How to Survive 10 Travel Emergencies
Crashed your rental car? Missed a flight? Lost a passport? Don't panic: When the you-know-what hits the fan, we have the strategies to salvage your vacation.
...MY CHECKED LUGGAGE IS ROBBED?
You'll probably never get your stuff back, but you should file reports anyway. Why? They increase the chances that the thieves will eventually be caught. If there's a slip in your bag stating that the TSA inspected it, file a claim at the TSA website (www.tsa.gov).
Worst case: There's no slip of paper from the TSA noting that your bag has been inspected. So file a claim for reimbursement for lost and stolen items with the airline directly—and quickly, because claims often must be submitted within as little as 24 hours of an incident. Ironically, airlines won't pay for the most-likely-to-be-stolen items, such as jewelry and electronics, and they impose caps on their total liability per passenger.
When all else fails: File claims with the airline, the airport(s), and the TSA. To be safer next time, put a TSA-recognized lock on your bag to prevent the half dozen, non-TSA workers who handle it from being able to pry it open.
...I GET SICK WITH A BUNCH OF OTHER PASSENGERS ON A CRUISE?
If your cruise is interrupted or postponed because of an outbreak, you should expect to be given the option to cancel for a full refund or to reschedule at a discount of up to half off.
Worst case: Cruise ships are not required to compensate passengers for illnesses. If you and a small number of passengers get sick on an otherwise uneventful sailing, don't expect a refund.
When all else fails: Call the cruise line's customer-service department and request a discount on a future sailing, explaining that your vacation was ruined and that you'd like to give the experience another shot at a discounted rate, or with credit for on board purchases.
...I NEED EMERGENCY MEDICAL HELP AT MY DESTINATION?
Most U.S.-based health-insurance plans offer some coverage overseas, but only for emergencies, such as broken bones or heart attacks—anything that would send a reasonable person to the ER. Chances are you'll have to pay the hospital or doctor directly and get reimbursed later, so keep all receipts. In some rare cases, health plans work with doctors and clinics overseas, and if your treatment occurs in-network, your insurer may be able to pay the bill directly, saving you the trouble of paying out of pocket.
Worst case: You have no insurance and rely on Medicare or Medicaid. Neither program will protect you outside the U.S. Be sure to buy supplementary travel insurance in advance of your trip. To scout out the policies of multiple established, well-regarded providers, use insuremytrip.com.
When all else fails: Get to a doctor or hospital and worry about payment later. In many parts of the world, medical treatments cost far less than in the U.S. And in countries with socialized health plans, medical bills have a way of disappearing, even for foreigners.
...I'VE BEEN ARRESTED OVERSEAS?
Drugs are involved in roughly one-third of the arrests of Americans abroad, so it goes without saying to just say no. Legal systems vary widely around the globe, however, and to avoid getting in trouble because of an unusual foreign law—in Singapore, for instance, you can be fined for not flushing the toilet—study up on your destination's peculiar regulations in guidebooks and at travel.state.gov.
Worst case: You're facing serious jail time, or worse. When speaking to the police, be respectful and apologetic without necessarily admitting wrongdoing.
When all else fails: Tell everyone who will listen that you demand to speak with a U.S. embassy officer, who can help you navigate that country's legal system, find a local attorney, and send messages to your family.
...I'M CAUGHT IN A NATURAL OR MAN-MADE DISASTER? Serious emergencies can happen anywhere (see: London, Haiti, Chile, Mumbai, New Orleans), so it's a good idea to e-mail your itinerary, including flight and hotel info, to a friend back home. Register your trip with the State Department for free at travel.state.gov, so that the government will know where you are and will be able to help get you to safety in a crisis.
Worst case: If you're fortunate enough to have life and limb intact, money shouldn't be a concern: When true emergencies occur, hotels and airlines are generally very sympathetic to travelers and waive cancellation and change restrictions.
When all else fails: Figure out a way to get yourself to a U.S. embassy or consulate, which can provide safety and coordinate evacuations. Getting home may take time, so be patient, and try to console the travelers around you, who may become your new best friends.
CORRECTION: The link for registering a trip with the U.S. State Department has been corrected. Sorry.