Travel Survival Guide: 11 Disasters and How to Avoid Them

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We’ve all been there. You’ve planned out your itinerary (or you haven’t, as some of us are wont to do) and you’ve packed your bags.

Everything you needed to do before setting off is done.

You’re ready.

Sometimes, though, even the most experienced traveler can experience some kind of travel disaster. You aren’t psychic.

You can’t plan for every eventuality, but you can have an idea of how you’ll react if one of these travel disasters strikes. I’ve put together a list of eleven of the most common travel disasters below – from exploding shampoo bottles all the way to car accidents – and offered some tips on how to handle them.

Eleven Travel Disasters and How to Cope with Them

These are obviously in no particular order. I don’t honestly believe ‘Inability to access Tinder’ is more of an emergency than losing your passport, obviously.

#11 – Should I Go to Hospital?

Thankfully, I’ve never had to worry about going to hospital while abroad despite having been near death on the Karakorum Highway.

Being truly sick on the road is not only a bloody unpleasant experience, but it can also be brutal on your wallet. Depending on where you are, you could be looking at a bill as low as $20 (in China) to anywhere into the tens of thousands in the US.

And don’t get your hopes up about your government pitching in to help you recover from that rock-climbing injury. Smartraveller expressly states that the Australian government cannot assist with paying for medical assistance overseas or medical evacuation.

In short: you foot the bill.

Thankfully, most travel insurance companies are here to help in this regard. Companies like Fast Cover give you access to a Global Assistance Team which is available 24/7 should the worst ever happen.

Pro Trip: Don’t forget to keep documentation of everything you’ve paid for so that your claim can be processed more quickly.

#10 – Lost Luggage

Lost luggage is more frustrating inconvenience than true travel disaster most of the time, but it can be the difference between a fantastic trip and an expensive one if the airline takes too long to track down your luggage.

You should not only file a claim with your airline as soon as possible, but also do the same with your travel insurance provider.

I always like to keep an extra t-shirt and set of underpants in my carry on in case my luggage goes missing, although the one time I failed to do this – my flight from Australia to China misplaced my luggage and I had to reunite with my then-girlfriend smelling like economy class.

Pro Tip: Airline taking too long to get back to you or just providing shitty service? Don’t be afraid to name and shame on social media. You’d be surprised how quickly this resolves a lot of issues.

#9 – Lost Passport

My #1 travel fear; I’ve almost lost my passport on two occasions now.

The first time, I left my backpack (containing my passport, laptop, and iPad) on a Sydney bus and didn’t even realize until my parents called me an hour later. I was on the train to Newcastle at the time in preparation to return home for Christmas, so imagine my relief when I learned that the bus driver had spotted the bag, called the number in my passport, and arranged for me to collect it from the garage!

The second time, through yet more idiocy, I accidentally packed my passport in a box to be mailed home from China via surface mail. Not only would I have been stranded in China, I’d have had to wait 6-8 weeks for the damned thing to even reach Australia before it could be posted back.

There’s no quick and easy fix to losing your passport. You’re going to be balls deep in forms and paperwork for the foreseeable future. You’re going to spend some long, frustrating hours at the local embassy.

If you were robbed, report it to the police immediately, inform your government, and be sure to collect a copy of the police report for travel insurance purposes. Even if you simply misplaced it, let your hotel/hostel know ASAP so that they can file a report and you can use this in your claim.

Pro Tip: Always carry a photocopy of your passport with you. It’s one less headache when you’re dealing with the embassy.

#8 – Getting Lost

If you ask me, getting lost in a strange city isn’t so bad. Some of my favourite travel experiences have begun as detours and ended up being fantastic adventures.

Separated from your smartphone with up-to-the-minute Google Maps, it can be a little daunting, especially if you can’t speak the language or have somehow stumbled into a seedy district.

Don’t panic! Find a cafe, hotel, or local police station and just ask. Duck into an internet cafe and access Google Maps. Ask a local using your best broken Spanish/French/Swahili.

Pro Tip – Many major tourist destinations have city-specific apps that often come with maps available offline. I used this to great effect when wandering around London.

The things you find while aimlessly wandering around Upton Park.
The things you find while aimlessly wandering around Upton Park.

#7 – Emergency Contraception

No, I’m not talking about the frantic late-night search for a condom. I’m talking about prescription birth control.

Obviously this isn’t something I’ve ever needed to acquire for myself, but I’ve seen firsthand just how challenging it has been for girlfriends and female friends to find birth control when their supply runs out. Some countries require a prescription while others flat-out don’t support it.

In this case, short of having the foresight to bring extra in case of an unexpected extension of the trip, your best bet may be contacting an NGO that specializes in supporting women.

Another sensitive issue for female travelers is the chance of falling pregnant and needing to make a tough decision. Not being qualified to speak on it myself, I’ll instead direct you to a powerfully brave piece my friend Alice wrote on the subject of getting an abortion while traveling.

#6 – Stuck in the Airport

Like getting lost in an unfamiliar city, I don’t find getting stuck in the airport for an extended amount of time to be particularly disastrous. It can be a headache to be stuck somewhere for a long time when all you want is a comfortable bed and a long hot shower, but there are ways to make even the most unpleasant of layovers bearable.

Making sure you’ve got something to entertain you in your carry-on is a must. I always travel with my Kindle fully charged and stocked with books, so even my 40 hour trip home last year didn’t seem so bad. Hell, I powered through an entire trilogy of short novels.

Airport layovers can be tedious, but they aren't the end of the world.
Airport layovers can be tedious, but they aren’t the end of the world.

By day you’ll have access to shops to browse, cafes to leech WiFi from, and restaurants to dine in. The better airports even offer on-site hotels and showers at an additional cost.

Stuck overnight? Check out Sleeping in Airports for a comprehensive review of your airport as a temporary hotel room.

#5 – Rental Car Accident

One that is particularly relevant to me in preparation for next year’s Great US Road Trip, a car accident isn’t only a traumatic event that potentially comes with quite a few expenses – it’s also a nightmare from an insurance perspective as you have to liaise with both your insurer and the car rental agency.

Pro Trip: Start making your paper trail as soon as you can. The more documentation you have, the less hassle you’re likely to encounter when it comes to processing your claim.

#4 – Market Crash

For those visiting Greece, it seems every second question was about whether or not it would be possible to access money while there.

While I leave the commentary to more qualified bloggers (I recommend Borders of Adventure for all of your Greek questions), it’s safe to say that it is always good to be prepared if you know you’re heading into a country where ATM access might be limited.

Traveling with a little extra cash is never a bad idea.

#3 – Liquid Explosion in Your Luggage

We’ve all had that moment of frustration when we’ve opened our bag and found that, while smelling wonderful, it’s an absolute mess. Our body wash or cologne or shampoo has exploded in transit and drenched everything in an aromatic mess.

Prevention is the best strategy: pack your liquids in a clip seal bag or separate compartment. Simple.

#2 – Storms

Weather, being an unpredictable force of nature, is a son of a bitch to plan for. While you can do a lot of research and prepare according to what you’ve read, you can never be sure when a storm or natural disaster might hit.

Follow the lead of the local authorities and, if possible, inform your immediate family so they know where you are and what is going on.

Better yet, be sure to register your travel plans so that people will know where you are should the worst happen.

#1 – No Access to Tinder/Facebook/Twitter

Some countries (*Cough CHINA Cough*) block social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. If you can’t handle being separated from your Tinder following or, like me, you need social media for work – the best bet is to invest in a VPN.

My personal recommendation is Astrill, but there are a lot of options out there.

Of course, you could just strike up a conversation with the person next to you, read a good book, or get out and explore. Facebook isn’t going anywhere.

Believe it or not, there are people to talk to offline as well!
Believe it or not, there are people to talk to offline as well!
  • Most of these things are no big deal to me, but I’m terrified of losing my passport.

    • That’s probably my biggest travel fear too. The moment I misplace it, I immediately begin to lose my mind haha.

  • Haha I can relate to all these! My worst is running out of money for various reasons, which happended way to much when I was younger 🙂

    • I’ve so far managed to avoid that one, thank God.

      I came awfully close at the end of my China/Namibia leg earlier this year. I was doing to my last $20 and knew that I’d need $50 for my Tanzanian visa. Thankfully, my pay went in while I was in transit!

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