passport. In order to expedite the process, you should always keep backup identification (a driver's license or state-issued ID card) as well as some extra cash on hand. The good news is that application fees may be waived for victims of theft; in this case, you'll want to nab a copy of the police report to share with the embassy.
If you are notified that a friend or family member abroad has lost his or her passport, contact the Overseas Citizens Services at (1-888) 407-4747 before you do anything else; they'll connect you to the proper embassy and assist your loved one with the passport application.
Flight Is Canceled
Bad weather, delayed crew, traffic jams in the sky—flight cancellations happen to everyone, for every reason. However, some flyers handle them better than others. First, stay calm. You'll get where you are going—eventually. If you're already at the airport, get in line at customer service to patiently (and politely) wait your turn. It's also not a bad idea to simultaneously call the airline on your cell phone; often, you can reach a reservations agent before you make it to the front of the queue. (I've also contacted my airline via Twitter, so it's worth embracing social media in dire straits.)
Know that no matter what, if the flight is canceled due to circumstances beyond the airline's control, the one thing you will receive is a refund. Airlines might offer a hotel room for the night, a food voucher, or another form of transportation at their discretion, but somehow, someway, you will be offered your full fare or an equivalent flight.
It's also a good idea to download a flight-tracking app like FlightView to get airline notifications, airport ground-delay information, and seven-day weather forecasts.
Hotel Loses Your Reservation
This front-desk foible is entirely avoidable: Print all confirmation documents and file them away the very minute you book your hotel online. Keep a copy with you when you check in (I suggest tucking one version in your carry-on bag and giving another to your travel companion for safekeeping). If you've booked your accommodations over the phone, ask for email confirmation as well as the name of the customer-service agent with whom you've spoken. Forward all necessary documents to an itinerary app like TripIt, which will organize everything for you. And before you even take off on your vacation, confirm all hotel and restaurant reservations at least one week in advance.
Airline Loses Your Luggage
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, for every 1,000 passengers, three pieces of luggage are reported mishandled (meaning delayed, damaged, or completely lost). If your airline sends your bag to parts unknown, you'll first need to get in contact with the lost-baggage department (generally located near the luggage carousels at the airport). At this office, you'll file a claim and provide a drop-off address at which they will deliver your luggage. For this reason, it's key that you know the exact location of your hotel or vacation rental. USA.gov has more useful tips about claims, damages, liability limits, and so forth.
Of course, this doesn't help when you're in a foreign country with nothing but the clothes on your back. In case your checked bag goes MIA, packing a toothbrush, a few essential travel-sized toiletries, and a change of underwear in your carry-on will keep you proper until you're reunited with any wayward luggage. I've also started packing a few clothing items in my travel companion's bag, just in case.
Hotel Isn't Up to Snuff
You thought you booked a four-star resort with sumptuous linens and sea views, but you find out the linens feel like steel wool, the views are of a dumpster, and the last person who entered your hotel room was Jack Nicholson—with an axe. A good vacation can be ruined by less-than-stellar accommodations, especially if you've spent a mint on what you thought was luxe living. Yet again, advance research is your friend. Don't just rely on the pictures or reviews the hotel posts on its website; they have a product to sell and photos can be intentionally misleading. Instead, comb through aggregate reviews across a variety of websites and take anything you read—whether it's overwhelmingly positive or negative—with a grain of salt. We especially like the true-to-life photos on TripAdvisor's sister site Oyster, which are taken by expert photographers.
If you do find yourself stuck at The Bates when you thought you booked The Ritz, you can always try arguing for a room upgrade or a better view or threatening to cancel and move to another hotel. Make sure, though, that your deposit is refundable and that rooms are available elsewhere.
You Get Sick
What's easier than battling a cold? Preventing one. Get plenty of rest, take your vitamins, wash your hands thoroughly, and avoid sick people before you travel. Bring sanitizing wipes to the airport, that hotbed of germy activity, and be careful about touching handrails on transportation, surfaces in restrooms, and other public petri dishes.
If you've already fallen ill on the road, our list of cures for travel ailments can help. You should be able to find a pharmacy in almost any destination, but if you're somewhere off the grid, a first aid kit stocked with over-the-counter painkillers, antacids, and antiemetics is key. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also has some helpful links and tips on finding a doctor or an emergency department abroad, if your illness is serious.
You Crash Your Rental Car
Renting a car is always a little bit stressful, whether you're combating unfamiliar city streets or driving on the opposite side of the road. So imagine the anxiety you'll feel if you get into a foreign fender bender (or worse). Rental-car companies will try to sell you extra insurance via a collision damage waiver (CDW), which you'll see listed as an additional fee on the forms you sign. However, you may not actually need it, and some experts say the extra insurance offerings are downright scammy. Instead, before you ever rent a car, check with your credit card company to see what kind of rental insurance policy is available for cardholders. Most likely, only damage to your own rental will be covered, meaning damages to other cars or injuries to drivers will not be. Generally, more elite cards carry better coverage, but not always. If neither your credit card nor your personal auto insurance includes rental coverage, you will want to purchase a CDW through your rental agency (usually between $20 and $40 per day).
Should you get into a serious auto accident, get a copy of the police report. If you need assistance abroad in the case of a serious accident, the U.S. embassy can help.
You're Hopelessly Lost
Travelers who dream of totally unconnected vacations may bemoan the ways in which our smartphones keep us tethered to a wireless world when we should be exploring the real one. However, technology has made getting utterly lost a thing of the past. Since most smartphones come with accurate map applications and location services, it's now unlikely you'll get lost in even the remotest locations (unless you run out of power). To navigate unfamiliar vacation spots, I recommend bringing your phone (and charger) with you on your travels and stocking it with Google Maps or Waze, which has the best in-time traffic and navigation data (perfect for lengthy drives and road trips).
If you're worried about data charges while abroad, TripAdvisor's offline city guides are indispensable travel tools. You don't need a Wi-Fi connection to view each guide or its map feature, so roaming charges won't be a concern while you're, well, roaming. Download your destination's guide before you go and never get lost again.
You Run Out of Money
Going broke in the midst of your vacation is the most avoidable situation on this list. This may seem a bit obvious, but pick a vacation that's within your budget. You may be able to afford the hotel, but remember that you'll need plenty of cash once you arrive for food, activities, and transportation. Thoroughly research your destination: Travel guides, forums, and articles can help you determine the average on-the-ground costs for dining and entertainment. Then budget carefully. Make a general outline of what you'll spend each day, setting aside large sums for big purchases (tasting menus, scuba diving, etc.). Whatever you do, don't dip into that fund.
Having backup forms of payment is important whether you go broke, get robbed, or lose your cash or credit card. Keep a spare debit or credit card in your bag. Before you leave for your trip, write down your bank and credit card company's phone numbers, in case you need to order an emergency replacement or report a card missing or stolen.
--By Dara Continenza