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Learning The Hard Way: What To Do If You Lose Your Passport

After arriving Monterosso, Italy, last month for a daylong hike through the five seaside villages of Cinque Terre, one of my friends had that sinking realization: left behind on one of the three trains we’d taken to get there was her wallet. With all her money, credit cards, and, worst of all, her passport inside.

What should have been a carefree day taking in the views from a leisurely hike quickly devolved into pandemonium. Braving language barriers, we spent the next few hours helping her file a police report, tracking down an Internet café to look up all the information and local numbers needed for her cards, and then calling all the companies to cancel them. The U.S. consulate in Florence was already closed, so she called the States to get instructions on what to do about her passport. Luckily, she wasn’t alone—we were all able to pool our money together to help her take care of everything she needed, and then we went on to salvage what we could of the day.

No matter what, this type of situation sucks, but there are ways to prepare for such possible outcomes in advance to make the situation as uncomplicated as possible. Here are some of the most important things you can do so you won’t be in over your head:

-    Make copies of everything: your passport, credit cards, backup ID’s. Keep a set at your hotel, and then leave a set with your friends or family back home so they can get you all the information you need with one phone call. My friend didn’t have copies of anything, so half the time was spent trying to contact her parents in the States and hoping they had versions they could fax or e-mail.

-    Before any trip, create a document with all local phone numbers you’ll need to report lost materials—consulates, banks, credit cards, Western Union—so you can have all the information in one place, instead of having to navigate numerous sites when you’re already stressed. We spent more time than we would have liked holed up inside a dreary Internet café instead of enjoying the lovely weather.

-    Spread out your cash—keep some in your pocket, some in your purse, and a little back at the hotel—so you always have something to fall back on. We were all there to help our friend, but if she was traveling solo, she would have been stranded—and starving!—until someone was able to wire her money.

-    Be familiar with services provided by American Citizen Services. ACS can help with emergency situations, offer financial or medical assistance, and more.

Being prepared can help make dealing with consequences easier, so you won’t spend precious hours you could have spent taking in the sights making expensive calls instead.

As for Cinque Terre, don’t worry—I’ll be back someday, and this time I’ll do it right.

Sarah Khan is a copy editor at Travel + Leisure.

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