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What to do in a Travel Disaster

Misplaced your passport? Had a run-in with a pickpocket? If so, it is my honour to welcome you to the travel disaster club. As a distinguished member, I’m here to offer a few tips I’ve learnt from my own experiences on the road, along with a few from my equally unfortunate colleagues and friends on how to avoid these sticky situations or what to do if you find yourself in one.

My story
My European adventure was off to a bad start before I even left my own city. The check-in lady told me that my layover in Jakarta had gone from five hours to 25 hours, but the worst discovery happened on the plane when I discovered I didn’t have my credit or money cards on me. Nobody likes a long-haul economy class flight, but they’re even worse when you spend the entire time knowing your cards could be in the wrong hands. I cancelled them as soon as I could in Jakarta hoping that a Good Samaritan had turned them in, but the worst was confirmed after checking my balance in Amsterdam -- my card thief had treated himself to a nice shopping spree, but was thoughtful enough to leave me with 16 cents to use for the next five weeks.

The moral of the story:

  • Check if any of your flights have been delayed with your airline before you check in, particularly if your airline has a reputation for delays. You could spare yourself a rude shock and allow some time to make other arrangements.
  • If a flight has been delayed and you need accommodation, airlines can organise this for you free of charge.
  • Cancel everything as soon as you find them missing. My thief managed to spend nearly everything in a short amount of time.
  • Carry spare cash and a backup card. Luckily I had both these things, so I could still afford a train ticket to my hotel and use my backup card for my trip.

Johanna’s story
Johanna didn’t think it’d be a problem to leave her bag with all her belongings in the back seat of a rented car. After all, the car was parked in a busy, open area in a city universally assumed to be quite safe -- surely no one would attempt a break-in? Unfortunately, as bad luck would have it, someone did break into the car and stole all her belongings (camera, laptop, and yes, the passport). Add on top of this the fact that her country didn’t have a national embassy in the city and that of all times, this occurred in between the small window when one travel insurance policy expired and the other would soon begin, and you have a truly disastrous situation.

The moral of the story

  • Don’t assume that nothing bad will happen to you just because you are in a ‘nice’ city. Thieves are universal, so don’t ever let your guard down.
  • Note your closest embassy, especially if the city you’re staying in doesn’t have one. Should disaster strike, you’ll have half your plan figured out already.
  • Don’t ever leave yourself uncovered by travel insurance, even if it’s for a day. A bloke would never remove his protective cup during a sporting match, so too should you make sure you’re always fully covered.

Catherine’s story
Everything went wrong for Catherine when she turned her back for just one second. She'd had a bad case of stomach flu and left her bag with a friend to go to the bathroom, but when she got back, her friend was reading and her bag was stolen, along with her wallet, phone, passport and her bus tickets home.

The moral of the story

  • It’s always best to keep your valuables on you at all times and, as Catherine learned the hard way, even travel companions don’t make the best guards for our things. While dorky and uncomfortable, money belts are good solutions for theft prevention.
  • Carry photocopies of important documents, especially your ID. All sorts of situations require you to prove who you are, including the process of getting your passport reissued and having a backup is always a good precaution to take when you travel.

Stanton’s story
While quad-biking in Croatia, Stanton’s camera had fallen out of his pocket, which unfortunately meant that all the photos he’d taken during the three weeks leading up to this point were now all gone. The silver lining was that he had another camera, so he could still continue taking photos, but when making the claim for his camera on his insurance he was refused because he hadn’t filed a police report.

The moral of the story

  • It’s always a good idea to have more than one camera just in case you lose one. A phone or an iPad is a perfect backup camera.
  • If you have access to Wi-Fi, upload your photos to the Cloud so that you can’t lose them. Another idea if you’re travelling with friends is to use a photo-sharing service so that everyone in the group has access to a pool of photos from your trip.
  • Report anything that is lost to the police immediately and make sure you record a reference number; you may not be able to make a claim against your insurance otherwise. While this isn’t always required in some countries, it’s still good practice and you’ll keep yourself covered.

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Tips by

Deal Expert, Sydney
Friday, June 14, 2013
See more Tips from
Micah Chua