How holidaymakers can deal with a lost passport and other travel mishaps this summer

From lost luggage to injuries, from stomach upsets to natural disasters, we get tips from seasoned travellers on dealing with adverse situations

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 July, 2016, 12:00pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 July, 2016, 5:54pm

After months of holiday planning and revelling in the mounting excitement of taking a trip, there is nothing worse than disaster striking while you are away. To help travellers prepare for any chaos thrown their way, we’ve asked experts to share some advice on how to avoid and cope with common holiday mishaps.

Lost luggage

Many travellers can relate to that sense of dread when the last bag circles the carousel and your suitcase isn’t in sight. “Losing your luggage can be especially annoying,” says frequent flier and Hong Kong-based travel writer Marianne Rogerson, who has suffered missing bags several times.

Preparing for the worst is a must if you want to avoid being stuck in the sweltering heat without your summer clothes. Rogerson recommends carefully packing carry-on luggage to ensure all essentials are with you at all times, including a change of clothes.

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Keep important documents, such as itineraries and insurance papers on you, and make sure valuables, including credit and debit cards, cash and jewellery are stored safely in your hand luggage, as well as other necessary items – glasses, contacts lenses, toiletries and medication.

If your luggage is lost, lodge a claim with the airport immediately and check your travel insurance policy for buying necessities – remembering to keep receipts. Several credit cards also provide lost luggage insurance after a set number of hours, so check your policy.

Injury and illness

“Delhi belly” and bumps and scrapes are almost to be expected at some destinations. However, there are a few steps that can be taken to minimise the likelihood of illness or injury.

Kimhean Pich, CEO of Discover the Mekong, which frequently organises tailor-made trips to Southeast Asia from Hong Kong, advises avoiding dubious adventure activities, such as alcohol-fuelled river tubing in Laos, which has led to several deaths. He also urges novices on two wheels to steer clear of motorbikes in countries such as Cambodia and Vietnam, where traffic is chaotic and road rules alien to outsiders.

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Packing a good first aid kit is also a must. Pich suggests you include antibiotics and painkillers. The best way to avoid food poisoning and an upset stomach is to watch what you eat, especially when it comes to street food. Chose vendors that attract a healthy amount of locals where the food is cooked in front of you. Avoid ice and drink bottled water.

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To protect against the consequences of a serious accident, especially if travelling to a developing country where medical care is scarce, invest in travel insurance. It is recommended MedEvac is included in case travellers need to be airlifted to hospital. “Without travel insurance, this can bankrupt you,” warns Pich.

Joyce Ho, of Zurich Insurance Hong Kong, strongly advises requesting copies of medical reports and all receipts relating to the illness to reclaim through insurance.

Missing passport

“This is one of the worst things that can happen to a tourist in a foreign country,” says Pich.

As well as making it tricky to check into hotels or change money, a misplaced passport makes it impossible to cross borders and, most importantly, get home. Pich recommends making use of hotel safes to store important personal documents, as well as making several copies to take on your travels.

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Ho says it is essential to file a police report within 24 hours if your passport is stolen. Your should also report the theft to the nearest embassy.

If onward travel is imminent, check your insurance policy, as most will pay for additional travel and accommodation expenses, within reason, as well as the cost of replacing the passport. “Travellers are strongly advised to acquire as much official documentation – such as police reports and receipts – as possible,” adds Ho.

Missing a flight

“Don’t freak out,” says seasoned traveller Christopher Tin, co-founder of HK Travel Blog. “Most full-service airlines will put you on the next flight to your destination without an additional charge.” Many budget airlines have tougher policies, however, and will often slap on additional fees.

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If a missed flight is due to delays on the airline’s side, getting you onto the next available flight is their responsibility. However, if you overslept, got stuck in traffic or didn’t leave enough time to get to the airport, it’s time to turn on the charm as most airlines give employees power to waive change fees.

Overbooked flights can cause problems, with some airlines relying on cancellations. Take advantage of the situation, and keep your cool, advises Pich. “Often airlines will offer good compensation in these situations so try and make the most of it.”

While travel insurance policies do not cover missed flights, most offer compensation if delays occur for a specified number of hours due to factors such as mechanical failings, adverse weather conditions and natural disasters.

“Missed flights are a common occurrence and each airline has their own policy and protocol, so you’re not alone,” says Tin.

Natural disasters

There is no avoiding natural disasters, or knowing when they will occur. But there are ways to minimise panic in their wake.

After ensuring your personal safety, letting friends and family know you are safe is vital. In the digital age, Facebook offers a safety check service for disaster updates, where users can register themselves safe, instantly alerting friends. Carrying updated medical cards with details of emergency contacts is recommended.

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If it’s a minor disaster, then roll with it, says Rogerson, who was hit by a hurricane while backpacking through Costa Rica. An exciting adventure taking in a dodgy bus journey, a taxi avoiding landslides, a closed hostel and shredding her knee while pushing a car out of mud ensued.

“We ended up being taken in for the night by a guy working in a resort that had a generator. He greeted us at the door in the pouring rain, with a monkey on his shoulder, and we had to share our bedroom with two snakes in the rafters,” she recalls. “Sometimes you just have to go with the flow.”