Avoiding and Overcoming Travel Disasters

Much to our dismay, the world is not perfect, we are not perfect, and we cannot control everything. Those are general lessons that we have to keep learning throughout our lives, over and over again. Sometimes they present themselves as close calls and good reminders. Other times….. in a slightly more problematic way. A few weeks ago my phone was stolen. It is not too big of an exaggeration to say that my entire life was on that thing and I have spent the last few weeks picking up the pieces. It has been endlessly frustrating with long calls to banks, favors from friends and family, chats and emails with various accounts and mornings with useless phone company employees (actually only one was utterly useless and one was the nicest guy ever who fixed everything she did wrong). Don’t worry this isn’t going to be a rant about my ongoing situation. Instead it got me thinking about other travel disasters and how to avoid them and how to carry on after they happen.

Ante Hamersmit on Unsplash

Ante Hamersmit on Unsplash

Lost Luggage

How to avoid

The only way to avoid this is by not checking your luggage. For some, this isn’t possible and therefore, the best you can do is prepare. Pack a few essentials in your carry on such as a toothbrush, toothpaste and a light change of clothes. If you’re going on a beach vacation you might even go so far as to pack a swim suit so you don’t have to buy a new one or hold off on enjoying your trip.

If you are arriving in another country and your phone won’t work, make sure you have a number or your accommodation, host or tour guide on hand so the airline has a way of getting in touch with you.

You can also purchase travel insurance. Make sure you are aware of the limitations and the stipulations because insurance companies aren’t just handing out new wardrobes. There will be a minimum amount of hours you’re without your luggage before it kicks in. This is why it could be a good idea to pack your swim suit or other essential in your carry-on.

How to deal

The first thing to note is that it is not, in fact, the fault of the people working at the lost luggage counter. Even if it’s extremely urgent the nicer you are the happier they will be to help you.

Here’s where travel insurance can end up paying for itself. Make sure you have everything documented so you can file your claim later. The airline should give you all the necessary papers but it doesn’t hurt to take your own notes. You will also need to be sure to keep all of the receipts for items purchase. Occasionally airlines will also help cover costs but it depends on who you fly, you shouldn’t rely on that. Again, know your insurance stipulations. Your luggage might be 11 hours late but if your policy states 12 hours or later then you’re stuck footing the bill for everything you’ve purchased in the meantime.

In addition to providing your information, you will also want to get their information so you’re able to get in touch if need be, along with the names of the people you’ve spoken with.

Most importantly, be patient – both with the people who are helping you recover what someone else lost and with the time it takes to file your claim. Nothing in the insurance world goes quickly and in the end, the most frustrating thing could be your unrealistic expectations on the quick and easy resolution.  

How to look on the bright side

Maybe you’ve scored some free new clothes! Or at the very least, you got your luggage delivered to you for free without you having to haul it with you.

Photo by Isabella and Louisa Fischer on Unsplash

Photo by Isabella and Louisa Fischer on Unsplash

Food Poisoning 

Thai tummy, Delhi belly, Montezuma’s revenge. Please comment below and let me know which ones I’m missing. Have you been anywhere with a different saying?  

How to avoid

Do your research, ask questions and know your body! Make sure you know where tap water is not safe and how far you can go with it. For instance, if you buy your water you should also be buying your ice. Ask the bar or restaurant what they use if you can’t tell. I had no issues brushing my teeth with tap water for the 9 months I spent in Southeast Asia but you know your stomach best and what it is and isn’t sensitive to. It will also depend on the areas you travel to.

Use your eyes and critical thinking. Should I order meat when I see it has been sitting under the sun for most of the day? Probably not.

Filters and purifying drops are an excellent solution. I have a water bottle with a Lifestraw that filters as a drink it. I’ve also used iodine drops before. Not only are you saving money but you’re also saving the planet. Win-win! If you’re camping it’s a must since you can’t trek with liters of water on you. Leave that space free for the whiskey. Tums isn’t going to help you with a bacterial infection but sometimes it’s nice to feel like it might. It definitely won’t hurt to have some with you for your run of the mill indigestion feels, though.

Roam Wild will soon be adding a section in the country profiles on the drinking water so you’re able to easily access that information.  

How to deal

Accept it. Don’t push yourself. Take some time to rest up and hydrate! If it bacterial you might need to take an antibiotic so talk to a doctor if symptoms persist more than a day or two.

How to look on the bright side:

You have earned some of your traveling stripes. Diarrhea on the road is the mark of a true warrior. Share your experience because nothing brings strangers together more than a good laugh about their shit stories.

Photo by Andy Beales on Unsplash

Photo by Andy Beales on Unsplash

Missed Flight

How to avoid

Get to the airport with plenty of time in advance. Especially with all of the Covid protocols it is especially important to arrive early. Airports post suggested lead times and you can download the TSA app (that I only ever used pre-pandemic) that shows security wait times.

You can check out my post on 14 Ways to Improve Your Airport Experience if you ‘re one of those people who waits until the last minute. Ever seen Home Alone? That stress just isn’t worth it. And you definitely don’t want to accidentally leave one of your kids at home.

Speed through check-in and security by wearing shoes that are easy to take off and put back on and packing your bags according to both weight and security allowances. Liquids over 3.4 oz / 100mL go in your checked luggage. Same with your aerosols and nunchucks. Lithium batteries go in your carry-on and make sure your laptop is accessible to take out.

How to deal

Knock on wood, this has never happened to me. I have had a few close calls though. Sometimes there are unforeseen circumstances out of our control an sometimes we just make a mistake. Call ahead and let them know. They can help you re-book and figure out your options. Remain calm and polite and they will be more accommodating. Many airlines have reasonable policies to help with missed flights so don’t give up and go home. The worst they can say is no. When you’re out of options you’ll just have to book a new flight. If you’re worried about it then pay a little extra for insurance in ticket flexibility.

If you need more detailed information you can check out THIS super helpful post.

How to look on the bright side

It is a bummer of a situation to be in but figure it out and then move forward so it doesn’t affect the rest of your trip. If you’re on your way home then enjoy a little extra time of vacation!

Photo by Kyle Cleveland on Unsplash

Photo by Kyle Cleveland on Unsplash

Bed Bugs or other small pleasures

How to avoid

Reviews, reviews, reviews. Always read reviews before you book an accommodation and if there is ANY mention of bed bugs in the last 3-6 months steer clear. Do a once over of the sheets and mattress when you get anywhere. Red dots on the mattress could be blood from bites and any black dots on sheets could be bed bug poop.  

How to deal

Let your accommodation know! This is EXTREMELY important. They need to know to take care of their sheets and mattresses and other travelers need to know so they can take precautions. Wash everything you can on a hot cycle and then dry it on the hot cycle too.  Iron your clothes and if possible seal them airtight in a garbage bag leave them sitting out in the hot sun all day. Then wash again. You guessed it, on hot. Be careful as hot water can cause shrinkage and color leakage.

You are going to feel frustrated and dirty and like they are always crawling on you. Any prickle of the skin or light breeze or brush of a hair falling will send you into a fit of paranoia. But you got this. Just keep at it and they WILL die. Get anti itch cream or essential oils to help with the bites and try your best not to scratch.

If you have lice or other horrible small mo fo’s you should take similar steps in talking to your accommodation, washing your clothes and getting a product to help eradicate them such as creams or shampoos, depending on what it is.  

How to look on the bright side

Congrats, you have earned yourself another backpacker badge of honor. It’s better to get them on the road where it’s just your body and your backpack than at your house.

Photo by Natasha Chebanoo on Unsplash

Photo by Natasha Chebanoo on Unsplash

Lost or stolen valuables

Look, I’m not going to sit here and tell you how to avoid this. There is nothing worse than being without one or any combination of these three and people telling you “Yeah, you gotta be careful…..….” I KNOW!!! NOT HELPING. We all live our lives in hopes of maintaining all of these things and sometimes things happen.

Passport

The first thing you’ll want to do is report it to local authorities and then to your government so you are not at risk of identity theft.

Always, always, always have extra copies. Take pictures on your phone, keep one in your email and keep physical copies in more than one location. Never put all your eggs in one basket.

Your embassy can issue an emergency passport that is valid for up to a year. Upon your return home you’ll need to get a new one. Contact your local embassy and visit their website for more information. If you are not in the same city as an embassy you might have to travel via land so as not have to show an ID. Talk to local authorities about your options if you’re needing to travel long distances.

Phone

These days our whole lives are on our phones. When I got mine stolen I didn’t even have an alarm clock.  While it does have my life on there, a lot is synced to the cloud. The most important thing is to set up photo syncing to the cloud as those are some of the most valuable things on your phone.

Getting a new phone will depend entirely on your situation and what is right for you. It’s important to note what you’ll need in the short term. You could wait it out until you get home, get a cheap “for now” phone or go all in. Take into consideration prices and taxes and how getting a phone where you are located could affect your service at home. Problems do arise, though, when you need a number from your home country to access banking information and  for verification methods.  

Wallet

Or rather, your money. Another time you don’t want to put all your eggs in one basket. Keep multiple cards (debit and credit) in a few different safe places. If you need cash and don’t have a debit card you can use things like Venmo or Pay Pal to send someone money to take out for you.

Keep track of spending as best as you can so you notice if any suspicious charges appear. Pay attention to your alerts from your bank. My debit card info was compromised but I still had my physical card and I was extremely annoyed with my bank for pausing my card until I realized they were right. If they need to mail you a new card it can be frustrating when you don’t know where you’re going to be. Send it ahead of you or stay put in until you receive it. It’s inconvenient to  have to change your plans but having money is way more important.

My cards don’t require travel alerts anymore but double check that yours doesn’t either because having your service paused and getting in touch with them can be very time consuming.

Remember some ATMs give you your card back right away, others wait until after you’ve gotten your money. Double and triple check you have your card before walking away from that ATM.

Computers or expensive equipment

When traveling by bus keep your valuables with you. On buses people can reach under the seat in front of them and take your backpack so make sure to keep the zipper facing you and interlace your legs/feet in the straps so they can’t pull it out.

Photo by Lexi Anderson on Unsplash

Photo by Lexi Anderson on Unsplash

Scams

How to avoid

As a travel veteran I get especially upset when this happens to me. Even when I know it’s happening WHILE it’s happening sometimes you’re powerless to stop it or have no choice. Getting taken for a ride (literally and figuratively) in your taxi price because it’s 1 in the morning and you’ve got no other options is upsetting but ultimately, you’re fine. When possible, though, use official taxis only and for ones you flag down make sure they use the meter before getting in.

Pay very close attention when dealing in currency with a lot of zeroes. People will take advantage of the fact that you’re unfamiliar with both the currency and dealing in such high numbers.

Anything that seems too good to be true, probably is.

Nomadic Matt just updated his post on common travel scams that you can read more in depth about HERE.

How to deal

When you get aggressive, they get aggressive. If you are not in any danger then consider it a donation. If it’s a particular situation where you’re left arguing (about change for instance), make sure you let them know you’ll be writing a review on Tripadvisor. Suddenly customer service becomes a priority again.

How to look on the bright side

It’s frustrating and infuriating and I’ve gotten overly upset about being scammed before, I get it. But it probably wasn’t the first and certainly won’t be the last time it happens to you. Learn to brush it off and now you’re armed for next time. You’re on vacation, life’s alright.

Photo by mwangi gatheca on Unsplash

Photo by mwangi gatheca on Unsplash

Serious accidents or safety/legal issues

This post doesn’t cover anything life threatening as those are extremely rare and can happen anywhere. Do your research on political environments or other relevant safety factors before you go. Roam Wild has a section on safety on every country page on the site you can take a look at to get you started. 

Travel insurance does provide some coverage for serious injuries, make sure to read about your coverage, especially which activities it includes. 

Those motorbiking Vietnam / Southeast Asia should be extremely careful as you will not visit without knowing people who’ve gotten into gnarly accidents. 

As always, be on alert and a regularly functioning human who uses common sense (you’d be surprised how many people on vacation do not do this). I know this post is a little depressing and while you do want to take precautions, you should also remain open to possibilities and experiences. Listen to your gut and try to strike a balance between smart and adventurous.