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Four Common Travel Disasters and How to Prevent Them

baggage claim Lost Luggage
Here come the bags, gliding toward you on the conveyer belt like a massive line of groceries at the supermarket checkout. But where's yours? Even though you've wrapped it with neon orange duct tape for easy spotting, you can't find it. As a fellow passenger pulls the last bag off the belt, you realize: the airline has lost your luggage.

What to Do
Make sure you have your baggage claim ticket. I learned this the hard way on a recent trip. After arriving in Dublin, I was dismayed to discover that not only had the airline lost my luggage -- my traveling companion had also lost our baggage claim tickets!

We did eventually recover our bags (thanks to some helpful airline employees) but the hassle was greater and we spent more time in the airport without our claim tickets.

Your airline will most likely have a counter or office in the baggage claim area; go to this counter immediately and fill out a "missing luggage" form. If you're lucky, your bag was simply delayed or put on the wrong plane and the airline will deliver it to your hotel within a few days. If your bag is lost and the airline is unable to recover it, you can file a claim for damages. In this case, you will probably have to make a list of everything that was in your bag. You will get the depreciated (not replacement) value for the items in your bag. This means that your two-year-old $400 shoes will no longer be worth $400.

How to Be Prepared
To prevent (as much as you can) your luggage from getting lost, remove any extraneous tags on your bag that may confuse the airport's scanning machines. In addition, don't pack anything valuable or essential in your checked bag, and, as mentioned above, bring a change of clothes in your carry-on. Make sure that your name and address are clearly labeled on the outside of each piece of luggage, and put a label with your contact information on the inside of your bag in case the outside tag gets ripped off. And hang on to your baggage claim ticket!

For more on what to do if your bags go missing, check out our guide to lost luggage.

What Not to Do at the Airport

Illness or Injury on the Road
Getting health care in another country can be an exercise in culture shock. Whether you get a doctor who doesn't speak English or you don't understand the procedures in a foreign hospital, getting sick away from the comforts of home can be frightening. Your best approach to deal with an illness or injury while traveling is to prepare for the problem before you depart. It's important to research your country's emergency numbers, embassy phone number and address, and local English-speaking doctors and hospitals before your trip.

What to Do
If you are injured or ill, contact a health care provider as soon as possible. Call your regular doctor if you lose or run out of vital medication; he or she may be able to call in a prescription to a local pharmacy. If you are at a hotel and a non-emergency injury or illness occurs, contact the front desk and ask for medical care. The concierge may be able to arrange for a doctor to come to the hotel. For hospital care, take a cab to the local hospital (finding out which hospitals are nearby before your trip facilitates this journey) or call the local emergency number -- a good guidebook should have this information.

It is most important to be prepared to deal with a medical emergency if you are traveling with children; if you have an existing medical condition or are traveling with someone who does; or if you will be taking part in potentially dangerous physical activities such as horseback riding, rock climbing or hiking. If you are camping or spending time in a less developed destination (where you could come down with traveler's tummy), you should also be especially prepared.

How to Be Prepared
doctor x-ray patientIf traveling abroad, print out a copy of your destination's Consular Information Sheet for a list of local medical services. You can also find a list of doctors and hospitals abroad on the U.S. State Department's Web site. If you're traveling domestically, contact your insurance company for a list of in-network hospitals and doctors at your destination (you may want to do this a few weeks in advance, as the insurance company might send the list in the mail).

Pack the following information and keep it with you:

  • Your doctor's office and home phone numbers
  • HMO/insurance company contact information
  • Embassy contact information
  • Contact information for a relative or loved one at home, especially if you are traveling alone

    Be aware of any disease risks in the destination that you are traveling to and get the proper immunizations before you leave.

    If you are camping or staying in a remote area, pack a first-aid kit. Also, give a copy of your itinerary to someone at home; this way, if something happens to you and you are unable to call for medical help, someone will know where to find you.

    For a more in-depth guide to dealing with illness abroad, read Health Care Abroad.

    Poll: Which Travel Mishaps Have You Faced?

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    --written by Caroline Costello

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