How to handle an emergency while traveling

Emergencies can happen at any time—even when you're on the vacation of your dreams. Find out how to cope with some common travel emergencies, and how to prepare before you leave home.

by Jane Haskins, Esq.
updated May 11, 2023 ·  4min read

Summer travel invites images of exotic locations, priceless memories, and much-needed time away from the demands of everyday life. And, in the best of worlds, you get all of these things. But no matter how much you plan, emergencies can and do happen.

How to Handle an Emergency While Traveling

Here are tips for handling and preventing five of the most common travel-related emergencies.

1. Your passport is lost or stolen abroad.

Without a passport, you can't leave the country until you go in person to the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate to get a replacement. Depending on your situation and timetable, you may get a new passport or a temporary one allowing you to return home. Officials will work with you if you don't have identity documents or cannot pay the passport fees. More information is available from the U.S. State Department.

Prevention tip: Always keep your passport in a secure place. Make two photocopies before you leave home. Keep one in your luggage and leave one behind with a friend or family member.

2. You are the victim of theft or another crime overseas.

Start by reporting the crime to the local police department, and ask for a copy of the police report. Then, contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for additional assistance. The staff there can help you get take care of emergency needs, obtain information about your case, explain the criminal justice process, connect you with English-speaking lawyers, or contact family in the U.S. If your wallet is stolen, report the theft to your credit card companies immediately.

Prevention tip: Don't keep your wallet in a place that's easy for pickpockets to reach, and don't carry more money and cards than you absolutely need.

3. You have a medical emergency.

If you need immediate medical attention, call 911 anywhere in the U.S. or the equivalent number in the country you're visiting; the State Department provides up-to-date information by country. If you are traveling out of the country and require medical assistance, the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate can help you find a doctor or hospital.

The cost of emergency care can vary, depending on the type of insurance you have and where you're located. Be aware that your health insurance may not cover care overseas or medical evacuation back to the U.S. Even when traveling in the U.S., you may have limited coverage outside the area where you live.

Prevention tip: Check your insurance coverage before you leave home and consider buying a travel insurance policy if you're visiting another country. Carry information about your health conditions and medications on a piece of paper or in an app.

4. There's a natural disaster, terrorist attack, or political unrest.

If a disaster of any sort happens while you are traveling, get emergency medical care if necessary, and then reunite with your traveling companions. Cell phones may not work, so try texting and posting on social media to find the people you are traveling with and let the folks back home know you are safe. Contact your airline to find out about schedule changes or to arrange an earlier flight home. If there is a large-scale crisis and you are overseas, contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

Prevention tip: If you are traveling outside the U.S., sign up for the State Department's Smart Traveler Enrollment Program to receive travel advisories and help the U.S. Embassy contact you in an emergency. Avoid areas the State Department advises against, and don't go where a natural disaster such as a hurricane or wildfire is in progress or predicted.

5. You have an accident in your rental car.

Start by doing what you would do after any car accident: get medical care, exchange contact and insurance information, photograph the damage, and report the accident to local police if there is significant damage or injuries. Then, report the accident to both the rental car company and your own insurance company as soon as you can. Your financial responsibility will depend on the insurance you have or have purchased at the rental car counter.

Prevention tip: To avoid unexpected costs, check your auto insurance coverage before you leave home, and understand how rental car coverage works. Some credit cards also provide rental car coverage—know what the terms are and how to report an accident.

While travel emergencies can't always be prevented, they're less likely to derail your trip if you've planned ahead and know what to do if the worst does happen.

Even with the best planning, emergencies can happen. Get the legal advice you need—whether personal or business—with LegalZoom's business and personal legal plans. Our plans provide you with access to attorneys in your area at affordable rates.

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Jane Haskins, Esq.

About the Author

Jane Haskins, Esq.

Jane Haskins is a freelance writer who practiced law for 20 years. Jane has litigated a wide variety of business dispute… Read more

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of the author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.