Avoiding vacation mishaps

Avoiding vacation mishaps

by Ann MacDonald, December 2009

You've worked hard all year and it is finally time to take your well-deserved vacation. With vacation season just beginning, mishaps can happen. Frankly, they can be more serious than that sunburn or case of Montezuma's revenge you've prepared for. So, here are some tips on how to handle them.

Lost or stolen money

One of the most common problems travelers face is the loss of their money, traveler's checks, or credit cards. Whether you lose your wallet or someone steals it, it is incredibly inconvenient. If you believe your money was stolen, the first thing to do is to file a police report. While it is unlikely they will recover your goods, the police report will come in handy if you need to file an insurance claim.

The next thing to do is to notify your credit card companies and the issuer of any traveler's checks you may have been carrying. Credit cards limit the amount of money for which you are liable when your card is used fraudulently; in most cases, you will not be held responsible for more than $50 per account.

Just as important as what you do when your wallet is stolen are the things you do before you even take your trip. Make sure you are only carrying one or two credit cards in your wallet; this way if they are stolen, you will limit your liability and it will be easier to track what you had with you. It is also a good idea to make a list of the credit cards you carry, the account numbers and their contact phone numbers; leave this list at home or with a trusted friend you can contact if you need this information while you are away from home.

Rental car mishaps

When you rent a car, the agency will probably offer you insurance. It covers the costs in the event that you are in a car accident or in case the rental car is vandalized or stolen. But, do you really need the insurance?

The answer is: it depends. The most important thing to know is what insurance you already have in place. If you have a car insurance policy for your personal vehicle, check with your agent - before you hit the road - to find out whether your policy will cover any rental car you drive.

Many premium credit cards also have insurance associated with them. So, it pays to know whether any of your cards will insure you if a problem crops up with the rental. Also, make certain that you find out how much the card will cover that way you can effectively protect yourself from having to pay out money. Also, make sure to use the card with the best benefits when you rent your car.

However, if you are not insured either personally or through a credit card, buying the policy at the agency will make sure you are both covered in an accident and covered when it comes to renters requirements in a state you are visiting.

Lost and stolen passports

When your passport is lost, you are required to report it immediately. By reporting a lost passport, you can quickly get a new passport. But, more importantly, you can prevent identity theft.

But what if you lose your passport while stateside? All you need to do is simply contact the state department to report it and apply for a replacement.

What about while abroad? If you are in a foreign country when you lose your passport, you will need to contact the U.S. consulate office. They will help you get a replacement.

Arrested on the road

The last place you want to spend time on your vacation is jail. Yet, that is exactly where some people have found themselves when they travel. The problem is that some countries do not prescribe to the same system of justice. Does Midnight Express ring a bell?

Just remember, the laws vary in every country of the world as do punishments. While no statistics are available on Americans who are arrested when they are traveling within the United States, the Bureau of Consular Affairs (a Division of the U.S. State Department) says that 2500 U.S. residents are arrested overseas each year.

Approximately one third of those arrests are the result of drug charges. The problem is that even if you find yourself charged with a crime in a foreign country, the U.S. Consulate cannot get you out of jail. All the consulate typically can do is advise you and assist you in locating legal representation for which you are responsible for paying.

Prepare for the worst

Of course, the best defense is a good offense. Keep a tight hold on your wallet, passport and other belongings. Spend the time to learn about your insurance policies and keep your records in a place that your house sitter or another trusted person can access a copy if they are needed. In addition, get familiar with the laws of any country you are visiting and follow local rules and regulations. While it is important to be prepared - just like a good boy scout - it is even more important to enjoy your trip and not let fear of mishaps ruin your great vacation!