What to Do When There's a Travel Emergency
Bad luck can happen to anyoneand sometimes, it takes more than a band-aid to make things better.
You're in trouble with the law
A third of the 2,500 reported annual arrests of U.S. citizens abroad are drug-related. To avoid trouble, do the obvious: Just say no, and never leave bags unattended. Familiarity with local laws is essential, especially in strict countries. In Turkey, all "antiquities" are owned by the state, and trying to bring home a souvenir that's a few centuries old could land you behind bars for a month. During any run-in with the law, be respectful and apologetic. If you're locked up, actively request that local authorities inform the U.S. embassy, which, according to the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, must then happen "without delay." A consular officer can visit you, provide contact info for local attorneys, fill you in on the basics of the local legal system, and inform your loved ones of the situation.
You get the worst seat on the plane
It might not be on a par with getting sent to a Turkish prison, but it stinks (sometimes literally). If you're stuck with the middle seat, the seat next to a crying baby, or the one by the lavatory, politely let an attendant know you'd like to move, and why. Before things get that far, note that most airline websites show a plane's configuration and seat availability. Use the reviews on seatguru.com to help pick a good seat. If you're still not satisfied, get to the airport early and see what's open then--exit rows with extra legroom are often assigned at the last minute. When nothing else works, have a sleeping pill handy.
Your companion is missing
Before heading to that wild festival or club, follow the advice of moms everywhere and arrange for a meeting point in case you and your travel partner are separated. If you haven't done so and find yourself alone, go to a sensible home base--your hotel room, or, on day trips, the train station or your car--and stay put. If your companion is still a no-show, contact mutual friends by cell phone or e-mail, letting everyone know exactly where you are. The embassy can get in touch with hospitals and local officials, and, if necessary, put out word about a missing person.
There's no record of your reservation
Arrive at the hotel or the car-rental counter with a confirmation number and a printout of your reservation. If there's no evidence of your reservation, think about how it was made (through a third-party site? in your spouse's name?) and ask the agent to hunt accordingly. If nothing turns up, call your credit card company for a history of transactions, including dollar amounts blocked off by hotels or rental companies. It could be you're at the wrong place. Confirming reservations a few days before arrival, and rehashing special needs (late arrival, nonsmoking room, car seat), can help prevent mishaps.
When terrorist attacks or natural disasters occur, most hotels and airlines are as hospitable as possible and waive cancellation and change restrictions. The State Department fields thousands of calls asking about U.S. citizens in troubled areas--more than 15,000 inquiries were made for the 2004 tsunami alone. To keep loved ones from worrying unnecessarily, always leave a detailed itinerary of your trip. If it's impossible to get word to family and friends that you're OK, contact a consulate and give permission to relay the message. The U.S. government organizes evacuations when a location is unsafe, but in a sense, it's like Social Security: You're better off not counting on it.
Stop procrastinating and start getting prepared