The Vacation Survival Guide: 38 Possible Travel Disasters (and How to Avoid Them)
From lost luggage to lost in the woods, from shark attack to heart attack, these are the solutions for the worst of your travel woes.
1. Lost Luggage
First, file a claim with your airline. [This will start a paper trail.] Secondly, get thee to Twitter. The only thing airlines hate more than ever-evolving FAA regulations is being called out on social media. Usually someone, or some bot, will get back to you immediately. DM them. Get your bags back. #winning
But really: what are your rights if your luggage is delayed? Read on.
2. Lost Credit Card
An uncancelled credit card on the loose is like hackerbait. Call to cancel the card immediately. Most card companies, like American Express, will FedEx a replacement card for next-day arrival. Until then, treat this as an exercise in financial discipline.
3. Lost Passport
Welcome the realm of forms. So you've lost your passport abroad. You'll need to visit the consulate or embassy, as advised by the Bureau of Consular Affairs at the Department of State. Ask for the Consular Section. Fill out a DS-11 and a DS-64. Bring a copy of your driver's license, a photograph that adheres to the official Photo Composition Template and a copy of your travel itinerary. Agencies can issue full on ten year passports or, if you're in a rush, a temporary passport which will get you back to the states, where there will be more forms to fill out.
Read more about your lost passport.
4. Lost Child
Just leave it. Make another. Kidding! If your child is seriously lost, not just out-of-eyeshot lost for a minute, get in contact with both local law enforcement and the U.S. embassy or consulate. (They are staffed 24/7 and can help coordinate search efforts on a governmental level.) But for the love of God, leash your children. Again, kidding!
5. Lost in the Woods
According to Bear Grylls—a guy who survives for a living (or lives for surviving!)—follow this mnemonic mantra: Please Remember What's First. It stands for:
Protection: Find shelter from the elements and build a fire, both to keep away wild animals and provide light.
Rescue: Consider how you might be rescued. Is it building a large enough fire to signal passing air traffic? Is it trying to find a mobile phone signal to call for help?
Water: A water source is always more urgent than finding a food source. Your body can survive three weeks without food but only three days without water.
Food: Forage for food to keep up your energy, to keep you moving and strong enough to self-rescue.
6. Lost in the City
Relax. Getting lost is the main pleasure of travel. As Lao-Tzu once said, “A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.” There’s also Google Maps or, if you’ve turned off Data Roaming, which you should, cities are usually full of people from whom you can ask directions.
7. Emergency Contraception in a Catholic Country
Obviously forethought might have helped. Beth Santos, who runs She's Wanderful, a network of women travelers, explains, "A lot of doctors and insurance companies will let you take out extra dosages of the birth control pill ahead of your travels so that you have them." If, however, that didn't quite happen and you find yourself in a rather strict society which frowns upon birth control. Santos recommends seeking out a local NGO that supports women. "Often they have access to much safer pharmaceuticals than what you might attain through an underground trade."
8. Stranded in an Airport Overnight
Recite Gryll's mantra, Please Remember What's First then adapt it. Donna McSherry, editor of SleepinginAirports.com, says, "Many airports have a stash of sleeping cots. Either contact your airline or use a courtesy phone to find if yours does." Then bed down. Remember: restaurants begin to close at 10 p.m/ so you'll want to stock up before then. Also, be wary of sleeping near air conditioners and in highly-trafficked areas.
For more ways to make your airport stay not suck, head this way.
9. Stranded in an Airport During the Day
Keep in mind that day-drinking rules, like sales tax, don’t apply in many terminals. So get your drank on. But remember, as Harriet Baskas, author of Stuck at the Airport says, "Just as the nearest exit might be behind you, the nearest exit from misery might be in the concourse behind you." If you know you'll be stranded for a while, don't be afraid to exit security and explore.
10. Over 30 and Stuck in a Youth Hostel
Embrace your wizened old sagacious side. But don't complain about youth or bore your new friends with tales from when you were young. It's best just to nod, as if you understand what “on fleek” means. Also, many hostels have private rooms.
11. Under 65 and Stuck on a Jazz Cruise
Make friends with the musicians. Jazz cats party hard.
12. Rental Car Accident
It’s times like these in which one wonders, “Should I have purchased rental car insurance?” The answer is, invariably, no. You still did the right thing by saying no to that little scam. That is, just as long as you paid for the rental car with a credit card that offers rental car insurance. [All the major credit card companies offer so-called secondary insurance but with varying degrees of coverage.] Regardless of the insurance situation, yet again you are in form purgatory. You’ll need a police report, witness accounts, an accident report at the rental car agency, with your credit card company, on top of the standard insurance forms. It’s a hassle so mostly just swerve to avoid collision.
Still totally freaked out and confused about car insurance? We've got you covered.
13. Market Crash
Just as long as you can stomach occasional strikes, human misery and simmering civil unrest, a crash—like the one unfolding in Greece right now—is no reason not to enjoy your vacation. In fact, if anything, favorable exchange rates will make the trip cheaper. Do try to have as much cash on hand as you’ll need if you think there will be limits placed on withdrawals but even in Greece, the 60-Euro limit only applied to ATM cards linked to local banks. In general, restaurants will be emptier, food cheaper and—if you can stomach the stench of desperation—paradise awaits among the economic ruin.
14. Shark Attack
Man v. beast isn't all that different from man v. man. All the usual fight advice applies: don't turn your back on your opponent., keep your hands up and protect yourself at all times. Of course, this being a water fight too, just keep in mind you don't want to load your punches. Short sharp jabs to the nose and snout will have the most effect. Also, this not being an unsanctioned bout, feel free to use any hard objects (camera, for example) about you to hit the shark. Or you could always make your own swimming shark cage.
15. Heart Attack
When you have a medical emergency abroad, it makes sense to consider which is riskier: the local hospital or enduring the trip home. Organizations like International SOS, which offers medical insurance and assistance to travelers and companies, provides an annual Health Risk Map laying out which option might be best, as well as providing a network of local recommended health-care providers. So feel pangs in your chest, use their app immediately. And please don’t worry about the Data Roaming charges.
16. Buying Hash From an Undercover Cop
First of all, if you can't spot a narc, don't buy hash from a stranger. Secondly, check Transparency International's latest Corruption Perception index. If the country you’re in scores between 0 - 49—0 being “highly corrupt” and 100 being “very clean”—ponder a discrete mention of palm-greasing. Do not be too obvious. Simply let slip, perhaps, that it is such a hassle to do the paperwork that perhaps it might be easier, you don’t know, to skip it. You sure could show your gratitude. And if this doesn’t work out, see below.
Helping those locked up abroad is the undisputed domain of the Department of Consular Services at the U.S. Department of State. If you find yourself locked up, immediately request contact with a consular official. They can help you find a local attorney as well as engage in status checks to make sure you aren’t being poorly treated. But until you get out, keep in mind prisons around the world are largely the same.
18. Bad Acid Trip in a Strange Place
The Bad Trip Guide has a neat interactive feature that is very calming and low key. (Mostly it involves the advice "don't panic.")
19. Times Square
There is no good reason to go to Times Square willingly. If, however, you find yourself bamboozled into occupying the area, the second floor of Red Lobster is a relatively calm location. If Admiral's Feast isn't your thing, The Church of Saint Mary the Virgin on West 46th is open seven days a week for quiet reflection of how in the world you found yourself in Times Square.
20. Spiritual Malaise
Gone are the days when the hotel drawer could reliably contain a phone book and a Gideon's Bible. Today hotel chains offer spiritual menus with texts from major world religions. But if there is one piece of advice to alleviate the vast majority of spiritual malaise, it is to stop endlessly scrolling through Instagram.
Dendy E. Engelman, director of Dermatological Surgery at Metropolitan Hospital, often lances. “In my office, we often incise and drain these skin lesions in order to relieve pressure and to allow the infected fluid to be released.” But when you’re traveling, Dr. Engelman says, “Warm compresses often help to allow the fluid to drain and topical treatments like benzoyl peroxide and/or salicylic acid can be effective in treating the infection and inflammation.”
The good news is that locusts don't eat people. The bad news is they eat everything else. According to the Food and Agriculturual organization of the United Nations, a 1.2 square-kilometer swarm can eat as much as 35,000 people might in a day. In the event of a locust plague, stock up on food stuffs and water immediately as prices will surely rise. Also, stay inside. Not only does getting stuck in a swarm of bugs feel gross but locusts are often controlled by aerial spraying of organphosphate chemicals. If all else fails, you can do your part by eating the bugs as they do in Cambodia: stuff a peanut in the belly of each one and fry them in a little oil.
23. Hail and Firestorm
Hail is like God peevishly pelting His creation with little rocks so you know He’s pissed and peevish. Go inside and stay away from windows. If you’re in a car, pull over and cover yourself with a blanket.
24. Broken Kindle
Before there was Kindle, there was something called books, which boasted the same "paper white" technology as the tablet in a rather more substantial form. Books are still available in places called "bookstores" where they rest in shelves. Exploring these "shelves" especially in a "used bookstore" is a tremendously fascinating way to discover the local culture of place. And that’s not even mentioning the magician’s quarters known as “the library.”
25. Forgot to Turn Off Data Roaming
Though phone companies are under no obligation to reimburse their customers for not realizing that downloading Drizzy’s new mixtape while in Spain will cost oodles of dollars, often if you realize you have done so not over wifi—which would have been smart—but over regular network, they can retroactively apply roaming data packages. (AT&T’s, for instance, runs $60 for 800 MB.)
26. Forgot to Turn Off Stove
Relax, you didn’t.
27. Missed Reservation at Noma
“Unfortunately,” says Arve Krognes, who works at world’s best restaurant. “There is very little we can do on short notice.” Since Noma, one of the best restaurants in the world, has only 12 tables and is booked months in advance, a missed reservation is almost unremedial. However if catastrophe strikes, a plane is delayed or a flight missed, the Noma team will help reschedule the reservation.. “We try to do everything we can,” says Krognes, “but if we can’t accommodate a guest at Noma, we might call up some of our friends in Copenhagen like Matt Orlando at Amass, Christian Puglisi at Relae, or Samuel Nutter and Victor Wagman at Lillebror.” Because if Noma isn’t on the table, a Noma alumnus is the next best thing.
28. Apocalyptic Fight With Spouse
“The stresses of travel can sometimes bring out the worst in our relationships.,” says Don Cole, a couples therapist at the Center for Relationship Wellness in Houston, Texas, and a certified trainer at the Gottman Institute. “We find ourselves outside of our normal routine, dealing with situations that are almost by definition stressful.” Cole recommends a five-step plan when fighting escalates to fever pitch—or, as he calls it, “diffuse physiological arousal.”
First, decide on a word that means, “we need to take a break.” Then say it. Secondly, stop all action and conversation. Thirdly, take a 30-minute break. if you’re traveling and can’t physically break away, take a mental break. Cole recommends, “meditation, prayer, relaxation, listening to music.” Fourth, re-engage. Have a conversation about what happened and if this can’t be done calmly, make a plan to have talk about the issue later. “It is important,” says Cole, “that a couple see a ritual such as this as a healthy alternative to escalation rather than as a sign of weakness in the relationship.”
If judgment days comes while you’re on vacation, it might not be worth your while to get home. Pat Henry, editor of The Prepper Journal, says if you are in the United States, at least try. “Unless you find out that your home has been obliterated, go back.” But if you are in Europe or abroad, your goal should simply be to survive. Luckily, like Henry, you’re probably carrying a knife, a flashlight, a lighter, a water bottle and a cheap water filter like a Sawyer Mini Water filter. “No matter where I am, I can filter water and carry it with me. I can cut material and I can make fire.” Henry also recommends carrying precious metals since the currency will most certainly collapse. “I always carry 10 silver coins.” As far as where to ride out the post-apocalyptic world, stay in the city long enough to get supplies but then head into the country. “Cities are survivable but you run the risk of falling victim to the crowds,” he says.
30. Shampoo Exploded in Bag
In situations this dire, prevention is the first and most important step. The strategy here is to decant and isolate. Stores like Muji and Sephora sell small TSA-approved containers. Put what you must in these. Then place all your toiletries in a sealable plastic bag. (This might be the only thing the TSA gets right.) If you have not heeded these guidelines and your clothes are covered in shampoo, wash immediately and learn from your mistakes.
In their cheerfully titled Hostage Survival Skills pamphlet—distributed to NATO forces—Major PJ. Murphy and Captain K.M.J. Farley note that “surviving a hostage situation remains, to a considerable degree, a matter of chance.” Nevertheless, they write, “The most important thing to attempt to do is bring your initial reactions under control as soon as possible.” Other tips are keep your mind and body as active as possible; follow the rules given by the captors, and attempt to maintain hope. If the kidnapping is motivated by ransom, it is important, adds Ben Lopez, author of The Negotiator: My life at the heart of the hostage trade not to negotiate for one’s own freedom. “I guarantee you’ll be the worst negotiator in the history of the world,” he advises.
32. Kids Won’t Nap
Almost as serious, children who refuse—or who are unable—to nap can scotch an entire vacation. But so can parents who obsess over strictly enforcing at-home sleep routines. Ingrid Prueher, a Manhattan-based pediatric sleep therapist nicknamed “The Sleep Whisperer,” advises an 80/20 rule. “80 percent of the time you are consistent with their sleep; 20 percent of the time you aren’t.” That might mean naps to-go, in a stroller or in a car seat. If they don’t nap every day, that’s okay. But, she says, “Every third day, at the very least, it is important to have a solid nap, especially if the other days have been inconsistent.”
33. Embarrassing Tan Lines
There are two ways to remedy this: fade or darken. In the former, opt for the gentle exfoliating powers of Dermalogica Daily Resurfacer. If the latter, fill in your shameful un-tanned portions with L'Oreal's tinted foundation.
34. Embarrassing ‘Rental Units
Just remember, someday you will be a parent and your child will be embarrassed by you. The karmic seeds of adolescent shame of one’s legal guardian ripen into being, oneself, the cause of shame later on. (Although, it is also mad fun to embarrass your kids. So if you think your Mom and Dad don’t know exactly what they are doing shouting, “Hey bunny, family photo op!!!” you must be out of your gourd.)
35. Shoddy Airbnb
Underwear on the armchair? Filth on the floor? Dirty sheets? Airbnb offers reimbursement and help finding a new rental if certain, infuriatingly vague, terms are met. As a guest, however, it is important that you document, exhaustively, the conditions of the apartment. Some of the triggers of what the company calls a Travel Issue occur if the accommodation is not “generally clean and sanitary,” if there are vermin or undisclosed pets and if clean bedding isn’t available. Somewhat awkwardly, the reimbursement doesn’t kick in unless you’ve made a “reasonable effort”—as judged by Airbnb—to resolve the issue with the host. But if you have to no avail. Airbnb will reimburse the fee and help find a similar accommodation.
More tips for staying safe at your Airbnb, this way.
36. No Instagram
It’s probably a good thing. As a recent study showed from Psychological Science, taking a photograph of a moment diminishes the mind’s ability to remember it. This is called the “photo-taking impairment effect” or #phototakingimpairment effect. Anyway, according to another study in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, the use of social media is inversely correlated with overall happiness, so the answer how to survive without Instagram might better be phrased, “How have we survived with it?”
37. No Tinder
Go to a bar. Talk to someone. Who knows? It might work out.
Say none of the above survival mechanisms work and you don’t, actually, survive. Well, as John Donne once wrote, “Death comes to us all equally and makes us all equal when it comes.” You’ll be free but your next-of-kin would be well advised to obtain a local death certificate post-haste and get in touch with the Bureau of Consular Affairs. They’ll help handle the tricky business of arranging for the repatriation of remains which are, of course, dictated by local, U.S., and international laws.