Worst Case Travel Scenarios

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Everyone expects that their vacation will be fantastic. The sun will shine every day and the most unexpected occurrence will be the discovery of an extra cocktail umbrella in your Daiquiri. But travel mishaps can -- and do -- happen. No matter how impeccably the itinerary is planned and how perfectly the bag is packed, some situations are out of your control. You can't keep that storm forming off Africa from making a turn into to the Caribbean just after your plane lands.Or that determined thief from lightening your load. But lots of situations can be made much easier by taking some simple precautions before setting off. And if disaster strikes far from home, knowing what to do can mean the difference between a catastrophe and a holiday hiccup. Here are seven worst-case scenarios, and what you can do to protect yourself.

Quick Reference Guide for Travelers

If you've lost your passport, know the location and number of the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.
Call: If you can't get online, call the Department of State's Overseas Citizens Service. Dial 1-317-472-2328 (if calling internationally) or 1-888-407-4747 (if calling from the U.S. about a family member abroad)

If you've lost your wallet and need money, know that Western Union's are almost everywhere. Transactions tend to be pricey, but can be made online or over the phone in as little as an hour.
Call: 1-800-325-6000 to find an agent location

Before you leave, check your insurance policy. If it doesn't cover medical evacuations, consider joining MedjetAssist, where you can get coverage for a weekly or annual fee.
Call: 1-800-5-ASSIST

If you're having an emergency (whether it's medical, financial, or legal), the American Citizens Services can help.
Click: www.travel.state.gov/law/citizenship
I lost my passport abroad!

In advance:
Make copies of the ID page and leave one in the hotel safe and one with someone back home. You can also email the ID number and the issue and expiration dates to yourself in a password-protected zip file. It's always smart to note the contact details and locations of the U.S. embassy or consulate nearest your destination.

If it happens:
Report the loss immediately to the U.S. State Department and inform local police. Contact the U.S. embassy or consulate -- they are the only ones who can get you home. Consular personnel are available 24-7 to provide emergency assistance. The photocopied ID page will make proving citizenship easier and it may even allow officials to issue you a limited-validity passport within 24 hours. But be aware that once a passport is reported lost or stolen it is invalidated and won't get you back in to the U.S. if you happen to find it hiding under the bed.

My wallet was stolen!

In advance:
If you are traveling abroad, make sure you have the international contact numbers for all your credit card companies and banks. Note the numbers for bank accounts and travelers' checks and consider emailing details to yourself with the information divided between several emails. Write down the contact details of the U.S. embassy or consulate nearest to your destination. It's always good advice to divide your money and keep emergency cash in a few separate places.

If it happens:
Report the loss to local police and cancel bank and credit cards. If you still have vacation time left, your bank may be able to send you a new card via priority shipping. Call the DMV to report your lost license and arrange for a new one to be waiting for you on your return. Someone back home can easily wire money to a Western Union office, but if you find yourself without any access to funds, contact the U.S. embassy or consulate.

My luggage was lost!

In advance:
Keep medications, cash, jewelry, and vital documents in your carry-on and tuck a change of clothes in there for good measure. List the checked bags' contents and make sure your insurance covers expensive items. Add up-to-date nametags on your bags inside and out, using sturdy, plastic or leather tags on the outside. Put an itinerary in your bag and make sure you know the suitcase brand name. Tie an identifying ribbon or strap to your luggage to make it easier to locate. Avoid tight connection times when booking, check-in early, and make sure the right destination and flight number are on the checked bag tag before it goes on the conveyor belt.

If it happens:
Millions of bags are delayed, lost, damaged, or stolen each year, but most bags are reunited with owners within 24 hours. The airline will usually deliver bags to your home or hotel once they are located. If your bag is not bobbing round the carousel, take your bag check stubs to the airline's baggage agent, describe your bag in detail, and fill out lost luggage forms. Ask for a written claim for damages. You can also ask the agent whether they can assist with petty cash or even coverage for rentals if ski equipment or golf clubs are delayed. Keep all receipts for replacement items; compensation varies from airline to airline, but all offer some.

I was overcharged!

In advance:
It may seem extreme, but an alibi can be helpful. Receipts that prove you dined elsewhere -- or are a teetotal vegetarian -- may help you contest that charge for someone else's filet mignon and Merlot from room service. If not planning on drinking in-room, decline the mini-bar key and don't move anything in the electronic fridge. Never assume anything is free -- always call and check with the front desk before using hotel services.

If it happens:
Deal with the overcharge as soon as possible. If bringing the matter to the attention of the front desk clerk does not resolve things, ask to speak to management. If the situation is still not satisfactorily sorted, contact your credit card company to dispute the charge.

My hotel room was robbed!

In advance:
If in any doubt, check online travel forums to make sure you will be staying in a reputable hotel. But even if you are staying at a four-star resort you should never leave cash, electronics, or credit cards in plain sight. Be sure to make good use of your hotel room safe (or the safe at the front desk). Lock your luggage when you head out for the day or, if this isn't possible, arrange strategic items on top of your bag so you can keep an eye out for tampering.

If it happens:
Alert hotel management immediately, file a police report, and cancel any cards necessary. Even if credit cards remain when you return to your ransacked room, numbers may have been written down by your uninvited guests. If any personal identification was taken, contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.

I have a medical emergency!

In advance:
Check health conditions and available medical services at your destination and fully investigate your insurance coverage. Do you need to make any changes for destinations with a State Department advisory in effect? Are you insured for that hot air balloon trip? Does your policy cover medical evacuation? If not, consider joining a company like MedjetAssist that offers worldwide medical evacuation for an annual or weekly fee. Make sure you have adequate medication for your vacation plus an extra week's supply in case of delays and keep all meds in their original containers. Carry a letter from your physician outlining immunizations, medical conditions, and allergies to prescription medications, like penicillin. Always wear a medical alert bracelet if you have a serious condition such as diabetes. Go further and make wallet-sized cards with allergies and medical information in the language of the countries you will be in and make sure traveling companions know the details. And always carry your insurance card with you.

If it happens:
Injuries caused by activities like scuba diving or bungee jumping are often excluded from medical evacuation back home so you may find yourself having a longer stay overseas. A U.S. consular officer can help with finding medical services and will let friends or relatives back home know what has happened. Be aware that many insurance companies require a phone call before expensive procedures are carried out or a traveler is admitted to the hospital.

I am being forced to evacuate!

In advance:
With 2010's particularly active hurricane season forecast, take out travel insurance with an inclement weather clause if you are traveling to storm-prone destinations. Keep in mind that insurance is only valid if purchased before a storm is named. Check your accommodation's weather-related emergency policy and register with the State Department's online travel plans registry -- if disaster strikes, consular officers look for missing Americans and help them get home. If a tropical storm looks like it's about to get promoted to hurricane strength, prepare an emergency bag with medications, food, water, and first aid supplies and leave it by the door. If driving, check evacuation routes and fill up on gas.

If it happens:
Follow local authorities' advice when told to evacuate and do so immediately. Bring medicines, documents, blankets, water, and food (this may be the time to raid the mini-bar). Once the storm has passed, wait until authorities declare your hotel safe and drink only water approved by emergency personnel. Your hotel's weather emergency policy usually decides whether your stay will be reimbursed. That travel insurance you smartly booked in advance will also help get you home and reimburse you for unexpected expenses.
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