How To Avoid The Worst Travel Emergencies

Travel truth: Even the most TripAdvisor-researched, Yelp-cross-checked trip is going to have a few bumps in the road. And while WTF-just-happened moments tend to make the best anecdotes (and viral photos; who wouldn’t want a gorilla to steal their camera and score a selfie?), when you’re in the midst of the dramatic travel experience, it can be annoying, expensive, or even downright dangerous.

Ahead, we asked a few intrepid travelers to share their worst vacation disasters, and then we offered some advice so you can avoid similar misfortunes. Bottom line: Bring a sense of adventure and humor, a buffer of extra cash, and some travel savvy to ensure the most seamless trip possible.

1 of 9
“I’ve never gotten sick on a flight before, but for some reason, the turbulence on a flight to Australia really did a number on my stomach. One hour in, and I threw up all over myself. I had no idea what to do, so I cleaned up as best I could, but didn’t get a chance to change until I picked up my checked luggage, nearly 20 hours later.”

Lesson Learned: Even if you don’t have a change of clothes, chances are someone on the plane does. Now’s the time to swallow your pride, turn to your neighbor, and ask them if you can give them $20 for an extra shirt. Too shy? Ring your in-air call button. Chances are, flight attendants have seen this sort of thing before and have the advice for how to wash out your shirt in the bathroom (and how to tie your airline blanket into a chic tunic while it dries). Or, avoid the disaster altogether and always include a change of clothes in your carry-on.
2 of 9
“I have a severe pine-resin allergy, and I didn’t know Greece is covered in pine trees before I landed there for a week of island-hopping! I had a terrible allergic reaction on my first day and was covered in hives. Not only was it next-to-impossible to find a pharmacy in the resort town where I was staying, but when I did find one, I couldn’t explain how I’d gotten the hives. I did a ton of Pictionary-style miming until they figured it out, but it was a long day."

Lesson Learned: If you have a medical condition, make sure to translate the phrase before you go and have it written down somewhere handy — on your phone, in your travel diary, wherever. In the moment, GoogleTranslate is also your friend (if you have Wi-Fi or an international data plan). And if you’re seriously stuck, head into the closest large hotel, even if you’re not a guest. The concierge likely speaks English and can help you out, especially if you need medical attention ASAP.
3 of 9
“I’m British, and I lost my passport in Disneyland on September 10, 2001. Flights were grounded, the consulate was extremely busy, and I had no idea how I’d ever get back home. Eventually, I did, but now, I’m so paranoid about where my passport is at all times.”

Lesson Learned: Don’t bring your passport out in public. Store it in a hotel safe, and keep a PDF saved on your phone, as well as a hard copy in your luggage and with a friend or relatives back home. (There are a few countries where you’re required to keep your documents on you at all times — make sure you know before you go.) Have the number of your consulate stored in your phone and travel journal. And also, sign up for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). Part of the Bureau of Consular Affairs, STEP will contact you and your relatives if there is some sort of disaster that occurs in the foreign country you’re visiting.
4 of 9
“I went on a bike-ride adventure tour on the Panamerican Highway in Ecuador. Instead of biking back, the group, led by a guide, decided to go back to town via bus. Driving into town, a few of the bikes caught on an electrical wire and flew off the bus — landing on a cop car! Immediately, the adventure-tour company started saying it was our fault, and we were liable for the damage. Eventually, just to get out of the situation, my friends and I ended up paying $60 extra for the ‘damage.’”

Lesson Learned: Read the fine print before you do any sort of adventure tour, so you know whose responsibility it is if you end up damaging any property that isn’t yours. Consider paying with a credit card rather than a debit card or cash; that way, the credit card company can back you up if there’s some sort of financial dispute over the charges. And it’s always good to carry a little extra cash, in case you get into one of those situations where you’re being gouged because you’re an unsuspecting tourist (it can happen to the best of us).
5 of 9
“My best friend and I were headed to London...when she broke her ankle on the jetway! For the next week, we had to navigate London by wheelchair.”

Lesson Learned: This is what travel insurance was made for. Consider it if you’re going abroad (often, medical emergencies aren’t covered by your domestic plan). Comparison-shopping is crucial — this State Department list is a great place to start. And call your own insurance provider, who may offer short-term international coverage for a fee.

If you do end up needing medical attention, loop in your own doctor. He or she may tell you to ask for certain tests or medications that might not be recommended in the country you’re visiting.
6 of 9
“I’ve only missed one flight in my life — from Chicago to Lexington, KY. Unfortunately, the flight was for my best friend’s wedding, and I absolutely, positively had to make it there by the next evening. I ended up renting a car and arriving right on time.”

Lesson Learned:
Flexibility is your friend. Ask the agent you’re speaking with if they can look at flights departing from an airport within a two-hour radius; you may be able to hop in a rental and drive to that airport. Tweet at the airline as well; sharing your sob story (in a nice way, of course) may lead to possible solutions. And even if you know you’re missing your flight, do show up at the airport. Most airlines have (but don’t publicize) a “flat-tire” policy, allowing you to get on the standby list for the next available flight, if you show up at the airport within two hours of your flight’s scheduled departure.
7 of 9
“I hooked my purse over my chair in a restaurant in a trendy part of Cape Town, South Africa. I ran to the ladies' room, and when I got back, my bag had been stolen. The restaurant owner took pity on me and tracked down the thieves in his car using my ‘Find My iPhone' app.”

Lesson Learned: It can’t be said enough: Never, ever, ever leave your purse unattended. And when you do go out, be savvy about how you store your stuff: Consider leaving all your credit cards but one back in the hotel safe, and keep important documents on your person instead of in your purse, in case you get mugged.

As far as your phone, make sure you have at least one tracking app installed. Prey Anti-Theft goes a step further than the Find My iPhone app by blaring an alarm and taking photos once the phone has been identified as stolen.
8 of 9
“Boarding the subway in Rome, I looked around and no one seemed to be buying a ticket, so I didn't either. When in Rome, right? But then the police busted into the subway car, and I realized most people must have had monthly passes. I got busted, and the police were not understanding. We were also forced to pay a pretty major fine (at least it felt that way, to backpacker-budget me) that made me really wish we’d just sucked it up and bought a one-way fare when we’d had the chance.”

Lesson Learned:
If you aren’t sure what to do when navigating an unfamiliar transit system, ask someone for help. Even if everyone else seems to be evading the fare, resist the urge to save a few Euro, and buy a ticket. It’s not unusual to be fined on the spot: If you’re at all suspicious, ask for a policeman, as scammers may pose as ticket-checkers to fleece unsuspecting tourists. One thing to remember: Even if you are caught evading the fare, whoever busts you should never, ever take your passport out of your possession. If they have to check it, make sure it stays within your sight at all times.
9 of 9
“A few friends and I got stuck quite literally in the middle of the Israeli desert during a Jewish holiday when all public transit stops. We ended up hitchhiking. An army bus picked us up, but then left us on the side of the road while soldiers were driven into a high-level base. The bus did return for us, and we did eventually make it to Jordan. It was a really rough day, but the stars at our Bedouin camp in the desert of Jordan made us forget it. Despite the anxiety and ick factor, it was definitely one of the best experiences I have ever had traveling.”

Lesson Learned: Hitchhiking is never ideal, but asking for help from people in uniform is a good emergency strategy. Also, when planning your trip, make sure you check the calendar for national holidays and modify your trip if necessary.